The architects of a statewide campaign to police transgender people's genitals in bathrooms did not like the way the Washington State Attorney General worded their proposal for the November ballot. But after anti-trans activists took the wording issue to court, a Thurston County Superior Court judge has ruled that much of the AG's original language will pretty much stay the way it is.
The Just Want Privacy campaign, a group created by the anti-LGBTQ Family Policy Institute, wants to get rid of a Washington law that protects transgender people using bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identities. If the Just Want Privacy ballot initiative becomes law, it would codify discrimination against trans people—allowing businesses as well as schools to turn trans people away from bathrooms where they would be the safest and most comfortable. But Just Want Privacy wouldn't just interrogate people's genitals; the initiative would also ban the state's Human Rights Commission from ever adopting rules protecting trans people. The same ballot measure would also allow students to sue their schools for $2,500 a pop if they find a "person of the opposite sex" (read: anyone with different genitalia) in the locker room or bathroom.
Faced with describing a ballot measure that effectively encourages genital snitching, the AG's office put the ballot title and language like this:
Initiative Measure No. 1505 concerns gender-segregated facilities and civil liability.
This measure would repeal protections against gender-identity discrimination in certain public-accommodation facilities, require that public schools restrict access to specific facilities based on anatomical or chromosomal sex, and allow related lawsuits against schools.
Last month, Family Policy Institute director Joseph Backholm railed against the AG's choice of words in a Just Want Privacy blog post. The language wasn't neutral, he argued. "Repeals protections against" and "allowing related lawsuits against schools" sounded bad, even if the statements were true. Instead of mentioning the lawsuits, Backholm wanted language that mentioned "enforcing a right to privacy." The Family Policy Institute also did not like the use of "segregated" and "civil liability," because both terms held negative connotations.
So, Just Want Privacy took the issue to court. At the same time, the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs (WCSAP) and PFLAG (formerly known as Parents, Families, And Friends of Lesbians and Gays) filed their own petition over the ballot initiative, also suggesting changes.
On Wednesday, Thurston County Superior Court's Judge Anne Hirsch shut down much of Just Want Privacy's arguments, added some language from WCSAP and PFLAG's petition, and ruled on this final ballot title and summary:
Initiative Measure No. 1504, 1505, 1506, 1507, and 1508 concerns gender-segregated facilities and civil liability.
This measure would repeal protections against gender-identity discrimination in certain public-accommodation facilities, require that public schools restrict use of specific facilities based on anatomy or chromosomal sex, and allow student lawsuits against schools.
Ballot Measure Summary
This measure would repeal Human Rights Commission rules interpreting the Law Against Discrimination as allowing people to use gender-segregated facilities based on gender-identity, restrict similar local laws, and state that, with exceptions, the law does not require allowing "private facilities" based on gender-identity. It requires that use of certain public-school facilities be restricted based on birth anatomy or chromosomes, and authorizes lawsuits against schools that grant students access to those facilities based on gender-identity.
"It's absolutely fair, but from Just Want Privacy's perspective it's a very bad ballot title and summary," Danni Askini, trans activist and executive director of the Gender Justice League, told The Stranger. "Overall, this was incredibly good for us and an accurate portrayal of what [the initiative is]."
Just Want Privacy has until July 8 to muster the 246,372 signatures necessary to have the initiative qualify for the November ballot. So far they've raised just $27,000 for the cause.
But this likely won't be the end of Just Want Privacy's attempts to massage the ballot language. On March 24, Just Want Privacy filed another ballot initiative—I-1515—with slightly different wording. Like the multiple initiatives filed before it, I-1515 marks another try to sneak more favorable language for anti-trans activists onto the ballot. Askini expects they'll be back in court against the AG soon.