Look, I’m as skeptical as you are of the notion that not all politicians are a bunch of good-for-nothing jerks who ought to get real jobs. But every now and then they manage to do something right in spite of themselves, and this year they managed to pass a couple of actually-good, queer-friendly bills, and also defeat one very, very bad bill.
It may seem like there’s not much queer legislation left to work on these days, what with all the sexiest issues taken care of: Gay marriage is settled, more or less; Washington has robust nondiscrimination protections. But there’s still plenty of work to be done, which is why Equal Rights Washington lobbied hard on a wide range of bills this year, many of which were focused on intersectional issues connected to police accountability.
Now that the session is coming to a close, let’s take a look at the big queer successes, the disappointing failures, and a failure that is extremely satisfying.
Some bills are bad, some are awful, and others are just straight-up hateful. We managed to dodge an all-out catastrophe this session with the defeat of HB 1556, an odious bill sponsored by Rep. Rob Chase and supported by Rep. Brad Klippert. It’s one of those “don’t let trans youth play sports” bills that have been multiplying in other, redder states, and it’s a great shame that one was even up for consideration here in Washington.
HB 1556 would have defined a person’s gender to be whatever someone else decided it was at birth, and it would have required that students provide a birth certificate to participate in sports. Truly gross stuff, and fortunately it went absolutely nowhere. It didn't even get a hearing in committee. Still, in a fair and just world, their connection to this disastrous bill would be career-ending for both Chase and Klippert.
More good news is the passage of HB 1042, which will make a small change to adoption laws and a huge change in the lives of some parents and kids. Previously, Washington adhered to an agreement called the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which required the state to recognize and enforce custody decrees from other countries in child custody cases — even if those decrees stemmed from foreign laws criminalizing homosexuality. HB 1042 will allow Washington to ignore the UCCJEA if it would subject parents or kids to such foreign laws.
On paper, it looks like a minor technicality; in practice, it could literally save lives. The chief sponsor was Rep. My-Linh Thai.
Also good is SB 5313. which would clarify a labyrinth of health care codes so that insurance companies can’t deny coverage for gender-affirming treatment. Sponsored by Rep. Marko Liias, this one passed the Senate and House by wide margins and is headed to Inslee’s desk. It is, as Martha Stewart says, a good thing.
So is SB 5227, which will require diversity, equity, inclusion, and antiracism training in higher education starting in 2024. Schools and state officials will be required to assess the training on a regular basis once it starts. Sponsored by Sen. Emily Randall, that one easily sailed through the legislature and is headed to Inslee.
And then there’s HB 1054, which bans police from using chokeholds, neck restraints, unleashed dogs, tear gas, and covered-up badges. A watered-down version of that proposal—which now only bans chokeholds, bans the use of some military equipment, and applies a few limits on tear gas use and vehicular chases—emerged from a conference committee this week. Now both chambers must approve it before this Sunday, when the session is scheduled to end.
While that bill doesn’t directly address sexual orientation and gender identity, queer people are disproportionately likely to be impacted by policing. Earlier this year, I spoke to Monisha Harrell, board chair of Equal Rights Washington, about why her organization was turning its focus almost exclusively to police reform:
“Stonewall … wasn't like, ‘Yay, we get to have a parade,'” she said at the start of the current session. “It’s a celebration of our durability. Stonewall was a fight against law enforcement trying to police the identities of queer people, and police accountability is an issue that reaches deeply into most marginalized communities.”
Alas, a few good-looking bills didn’t quite make it over the finish line this year, but they could be back in 2022. Among them are HB 1071, which would have tweaked Washington’s hate crime statutes to give hate crimes the designation of “crimes against persons.” This is a fairly technical tweak, but it would have had major downstream impacts, such as increasing victim notification standards and requiring supervised probation.
Oh well, better luck next year! In the meantime, try not to get hate-crimed, I guess. Washington has the third-highest number of reported hate crimes in the nation.
One other bill that didn’t make it out of committee: SB 5335, which would have ensured that transition-related care would be evaluated and preserved when health care facilities change owners.
So, there you have it — a bit of a mixed bag, but the evil bill died and most of the good ones survived. Not bad for a weird pandemic year that mostly took place online. With any luck, the unfinished business will be back on the agenda in 2022, and everyone can go back to business as usual, hanging out in the Senate in funny wigs.