I-1515 Sets off Debate Over Restricting Bathroom Access

Just Want Privacy, the campaign promoting Initiative 1515, is pushing for the measure to be on Washington State’s ballot in the fall. I-1515 is similar to North Carolina’s controversial HB-2 bill, repealing protections for Transgender people. The backers of I-1515 claim it is about privacy and safety.

According to the ballot measure’s summary, it would “…amend the Law Against Discrimination to state that, with exceptions, covered public and private entities may restrict access to ‘private facilities’ to ‘biologically’ male or female individuals regardless of their gender identity and limit state and local regulations governing gender- identity discrimination. It requires that public-school bathrooms and locker rooms open to multiple people be sex segregated, and authorizes lawsuits against schools that grant students access to those facilities based on gender identity.”

For the last 10 years the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) has prohibited discrimination based on “gender expression or identity.” The non-discrimination law in place has protected Transgender individuals from discrimination in housing, jobs, public places, violence, harassment, etc.

WLAD defines gender expression or identity as “having or being perceived as having a gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior, or expression, whether or not that gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior, or expression is different from that traditionally associated with the sex assigned to that person at birth.” Transgender individuals are protected under this definition.

Five cities, including Tacoma, have passed their own laws prohibiting discrimination based on “gender expression or identity.” The City of Tacoma bars discrimination in housing, employment, education, and in places of public accommodation. They join Seattle, Burien, Olympia, and King County.

Washington falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, who have ruled that transgender people are protected from sexual harassment and discrimination based on their gender expression or identity under the federal Title VII law. The federal law also prohibits discrimination in employment.

Washington Won’t Discriminate— the coalition opposed to I-1515—is urging residents to oppose the initiative that would take away Washington’s non-discrimination protections that have been in place for 10 years.

Major companies such as Microsoft, Google, and Vulcan, have endorsed Washington Won’t Discriminate. The campaign has also garnered support from various clergy members, State Senator Jamie Pedersen (D-Seattle), Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma), and transgender-community advocates among many others.

UCLA’s Williams Institute conducted a study, released at the beginning of this month, analyzing the fiscal implications of I-1515. The ballot initiative would not only impact an estimated 26,400 transgender people in the state, but could risk a projected $4.5 billion in annual funding to schools and other state and local government entities.

According to the study, I-1515 would be in direct violation of at least seven federal laws: Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Executive Order 13672, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act, the Violence Against Women Act, the Affordable Care Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Housing Act of 1949.

As a result, these violations would threaten a number of federal funding sources. It includes: up to $3.3 billion in student loan and college funding, federal funding lost for Washington’s housing, health and human services programs, and $1 billion lost in K-12 school funding amongst a number of other federal funding sources.

These threats to funding could become a reality if Just Want Privacy successfully obtained the number of signatures needed for ballot placement, and voters passed the measure. As in North Carolina, the economic consequences do not end at federal funding. It has the potential to drive away billions in economic development for businesses, tourism, and conventions.

Rev. Bishop Kirby Unti of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, who opposes the initiative, says, “I’m deeply troubled by I-15I5, which would roll back important non-discrimination protections for our transgender neighbors in Washington. We’re all God’s children—including people who are transgender—and we should all be treated equally under the law.”

Just Want Privacy needs 246,372 signatures by July 8 for the measure to be placed on the ballot in November.