The Seattle Times uncritically aired the lie that Washington state's non-discrimination protections for transgender people could threaten public safety in women's restrooms, failing to mention that the talking point has been disproven by similar laws across the country.
On December 26, the Washington State Human Rights Commission implemented a new regulation clarifying the state's 2006 non-discrimination law, which prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The regulation has caused uproar amongst anti-LGBT activists, who falsely claim the law will allow sexual predators to sneak into women's restrooms by pretending to be transgender.
Advocates for victims of sexual assault, law enforcement and government officials, a Pulitzer-prize winning columnist, and experts in 15 states with similar laws have all debunked that talking point, calling it “beyond specious.”
But in a January 9 article detailing the recent debate over the regulations, Seattle Times reporter Nina Shapiro quoted anti-LGBT activist Joseph Backholm, who called the policy “just a big welcome mat” for sexual predators. Shapiro also quoted a sexual assault survivor who expressed concerns, but failed to mention that 200 cities and 17 states with non-discrimination protections for transgender people have had no issues with a “bathroom predator:”
The debate erupted even before the Human Rights Commission wrote its rule. In April, an inquiry from a transgender member led the YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties to allow access to locker rooms according to gender identity, according to Bob Ecklund, the organization's president and chief executive officer.
Triller Haver was then the organization's communications director. Both her parents had also held senior positions at the Y. “That was home,” she said.
But as she read over the talking points she was expected to espouse, she found herself at odds with her employer. The abuse she says she suffered as a child, from a relative, made her especially nervous about who had access to open areas where women and girls, including her 5-year-old daughter, are naked.
“Part of what my abuser liked to do was to watch me in the shower,” she said. Just using the Y's shower at all, she said, is “an act of healing.”
She worried not only about seeing a transgender woman who hadn't surgically transitioned, but also about being watched by a predator exploiting the Y's policy. She cited press reports of a man in Toronto, which has a similar law to Washington's, posing as transgender to gain access to women's homeless shelters, where he attacked two women.
She claims that when she raised questions about the policy, she was fired. (Ecklund said he could not comment on employee matters.)
Such fears have also been rallying calls for those opposed to the state regulation. “The reality is there are sex predators,” said Joseph Backholm, executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington. “This is just a big welcome mat.”
That's especially true, he argued, since transgender advocates discourage asking people questions about why they are in a particular restroom or locker room. “You can't say, 'Oh, you're 6-feet-5-inches, 270 pounds and you have a beard, therefore you're a man,' ” Backholm said.