Say ‘no’ to anti-transgender bathroom initiative, City Council asks Bellingham voters

A sticker designates a gender neutral bathroom at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle in 2016.
A sticker designates a gender neutral bathroom at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle in 2016. AP

The City Council is urging voters to oppose a measure the council said would discriminate against transgender people.

The council voted unanimously Monday to ask Bellingham voters to decline to sign a petition to put state Initiative 1552, which would control transgender people’s access to bathrooms and locker rooms, on the November ballot.

And if supporters do gather enough signatures to go before voters statewide, the council also is asking residents to vote it down.

City Council member Roxanne Murphy brought the issue to her colleagues.

“People should have the right to be who they are,” she said.

Murphy, who is a member of the Nooksack Indian Tribe, said I-1552 made her skin “crawl” and compared it to measures that have oppressed Native Americans and other groups of people.

Other council members agreed and said they wanted to send a message.

“That message is, ‘We have your back,’” council member Pinky Vargas said.

I-1552 would overturn state protections for transgender people by requiring them to use restrooms or locker rooms based on their biological sex at birth rather than the gender they’re living in. Public schools would have to enforce the provisions, or face lawsuits with fines of up to $5,000 for each time transgendered students used a bathroom that didn’t match their sex at birth.

Those two provisions of the proposed ballot initiative also concerned the City Council.

“The initiative would invite our community members to harass each other and demand proof of ‘sex at birth’ before using public facilities,” the City Council resolution stated.

City leaders also were worried the initiative would allow businesses to enact the same ban, and that it would “prevent voters, cities and counties from passing ordinances or policies that protect transgender people from discrimination in using restrooms that are consistent with who they are,” the Bellingham resolution stated in part.

Most who spoke to the City Council on Monday urged them to approve the resolution asking voters to oppose I-1552.

“Civil rights make people uncomfortable. That was true in the 1960s and it’s true now,” said Kim Weil, a Bellingham-area resident. “I think people need to be comfortable with allowing folks to use the bathroom that they choose.”

L.K. Langley, a Bellingham resident with two children in the public school system, said I-1552 sought to “deny transgender people their identities, their dignity and, really, their humanity.”

“It puts a bounty on our transgender students who simply have the audacity to move through their schools with the same freedoms as their non-transgender peers,” added Langley, who is transgender. “Trans young people, like all young people, need to be seen, supported and loved for who they really are.”

A group calling itself Just Want Privacy is behind the effort to put I-1552 before voters in November, citing privacy and safety reasons.

It is the group’s second attempt, having failed to gather enough signatures in 2016.

To qualify for the Nov. 7 election, initiative sponsors must submit at least 259,622 valid signatures from registered Washington state voters to the Secretary of State by 5 p.m. July 7.

Just Want Privacy said it had gathered 131,000 signatures as of June 20.

Washington Won’t Discriminate, also known as No On I-1552, is leading the opposition.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea