Washington Enacts 'First-Of-Its-Kind' Statewide Transgender Bathroom Policy

A gender-neutral bathroom is seen at the University of California, Irvine in Irvine, California, September 30, 2014. The University of California will designate gender-neutral restrooms at its 10 campuses to accommodate transgender students — a move that may be the first of its kind for a system of colleges in the United States. | (Photo: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)

Washington's state government has created new rules making it illegal to prohibit transgender individuals from using public bathrooms, showers or changing areas designated for the opposite biological sex, making it one of the first states to attempt a statewide transgender bathroom policy.

On the day after Christmas, Washington's Human Rights Commission clarified its human rights code by adding regulations for "gender segregated facilities" for businesses and entities with eight or more employees.

The guidelines state that all covered entities "shall allow access to and use of a facility consistent with that individual's gender identity."

The policy adds that entities may not force a person to use facilities that are inconsistent with their gender identity and instructs the entities to direct any customers, guests or patrons who express concern about someone of the opposite biological sex using the facilities to a separate or gender neutral facility, if available."

Although the policy allows for biological men to use women's bathrooms and showers and vice versa, the law states that entities may reserve the right to remove a person from the facilities based on behavior, not gender identity.

The policy includes a provision for schools and school districts that states that schools must allow students to use the restrooms that are "consistent with their gender identity consistently asserted at school."

The policy allows for schools to "assess the use of locker rooms by transgendered students on a case-by-case basis, with the goals of maximizing the student's social integration and equal opportunity, ensuring the student's safety and comfort, and minimizing the stigmatization of the student."

"[T]his is the first statewide mandate that forces businesses to cooperate with a customer's confusion about his or her gender," Joseph Backholm, executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, wrote in a blog post. "The new rule specifically prohibits businesses and schools from creating a separate, gender neutral facility for use by those who prefer not to use the bathroom for their gender."

"This first-of-its-kind, statewide law is part of the recent push to frame gender-segregated bathrooms as an affront to 'equality.'" Backholm continued. "So far, the public hasn't been buying it."

Republican state Rep. Graham Hunt, who opposes the policy, told The Daily Signal that the Washington Human Rights Commission passed the transgender facility policy very quietly and under the radar of the state legislature.

"I hate to play into conspiracy stuff because that's not what I'm trying to say … but it's really been done quasi-private," Hunt said. "I had to have our attorneys and staff at the legislature actually get this information to confirm it so that we could read it and figure out exactly what has been going on."

The commission's adoption of the transgender facilities rules comes after a dispute arose over transgender access at YMCA facility for Pierre and Kitsap counties. After being pressured, the YMCA of Pierre and Kitsap Counties enacted a new policy allowing people to use the locker rooms of the gender they identified with in mid December.

Graham and other state lawmakers plan to propose bills to combat the unelected commission's attempt to enact a statewide transgender facility policy when the state legislative session begins later this month.

"I've received emails from folks who have been abused and taken advantage of in intimate private settings because someone had access to a facility that they shouldn't have," Hunt said. "I don't believe that most people who are transgender are trying to gain access for the wrong reasons. But what we have to be careful for and what we have to prepare for are those who are going to take advantage of these rules."

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