New rule in Washington opens bathroom use to transgender people

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A new rule in Washington state created by the Washington State Human Rights Commission requires buildings open to the public to allow transgender people to use restrooms and locker rooms of the gender they identify with, officials said Tuesday.

The policy took effect Dec. 26, commission Executive Director Sharon Ortiz said.

A prior draft of the rule said schools must "assess the use of locker rooms by transgendered students on a case-by-case basis." The final policy approved last month removed the separate standard for schools.

The commission, created by Washington's Legislature, is responsible for administering and enforcing the Washington Law Against Discrimination, said Ortiz, who was appointed executive director in 2009. The commission began considering the new policy in 2012, Ortiz said.

Under the state's anti-discrimination law, sexual orientation is a protected class, like race, which includes "gender expression or identity," Ortiz said.

Ortiz and Margaret Chen, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the policy clarifies law that existed under that anti-discrimination law.

Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, disagreed with the commission's new policy.

"Parents have a right to expect that when their children go to school, the boys will use the boys' locker room and the girls will use the girls' locker room," he said in a written statement.

Some opponents of a widely publicized city ballot measure in Houston that sought to create nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people highlighted part of that ordinance regarding public bathroom access for transgender people, saying it would let sexual predators enter women's restrooms. The measure failed in November.

Chen said laws already exist to protect against people who might abuse the policy.

"Transgender people are already living and working in Washington State, and we think they should be treated with dignity and respect like everybody else," she said.