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.
LEE GILES III Staff photographer
The district’s diversity committee set to work on the issue and has now crafted a policy that will make peninsula schools more accepting of transgender students.
Transgender is a term that describes a person whose gender identity or expression is different than the gender identity traditionally associated with their sex assigned at birth. Gender identity is a term used to describe a person’s personal and internal sense of gender, i.e. a man, a woman or outside the gender binary.
District officials say there are transgender students at all levels of education in the Peninsula School District, elementary, middle and high school.
Nationwide, transgender students are more likely to be verbally and physically harassed at school, according to a 2006 National Education Association study. They are also more likely to miss school due to safety concerns and less likely to go to college.
Eighty-four percent of LGBT students, which includes transgender students, reported verbal harassment because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, according to the study.
Thankfully, these are things Kai Shultz, 14, has never experienced in PSD schools. However, for Phoenix Crooks, 15, issues with bullying and harassment have made his trip through school difficult. Both are transitioning from female to male.
Phoenix will start his first year at Henderson Bay High School this week after spending freshman year at Peninsula High School. Kai is currently a freshman at Peninsula.
An incident that Phoenix remembers is overhearing a group of teachers talking about him after he approached them regarding his transition. During the conversation, a teacher used his birth name and referred to him as “being a ‘them’ now.”
“It was dehumanizing,” Phoenix recalled, “because I’m not a ‘them,’ I’m a human being who uses they (and) them pronouns.”