Despite being sympathetic to concerns that cross-dressing men are using women’s public restrooms, Spokane Valley city leaders say state and federal anti-discrimination laws prohibit them from doing anything about it.
“This is not a comfortable topic for any of us,” Deputy Mayor Arne Woodard said during a legal briefing Tuesday night. “I hope our citizens understand there is nothing the city can do about this.”
The issue was raised by a Valley resident last month who was startled when she realized a man wearing a dress and a wig was using a busy women’s restroom during a conference she was attending. Wendy McElroy urged city officials to aggressively enforce gender-specific public restroom use, drawing loud applause from council spectators.
But civil rights laws provide protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, which includes transgender individuals, said Spokane Valley City Attorney Cary Driskell.
“It’s a sensitive issue,” Driskell said, explaining that the city would be inviting lawsuits if it attempted to prohibit people from using public restrooms reserved for the gender they most identify themselves belonging to.
However, he said nothing in state or federal law prohibits enforcement against those who might try to abuse the civil rights protections for improper purposes.
“It’s not legal to go into a bathroom, whether it’s all male or all female, and peer over the stall,” Driskell assured council members. “That’s still illegal.”
McElroy this week also shared her concerns with the Spokane City Council, which is preparing to add gender identity to local anti-discrimination ordinances.
Councilman Jon Snyder said he decided to propose the addition after realizing that the local ordinance hasn’t kept up with state law.
Spokane rates high in studies ranking the nation’s most gay-friendly cities, Snyder said, but one of the areas where it fell short was failing to include gender identity in its local commitment to civil rights protections.
The proposal is expected to be considered Monday night.