State rules governing transgender people’s access to restrooms and locker rooms resulted in heated debate at the Spokane Valley City Council meeting Tuesday.
At one point, Mayor Rod Higgins told former mayor and council member Dean Grafos that he was out of order. During public testimony, Higgens used his gavel to quiet boisterous applause from the audience.
The issue at hand Tuesday was a letter expressing support from the Spokane Valley council for efforts to repeal the restroom rules.The rules were issued by the Washington State Human Rights Commission in December and a Senate bill calling for their repeal was scheduled for its first hearing on Wednesday in Olympia.
Councilman Sam Wood has introduced a resolution asking the state to repeal the rules, which is on the Spokane Valley council agenda for Feb. 2.
Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, is one of the supporters of the senate bill and because the first Senate hearing was slated for Wednesday, Wood wanted the council to sign a letter of support at Tuesday’s meeting.
Grafos and council member Chuck Hafner both refused to sign the letter saying it was an endorsement of the resolution that is to be discussed next week.
“I don’t see how you can talk about the letter and not address the resolution,” Grafos said.
The remaining five council members signed the letter.
Public testimony was moved to the beginning of the meeting and it quickly got passionate.
Spokane Valley resident Jay D. Bemis said he canceled his family’s gym membership because he doesn’t want anything to happen to his daughter when she uses the restroom or locker room.
“We have to take a stand on this,” Bemis told the council. “We can’t have our town be in support of a pedophile-friendly bill.” Bemis got a round of applause, prompting Higgins to use his gavel and remind the audience that applause or comments from the floor are not allowed.
Chris Pomeroy, who is transgender, told the council that transgender people are not pedophiles.
“We don’t want to interfere with children and we don’t want to scare anyone,” Pomeroy said. “We are there to use the restroom.” Pomeroy was born a woman but identifies as and looks like a man.
“Don’t you think it would be more confusing if I walked into the ladies room?” he asked.
Spokane Valley resident George Conrad said the Human Rights Commission is “totally out of control” and that he opposes the new restroom rules.
“I don’t want women exposed to male genitalia in their locker rooms,” Conrad said. He was later asked to leave the meeting because he refused to stop commenting from the floor.
After 20 minutes of public testimony, Higgins postponed further comments until later in the evening so the council could address the letter.
When Grafos challenged the mayor’s ability to put public testimony on hold, Higgins called him out of order.
Higgins said council members Wood and Arne Woodard had to leave by 7 p.m. to travel to Olympia and the matter of the letter had to be taken up before they left.
Woodard said the letter is necessary.
“Transgender people have rights but they don’t necessarily have superior rights,” Woodard said.
The state’s anti-discrimination laws were changed in 2006 to specifically include transgender people. The Human Rights Commission’s advisory that restarted this debate was issued to clarify state law and to address complaints by transgender people who alleged discrimination.
At the end of public testimony eight people had spoken in support of repeal of the restroom rules and four had spoken to preserve the rules.