A political committee will try again to overturn a Washington state rule allowing transgender people to use restrooms based on their gender identity.
A closed-door meeting Monday to organize and train signature-gatherers was held at Covenant Church in Spokane, which next month will also host controversial anti-Islam pastor Shahram Hadian.
The connection alarms some transgender rights activists, who believe Just Want Privacy will target fringe Christian groups.
“It’s very telling and concerning that they are appealing to extremist organizations for support.” said Seth Kirby, campaign chair for the political action committee Washington Won’t Discriminate. He added, “Just Want Privacy is having to go to more extreme lengths and more extreme organizations to get that support.”
But the founder of Just Want Privacy said there is no connection between Hadian and the initiative effort. Furthermore the Muslim community is one of the primary demographics Just Want Privacy will appeal to, Joseph Backholm said.
“The mosques in Washington state will be some of the best places to gather signatures,” Backholm said.
Just Want Privacy’s Monday meeting was originally scheduled to be held at La Belle Vie Event Center in Spokane Valley, a venue used weekly by Truth in Love Christian Fellowship, which was founded by Hadian. One of Hadian’s other ministries, the Truth in Love Project, was listed as an anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2016.
Backholm said the group changed venues because it believed transgender rights activists planned to protest and disrupt their meeting.
The Monday night meeting was part of an effort to gather signatures to put an initiative on the ballot in 2017 to repeal a state rule that allows transgender people to use restrooms and other public facilities based on their gender identity.
In July, a similar petition failed to get enough signatures. According to Just Want Privacy, the petition had 181,278 of the needed 246,372 signatures.
This year, Just Want Privacy started the initiative process earlier and is soliciting support from a wider range of groups, including Muslims.
“I would venture to say there is not a more uniform community demographic in the state,” Backholm said of the Muslim community.
Just Want Privacy maintains it isn’t discriminating against transgender people. Instead the issue is bad policy and the danger of allowing men into women’s bathrooms.
“The policy that the Human Rights Commission made is really irresponsible,” Backholm said.
He said the policy, which was put into place by the Human Rights Commission in 2015, never went before voters.
“If that policy is going to change it needs to happen through the Legislature,” he said.
Transgender activists disagree, saying the efforts are discriminatory.
“This kind of initiative really encourages confrontation and invasion of people’s privacy and safety,” said Kirby, of Washington Won’t Discriminate.
Washington Won’t Discriminate says the connection between Just Want Privacy and anti-Muslim rhetoric is indicative of the group’s mindset.
“What I’m most concerned about this year is that really it seems that their efforts around generating fear and hate are only increasing,” Kirby said. “And that’s on social media and so forth.”
An additional concern for the transgender population is that the federal government appears no longer supportive of transgender bathroom access.
Under President Barack Obama, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice expressed support for transgender bathroom access. President Donald Trump’s administration is expected to take a different approach, essentially leaving it up to the states.
Backholm maintains that the bathroom rule is dangerous to women and children, exposing them to potential sexual predators.
The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women disagrees. In the more than 200 municipalities and 18 states that have bathroom access laws there has not been a rise in sexual violence.
Pastor Jan Shannon, of Westminster United Church of Christ in Spokane, said the evangelical Christian community’s support of Just Want Privacy worries her. She points to the Greater Spokane Association of Evangelicals, which supported the initiative in 2016.
“That organization fully supports that action and I’m guessing they will support this one as well,” she said, adding, the evangelicals association “are very powerful people.”
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