Is it only a joke? Local transgender community concerned about comments

SEATTLE — Recent jokes made in public by a supporter of Initiative 1515 have gotten the attention of Seattle's transgender community -- who believe the comments may inspire harassment against people who decline to sign the initiative's petition.

The jokes refer to male signature gatherers, who are encouraged to consider following women into public restrooms to convince them to sign the petition.

If I-1515 supporters gather 325,000 signatures by July 8, the initiative will go on a ballot next November. I-1515 would repeal current state law allowing transgender people to use bathrooms based on their sexual identity. The initiative would allow businesses to decide if women - born as men, or vice-versa - should be forced to use the restroom or locker room for the sex they were originally born.

Audio recordings were anonymously delivered to the Gender Justice League of Seattle. Joseph Backholm, the director of the Family Policy institute of Washington, was directing signature gatherers who favor initiative-1515, to find supporters to sign the petition.

In the recordings, Backholm is heard to say: "For the gentlemen, what I would encourage you to do, if you are so bold and to make the point, take your petition and stand outside the women's restroom at the mall. If any of the women don't want to sign it, just go ahead and follow them in [laughter from crowd].  Maybe this will be a better time to sign our little petition, and we can make the point that way."

Backholm told KIRO 7 he would not answer questions about his comments.

Danni Askini, director of the Gender Justice League told KIRO-7 the jokes are being perceived as alarming to the trans community.

"This one recording, but we've heard that it's been said at other trainings," Askini said. "That is setting a tone that that's actually what they're encouraging."

In another meeting for signature gatherers, Backholm was recorded saying something similar about targeting a women's spa.

"We're going to go gather signatures there, actually. We're gonna walk in...We're going naked to the Lakewood spa, and we're going to tell the ladies, 'If you don't think we should be here, you need to sign our petition.'  And we think that would be wildly successful."

Askini told KIRO 7, more than half of the transgender community report having been attacked in public places, like bathrooms.

"I take security and safety very seriously," she said. "I think most transgender people do, and I think most women take security and safety, especially in bathrooms seriously, and I think joking about it is incredibly irresponsible."

King County Sheriff John Urquhart heard the comments, and said what is jokingly suggested would be a violation of criminal trespass laws.

"I'm not goingto be the moral arbiter of what's funny and what isn't funny," Urquhart said. "I don't know whether Backholm is serious or not. I think the bottom line is, if a signature gatherer follows a woman into a bathroom, he's going to get arrested, at least by my deputies."

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