“ACLU sues to block ballot initiative on transgender bathroom, locker room use”

Thom Bridge, thom.bridge@helenair.com
Thom Bridge, thom.bridge@helenair.com

HELENA — The ACLU of Montana filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging the constitutionality of a proposed ballot initiative that would require transgender residents to use public bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their sex at birth.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in District Court in Cascade County on behalf of seven transgender Montanans, the parents of a transgender 9-year-old and the city of Missoula. The Bozeman City Commission voted Monday to join the effort.

‘This proposed measure legalizes discrimination,’ said Alex Rate, legal director for the ACLU of Montana.

The ACLU and the plaintiffs argue the Locker Room Privacy Act would deprive transgender Montanans of equal protection under the law and violate their rights to privacy, dignity and due process.

The lawsuit asks the court to declare the initiative unconstitutional and to prevent Secretary of State Corey Stapleton from placing it on the November 2018 ballot.

The Montana Family Foundation is sponsoring the initiative. Foundation president Jeff Laszloffy has argued that predators claim they are transgender to access public bathrooms used by the opposite sex.

‘High school girls shouldn’t be forced to shower in front of a boy, even if he does think he’s a girl,’ Laszloffy said in a statement Tuesday. ‘Boys shouldn’t have to change clothes in front of a girl, even if she thinks she’s a boy. It’s just common sense.’

Laszloffy said Initiative 183 offers solutions such as single-stall changing facilities.

While his arguments center on locker room use, plaintiffs focused on the initiative as it would apply to public restrooms.

‘This morning, I walked down the hall and used the women’s restroom,’ transgender plaintiff Roberta Zenker told those gathered at the Capitol Rotunda. ‘It was not lost on me that if I-183 passes, I would not be able to use that restroom.’

The law would force her to use the men’s restroom and face possible harassment, humiliation and embarrassment or risk breaking the law by using the women’s restroom, she said.

‘What better way to discriminate against a class of people than to effectively exclude them from public places,’ said Zenker, who transitioned to a woman 11 years ago.

Laszloffy argued the lawsuit is premature because the initiative has not yet qualified for the ballot. Supporters have until June to gather the nearly 26,000 signatures needed.

Rate noted that in an earlier case challenging the constitutionality of a ballot measure, former Montana Supreme Court Justice Jim Nelson wrote that placing a facially invalid measure on the ballot would be a waste of time and money for all involved.

The high court ruled last month that the ballot language approved for the initiative needed to be re-written because it did not include the initiative’s definition of sex and was otherwise vague.

Rate said he hoped the judge would rule before the November 2018 election.

The Montana Office of Budget and Planning estimated more than $545,000 in costs during the first four years if the initiative were to pass, accounting for renovation, construction and signs for some state departments. It also noted inventories and assessments would need to be done on more than 2,200 state-owned buildings and K-12 schools statewide.

A broader estimate put impacts from the initiative at $1 billion a year, taking in jeopardized federal funding for the Montana University System, saying at minimum $250 million annually was at risk.

The estimate did not account for the fiscal impacts to local cities and towns who would have to enforce the new law, and damages from possible lawsuits, though it said the legal reserve necessary to address claims would be $250,000 per biennium. The office called the impacts ‘an unfunded mandate on local governments.'”

Published on October 17th, 2017 via the Associated Press

Missoulian: “Let freedom flow through Montana’s bathrooms”

Last Wednesday was a bad day for civil rights in Montana and America.

It was a day that saw the president of the United States express an intention to bar transgender individuals from military service, and a day that a group of well-funded bullies got the go-ahead to pursue the persecution of a small number of Montana residents who happen to be transgender.

Yes, on the same day that President Trump tweeted that the nation’s armed forces would no longer welcome transgender service members, Montana’s secretary of state cleared a proposed ballot initiative that would make it illegal for Montanans to use the taxpayer-funded facilities of their choice, and allow people to sue for emotional or mental distress if they encounter a transgender person in a public bathroom or locker room.

It appears the president’s tweets were premature and there are no immediate plans to reinstate the ban that was lifted just last year. However, his message was clear: it’s war on transgender people.

And Montana, unfortunately, is now on the front lines thanks to the ballot initiative submitted by Jeff Laszloffy of the Montana Family Foundation, the same group that tried to push Montana’s Legislature into passing a similar law earlier this year. That effort failed, thankfully, but now the foundation is working to put its discriminatory agenda before voters in 2018.

Initiative 183 would ‘require a person using a locker room or protected facility in a government building or public school to use the facility that is designated for that person’s sex.’ In order to appear on the 2018 ballot, the initiative must earn at least 25,800 signatures representing at least 5 percent of voters from at least 34 House districts in the state.

There’s no telling how many people in Montana have never (knowingly) met a transgender individual and may harbor some misunderstandings about them, but it’s highly likely that supporters of this initiative will try to leverage those misunderstandings into fear and loathing.

The truth is, Montana doesn’t have and doesn’t need any law barring anyone, of any gender or race or religious background, from using certain public facilities. There simply isn’t a problem – but this ballot initiative could create some.

As the supporters of I-183 attempt to justify the need for such a law, we suggest that they explain to Montanans why the mother of an 18-year-old boy with severe autism should not be allowed to help her son use a public restroom – not even after checking to ensure the room is empty, not even in a private stall.

And while they are at it, tell the adult son of an 80-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s that he may not enter the women’s restroom to help guide his distressed mother out of a confusing and unfamiliar place.

Tell Montana’s law enforcement officers, attorneys and judges why they should spend any portion of their valuable time enforcing this requirement when there are so many other urgent matters demanding their attention.

The tragically misguided folks proposing this law harbor the delusion that they can ‘tell,’ at a glance, whether someone was born male or female. The reality is that they are much more likely to mistake feminine-looking men and masculine-looking women for transgender people, and subject them to the humiliation of having to produce a birth certificate to prove it – humiliation they intend only for those who are transgender.

And it would backfire. The law would require transgender men to use the women’s bathroom and the women’s shower – and transgender women to use men’s facilities – because of a single letter on their birth certificate.

As a practical matter, do we really want to require Montanans to carry birth certificates to ‘prove’ sex in order to use public facilities? And are we really prepared to pay out public dollars to individuals who sue for “emotional distress” over this issue?

Remember, North Carolina passed a similar law – and its economy has yet to recover. At last count, the state had lost out on an estimated $3.76 billion over the next 12 years.

We think Montanans have too much common sense and regard for our neighbors to enact laws that would do absolutely no good – and plenty of harm.

Perhaps, though, there’s a way to make everyone happy and put this matter to rest once and for all. In that spirit, and tongue firmly in cheek, here’s our own modest bathroom proposal: Let’s hold a statewide vote on whether those who keep trying to pass ‘bathroom bills’ should be required to do their business in outhouses from now on.

Sure, it might be inconvenient, giving up the comforts and convenience of indoor plumbing, but surely it’s a small price to pay for the iron-clad assurance of complete privacy.

The rest of us will leave our birth certificates at home and continue to make free use of Montana’s public restrooms.”

Published on July 31st, 2017 by the Missoulian

Bozeman Daily Chronicle: “Montana is No Place for ‘Bathroom Bill'”

“The Montana Family Foundation is nothing if not persistent. The group is pushing a ballot initiative — the Montana Locker Room Privacy Act — that would ban transgender individuals from using a public restroom or locker room not designated for their gender on their birth certificate. And it would also allow people to sue the state for emotional distress if they spot a transgender individual doing so.

A similar measure was rightfully rejected earlier this year by the Republican-controlled Legislature. But the foundation has drafted a ballot initiative and recently got the go-ahead from state Attorney General Tim Fox to begin collecting the needed 25,800 signatures from at least 34 legislative districts to qualify for the November 2018 ballot.

Note to all voters: Think twice before you sign. In fact, don’t sign at all.

Many voters will be tempted to reflexively sign after hearing the hyper-emotional appeal of supporters. ‘These people’ are targeting our children. ‘These people’ are different from us. ‘These people’ can’t be trusted.

Aside from the absurdity of those claims, if passed this measure will have unintended consequences. When the state of North Carolina passed a similar ban, the economic consequences were real and significant. NCAA sports events planned for the state were cancelled. Business ventures went elsewhere. North Carolinians have been trying to repeal the bill ever since.

Montanans who sign the foundation’s version of a ‘bathroom bill’ are flirting with the same fate.

This misguided effort discriminates, pure and simple, and is a solution in search of a problem. The Family Foundation and like-minded groups seem to think transgender people are clamoring in droves to get into restrooms and locker rooms of their adopted gender, and that some sort of sexual trauma awaits us if we don’t take drastic action. Truth be told, transgender individuals use bathrooms designated for their adopted gender every day without anyone one the wiser and without incident. How is that a problem?

On those rare occasions when it might become an issue in a public school or government office, let local officials make decisions on a case-by-case basis. We do not need a state law that discriminates against a small minority and could potentially do the state economic harm.” 

Published on July 28th, 2017 by the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.