SACRAMENTO, Calif. – If there was widespread support for opening public restroom and shower facilities to both genders, to accommodate the wishes of some transgender people, it would probably be in California, arguably the most progressive of all states.
Yet there seems to be significant opposition to that concept in the state.
Last year, approximately 620,000 California residents signed a petition to force a referendum on a 2013 state law that guarantees transgender students in public schools the right to use the restroom and shower facilities of their choice, based on their self-perceived gender.
That means biological boys can use girls’ restrooms and shower facilities, and the other way around. Privacy for All, the group behind the petition drive, wanted citizens to have the opportunity to void that law.
But the petition is currently bottled up in court, because the state invalidated thousands of signatures, leaving it short of the number needed to force a statewide election.
Privacy for All leaders believe thousands of signatures were wrongly invalidated, and are suing to have them re-examined.
In the meantime, Privacy for All has started a new petition drive, using a broader strategy. They want a statewide vote on a proposal that would preserve single-sex restrooms in all facilities that are at least partially funded with tax dollars.
The proposal would also allow private businesses to maintain single-sex restrooms, and offer them legal protection if they force employees or customers to use the segregated facilities.
It would also permit individuals whose privacy is violated by a person of the opposite sex using the same restroom to file a civil claim. Those prevented from using a restroom due to the presence of someone of the opposite sex would also be allowed to sue.
The proposal could appear on the November 2016 state ballot if the group can obtain approximately 366,000 valid signatures.
The new petition drive needs far fewer signatures than the previous one, because the number required is based on a percentage of the number of voters who participated in the most recent gubernatorial election, according to Karen England, executive director of Capitol Resource Institute and a spokesperson for Privacy for All.
The last election, in November 2014, did not have a heavy turnout, she said.
Considering the number of people who signed the previous petition, reaching the new goal may not be difficult.
England said the number of signatures gathered in the first petition drive is evidence that most people, even in California, prefer privacy and modesty in public restrooms and shower facilities.
“That (petition drive) was historic,” England said. “It was the first time in California where that many signatures were gathered using mostly volunteers to gather them. Whether it was Tea Party members standing outside of Wal-Marts or moms going to PTA meetings or their churches, they gathered an awful lot of signatures in 75 days.
“This crosses party lines, as well as liberal or conservative ideological lines. People want to protect their privacy and their children’s privacy.”
England said it’s possible that both proposals could end up on the state ballot in 2016.
The previous petition drive fell short after the state invalidated roughly 110,000 of the gathered signatures, leaving the group about 17,000 short of the number needed get on the ballot.
But the state may have improperly invalidated a lot of signatures, England said. Group members visited many counties in the days and weeks following the invalidation and found that many signatures were erroneously thrown out, she said.
Now the state is refusing to share the identities of the people whose signatures were invalidated, or information about their voter status, England said. Privacy for All wants the court to force a recount, to accurately determine if enough valid signatures were actually gathered.
“We started going out the following morning at 9 a.m. to look at what they took out,” England said. “The very first morning we went to Sacramento County and found that the first person we looked at, whose signature was thrown out for not being a registered voter, had actually been registered since 2010.
“We’ve found all sorts of errors in a bunch of counties. We’re in court saying they need to count them.”