Repeal effort targets law to help trans youth in crisis

Under the law, shelters would not have to contact parents in some situations when children are seeking gender-affirming services. Foes say it goes too far.

By: - May 12, 2023 2:30 pm

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Voters may get the last word on a new law allowing emergency shelters to notify state authorities rather than parents when a youth seeks refuge as they pursue gender-affirming health care or reproductive services.

Opponents contend the legislation undermines the power of parents and will attempt to repeal it with a referendum in November. They plan to begin gathering signatures this month.

“We’re hoping everybody can understand it really is a bad law,” said organizer Dawn Land of Puyallup. “We are putting it on the ballot so we the people can veto it.”

Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett, the bill’s author, thinks voters will leave it in place if given the choice.

“What we are talking about here is providing shelter to children in crisis,” he said. “I am confident that when Washingtonians hear the truth, they will be supportive.”

To get on the ballot, backers must turn in valid signatures of at least 162,258 registered voters by Saturday, July 22. The Secretary of State’s Office will be open until 5 p.m. that day to accept signed petitions.

Setting the stage

Senate Bill 5599 is the target of Referendum 101

It concerns rules on providing emergency shelter to youths who are homeless or who have fled difficult situations. Existing state law directs shelter operators to notify parents within 72 hours when a child arrives at such a place. It lays out “compelling reasons” not to do so – such as abuse or neglect. Instead, shelter staff are to inform the state Department of Children, Youth and Families.

The new law expands the list of compelling reasons to include “when a minor is seeking or receiving protected health care services” defined as gender affirming treatment and reproductive health care services, including abortion.

Majority Democrats overcame the strong objection of Republicans in each chamber, passing the bill by margins of 57-39 in the House and 29-20 in the Senate. 

Land said she testified against it in both chambers.

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“I have been fighting the transgender ideology for years. I am very motivated to stop this bill from becoming law,” said Land, who is married with two grown children and one in high school. Gov. Jay Inslee signed the law May 9.

“With this bill, Washington leads the way by taking a more compassionate, developmentally appropriate, and reasoned approach to support these youth as they access gender-affirming treatment and reproductive health care services,” Inslee said at the time.

It will take effect in July, barring a referendum.

Ongoing efforts to block a good policy aren’t surprising given the aggressive disinformation campaign we saw throughout the legislative process,” said Mike Faulk, a spokesperson for the governor.

Inslee received 3,893 requests to veto the bill and 25 to sign it, according to the governor’s office. Critics called it “a dangerous bill” that would permanently harm many children in the state. They argued it was unconstitutional and would face legal challenges.

Supporters expressed frustration with the partisan push back. One woman wrote that it was “frightening to me as a mother and a grandmother that any political party intercedes in our health care decisions or in the health care decisions of any citizens of our state.”

Liias said far-right activists spread a lot of misinformation to stoke outrage and grow their ranks.

Conservative Ladies of Washington, for example, said in a Facebook post it would lead to “state sanctioned kidnapping” of vulnerable children.

“None of that is happening. Kidnapping is a felony so that is patently false,” Liias said. “We’re facing a reality that there are unsheltered kids right now. They are in unstable situations and need help.”

Not a novice

This isn’t Land’s first brush with the electoral process. 

She said she collected signatures to get Referendum 90 on the ballot in 2020. That measure sought to repeal a law concerning comprehensive sexual health education in public schools. It didn’t succeed.

Those behind the referendum did gather 264,637 signatures in a period when the pandemic had shut down much of public life. They got creative, setting up drive-through petition signing sites in neighborhoods and at churches.

“You will be seeing more of that this time,” Land  said.


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Jerry Cornfield
Jerry Cornfield

Jerry Cornfield joined the Standard after 20 years covering Olympia statehouse news for The Everett Herald. Earlier in his career, he worked for daily and weekly papers in Santa Barbara, California.