Law to protect trans youth in crisis will take effect as repeal effort fails

Opponents lacked signatures needed for a referendum. The law permits shelters to not contact parents in some situations when children are seeking gender-affirming services.

By: - July 22, 2023 2:26 pm

The Washington state Capitol building in Olympia. (Jules Frazier/Getty Images)

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 will take effect Sunday after a push to repeal it failed. 

Opponents needed to turn in valid signatures of at least 162,258 registered voters by Saturday to get a referendum aimed at overturning the law on the November ballot.

“It was a real Herculean effort, all volunteer, all grassroot,” said Dawn Land of Puyallup, who led the opposition push. “I feel I disappointed everyone by not getting it across the finish line.”

Land said they wound up about 5,000 signatures short.

Senate Bill 5599, the target of the referendum, was signed in May by Gov. Jay Inslee. It takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Sunday. 

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 in those cases are to inform the state Department of Children, Youth and Families.

Senate Bill 5599 expands the list to cover situations when a young person feels they could be subject to abuse or neglect when they are seeking gender-affirming care or reproductive health services. Its passage incensed conservatives, who say it’s an attack on parental rights.

“I am so relieved for the vulnerable kids who need safe shelter, the disinformation and fear were very concerning,” said Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett, sponsor of the new law. “Now we focus on making sure the law works. Homeless kids deserve safe shelter and access to family reunification support.”

Land launched the repeal effort soon after the law was signed. 

Signature-gathering appeared to get off to a slow start, partly because a prominent conservative force, the Washington State Catholic Conference, did not initially not take part, telling parishioners in mid-June the campaign was “too far behind in collecting signatures and obtaining needed funding for a successful effort.”

Two weeks later, the conference shifted course, endorsing the referendum and gathering of signatures at parishes.

“I am Catholic. That really hurt when they put that out,” Land said of the conference’s initial position. “We lost weeks. The [signature total] could have been so much more.”

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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.