A proposed California ballot initiative from self-styled “privacy advocates” that critics say actually would have spawned vigilante stall-patrolling “bathroom police” won’t be presented to voters next year.
The group Privacy for All announced Monday it failed to meet the ballot access requirement of 365,880 valid signatures for the measure, which would have banned transgender people from using restrooms and locker rooms in government buildings that match their gender identity.
The initiative would have established a minimum $4,000 civil award if someone could prove they caught a violator in gender-segregated facilities. Both the violator and the government entity that allowed the violation would have been liable.
Transgender rights advocates scoffed at the suggestion the initiative would enhance personal privacy.
“It really is a huge invasion of privacy for the entire public,” Rick Zbur, executive director of California Equality, told U.S. News as the initiative backers launched a final church-based push to clear the signature threshold this month.
“What this would result in, essentially, is bathroom police,” he said. “It gives incentives to people to self-monitor bathrooms and accost people who are coming out and allows individuals to make subjective determinations about whether someone looks adequately masculine or feminine.”
Privacy for All executive committee member Tim LeFever said, however, that privacy indeed was at stake, though he said radical boundary-pushers were a greater concern to initiative backers than voyeurs.
“I’ve heard very few people talk about ogling, it’s just a certain sense of modesty and privacy,” he said. “There’s just a sense when you go into a bathroom, into a stall where you’re disrobing to use a toilet, there’s a sense you should have people of the same gender around you.”
The failed initiative was an outgrowth from an earlier failed initiative push from the group that sought to overturn AB 1266, a law that allows California students to chose facilities that match their gender identity. In 2014 elections officials found the group was about 17,000 signatures short of a 487,484 signature requirement, a finding that still is being litigated.
Though the group previously had been unsuccessful, opponents braced for a 2016 fight. The Human Rights Campaign put money toward a steering committee that included the American Civil Liberties Union, California Equality, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Transgender Law Center.
Other opponents, however, just rolled their eyes and said the idea wouldn’t catch on in a state where complaints about transgender people using bathrooms are few.
Thomas Ammiano, the former California State Assembly member who wrote AB 1266, predicted it would not make the ballot and said “they’re chasing their own tail [and] they’re looking more and more foolish as time goes on.”
Elsewhere in the country, similar proposals have flopped. Legislation in Kentucky that proposed a $2,500 bounty on catching students in the “wrong” gendered facility failed earlier this year after widespread and largely unfavorable coverage.
But Privacy for All suggested the latest failure may not be the end of the story.
“[W]hile none of us wants to think about another initiative drive, we assume that someday a measure like the [Personal Privacy Protection Act] will qualify for the ballot not just in California but in other states throughout the country,” the group said in its statement.