This week, chef John Howie completely flip-flopped on his concerns about a law that allows transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their gender. What prompted the change of heart? He heard from transgender people.
The Seattle Times reported Wednesday that in May, Howie had donated $1,000 to the Just Want Privacy campaign, which unsuccessfully tried to overturn Washington’s transgender nondiscrimination protections through a ballot initiative effort known as Initiative 1515. “I think that there’s a chance that the law could be abused by somebody,” said the chef, who owns and operates several restaurants in Seattle and recently announced a new partnership with the Seattle Seahawks to provide some of the stadium’s food. “I think somebody who is not transgender, a sex offender, could abuse the law — somebody who is just out to put themselves into a women’s, or a boys’, bathroom, for that matter.”
After his donation went public, he apparently heard from many members of the LGBTQ community who objected to his comments and donation. The outcry was so overwhelming that just a day later, he published a heartfelt video apology on Facebook.
“It’s been a very eye-opening 24 hours,” Howie said. “I’m sorry to the people that I have harmed or negatively affected with my words and my actions. It’s not who I am, and it’s not who I want to be.”
He emotionally explained that he heard from both friends and employees, who helped him realize why he was wrong to support the Initiative 1515 campaign. “My concerns about the proposed law were based on fear, not facts, and I now have a better understanding of that, and I would never support the proposed law — not now, or in the future.”
Howie promised that his company is committed to the well-being of LGBTQ people, that he will personally be more diligent when considering future donations, and that he has reached out to LGBTQ groups to learn about their challenges so that he can help in the future.
“Again, I’m saddened and hurt that I have hurt people in our community, and I ask that you will forgive me. It’s truly my belief that God loves all people, and that with love and respect, we can all live together.”
The Just Want Privacy campaign announced in July that it had failed to collect enough signatures to advance Initiative 1515 to the ballot. The effort had been a reaction to rules issued by the Washington State Human Rights Commission last December, clarifying that the state’s gender identity nondiscrimination law protected transgender people’s use of various facilities.
Just Want Privacy’s primary argument was that men would use the law to violate women’s spaces, even though the Commission explicitly spelled out why that is not the case. Then, the campaign actually encouraged men collecting signatures to follow women into their restrooms to try to get them to sign the petition.