A woman who fought off a sexual assault at a Seattle park restroom last week is now calling out a political campaign that used her story and photo to promote an initiative to restrict bathroom access for transgender people.
Kelly Herron probably thought she was finished with the expletive-anchored rallying cry she yelled when fighting off a sexual assault last week.
But on Tuesday, Herron reprised her defiant words in calling on a political campaign seeking to restrict bathroom and locker-room access for transgender people to stop using her photo and story.
The Just Want Privacy campaign, which is trying to get Initiative 1552 on the ballot, used an image showing Herron’s injuries and recounted her story in a fundraising appeal. The campaign also shared a news item on its Facebook page with Herron’s image and story.
Most Read Local Stories
“There are more than 1,000 registered sex offenders in WA who are listed as missing or non-compliant,” according to the Just Want Privacy post that appeared above Herron’s photo and story. “We cannot be naive and normalize the presence of males in females’ vulnerable spaces.”
But Herron didn’t know they were being used; the image that Just Want Privacy reproduced was one she had shared with news media.
“To the people behind I-1552, I say ‘Not today, mother (expletive),’ ” Herron said, using the same language she says she shouted at the man who assaulted her last week.
“I refuse to allow anyone to use me and my horrific sexual assault to cause harm and discrimination to others,” she added.
Out for a marathon-training run March 5, Herron stopped at a rest room at Golden Gardens, and after she turned on a hand-dryer, Gary Steiner emerged from a stall to attack her, according to court documents.
Herron fought back, ultimately escaped and, with the help of bystanders, locked Steiner in the restroom until police arrived, authorities said.
In denouncing the campaign’s use of her story, Herron said, “I’m more upset now than I have been all week after seeing that a political group is using my face, my name and my story to fundraise for I-1552, a ballot initiative that deliberately targets and harms transgender people — including friends whom I respect.”
The I-1552 campaign has regularly raised the issue of safety in women’s restrooms and locker rooms to promote the initiative, which would require transgender students to use school bathrooms associated with the gender of their birth, and allow businesses to set their own bathroom policies.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Just Want Privacy campaign released a statement apologizing to Herron.
“Since many of the volunteers that comprise this campaign are themselves survivors of sexual assault, the last thing we want to do is make anyone feel exploited,” the statement said. “If our actions have inadvertently failed in this effort, we are sincerely sorry.”
By Tuesday afternoon, the Facebook post featuring Herron’s story had been removed.
Through a spokeswoman for Washington Won’t Discriminate, Herron declined to speak with The Seattle Times but granted permission to use her photos for this story. The Seattle Times typically does not name victims of sexual assault, unless the victims choose to come forward, and did not name Herron in an initial story on the attack.
I-1552 would roll back a state Human Rights Commission rule issued in 2015 that guarantees people access to locker rooms and bathrooms according to the gender with which they live — as opposed to the gender with which they were born. The rule affects private and public buildings, such as schools, stores and restaurants.
Some conservatives have chafed at that, saying the commission lacked the authority to make such a rule.
The Just Want Privacy campaign has argued that the rule would allow sexual predators to more easily enter spaces like bathrooms and potentially harm women and children — and then use the rule as a loophole to escape prosecution.
Just Want Privacy unsuccessfully sought to get an initiative on the ballot last year, an effort that came after the Republican-controlled Washington Senate shot down a proposed bill that would have rolled back the commission’s regulation.
Those actions sparked the formation of Washington Won’t Discriminate, which is backed by, among others, businesses like Alaska Airlines, Amazon, Google and Microsoft.
In order to make the November ballot, Just Want Privacy must turn in 259,622 valid signatures from registered voters in Washington by July 7.