A SLEW OF RECENT BILLS have proposed making it illegal for people to use bathrooms that don’t align with the gender they were assigned at birth. Several states are deciding on such legislation in the aftermath of North Carolina’s passage of a law that not only bars trans people from facilities that align with their gender identity, but removes power from cities to reverse the legislation within their own borders.
Proponents of this type of legislation have framed their argument around women’s safety: If people can use whichever bathroom they choose, then what is to stop a predatory man from entering the women’s room, possibly committing acts of assault?
The argument that bathroom bills will protect women is flawed, for several reasons. There is no reason to think they will make bathrooms safer for anyone. In fact, they make them much more dangerous for trans people.
Trans People Are the Ones in Danger
Not to minimize the prevalence of physical and sexual violence against cis women, but trans people likely face much higher rates of violence. When we’re talking about gendered spaces like bathrooms, trans people’s safety is far more at risk than cis women’s.
We don’t have data on the prevalence of violence against trans people compared to cis people generally, but within the LGBT community, trans people are subjected to vastly-disproportionate rates of harassment, physical violence, and sexual assault. The numbers are higher for trans women, and especially trans women of color. One survey of 93 trans people found that 68% reported experiencing verbal harassment in bathrooms, and 9% were physically assaulted in bathrooms.
Being able to access the bathroom that best fits their presentation can help trans people keep themselves safe. Forcing a trans woman into a men’s room is equivalent to forcibly outing her, in an enclosed space with men. Given the persistence of transphobic attitudes in society, this is by far a more immanent danger than a man waltzing into the lady’s room – an act that would draw a lot of attention – in pursuit of criminal activity.
I suspect that a lot of proponents of these bathroom bills probably don’t see trans women as “real” women, and therefore don’t believe that they are putting women in danger. However, if the broader argument is to protect a vulnerable class of people with these bills, they are doing the very opposite by putting what may be the most vulnerable demographic in a highly-dangerous situation.
The situation is dangerous for trans men, too. A transgender man living in Charlotte, North Carolina began handing out cards in women’s rooms to explain that the new law is making him be there, and expressed his concern: “I’m afraid to leave the bathroom and to be met by that woman’s boyfriend or husband or an authority figure. Because I could easily be socked.”
Forcing Men to Use Women’s Restrooms
Ironically, these bathrooms bills force trans men to use women’s rooms. Many states’ laws prevent trans men, even those who have transitioned, from having their sex changed on their birth certificate, meaning they’re legally required to use women’s rooms.
Now, having trans men in women’s rooms doesn’t make women unsafe, as trans men aren’t predators for being trans men. But it’s an uncomfortable set-up for all, and, as mentioned above, one that is actually dangerous for trans men. But if the argument for the bills is to keep men out of women’s rooms, it’s worth noting that it actually forces some men into them.
Several conservative blogs, including Daily Wire, have claimed that predatory men have already taken advantage of anti-discrimination legislation to prey on women and girls in bathrooms, but most of the very few examples they dig up do not match that narrative.
Daily Wire provided five examples. One involves two male students who filmed female students showering in a gender-neutral bathroom. This has nothing to do with legislation that would protect transgender people’s right to use facilities in line with their gender identity.
Two of the examples involve men who dressed as women, entered women’s restrooms, and filmed women using the bathroom. There is no evidence that the men claimed to be transgender or took advantage of any laws that involve trans individuals’ bathroom access. These are men who dressed as women to pass as women and entered women’s rooms – something they could do anytime, regardless of what the law says. Both individuals were charged for the criminal acts they committed, and would have been even if non-discrimination ordinances were in place, because their actions would still be considered crimes. It’s relevant to note here that, with the bathroom bills in place, these men wouldn’t need to go to the trouble of dressing as women – they could just walk into women’s rooms and claim they are transgender men.
Only the remaining two examples have anything to do with transgender access to gendered facilities. Concerning the case of a man who claimed to be transgender to enter women’s shelters and committed assaults there, there is no independent information; if you google the case, you’ll see a slew of blogs, mostly conservative, but no unbiased news reports. According to the smattering of information on the case, it appears that the man was not transgender and had committed several acts of sexual assault prior to accessing these shelters that had nothing to do with claiming to be transgender. This man was, it appears, a rapist who used various tactics to accomplish his crimes.
Finally, an individual in Seattle presenting as a man entered a women’s changing facility at a pool and began changing. When staff asked the individual to leave the changing room, the individual said, “the law has changed and I have a right to be here.” This person did not express how they identify, so their gender identity is unclear. According to K5 News, NBC’s Western Washington team, one pool regular suggested that the act was a misguided protest against anti-discrimination legislation.
So, possibly two cases in which an individual has used anti-discrimination policies to access women’s facilities and commit assault, or just make people uncomfortable.
All the Places It’s Never Happened
Media Matters looked at 12 states that have had anti-discrimination legislation in place for years, and reached out to officials to ask if that legislation has resulted in any increase in assault. In each case, state human rights commissions, law enforcement officials, and advocacy groups stated that there has been no such increase related to transgender rights of access to facilities.
Minnesota has prohibited trans discrimination in bathroom access since 1993. John Elder, Minneapolis police spokesman, told Media Matters that fears of sexual assault resulting from the legislation are “not even remotely” an issue.
Cambridge, Massachusetts, has prohibited facility discrimination since 1997. The police superintendent told Media Matters: “Since this 1997 amendment there have been no incidents or issues regarding persons abusing this ordinance or using them as a defense to commit crimes.”
Hawaii has protected trans people’s rights to bathroom access since 2006. The Hawaii Civil Rights Commission executive director told Media Matters that the legislation “has not resulted in increased sexual assault or rape in women’s restrooms.”
Similar reports were issued from the other nine states with non-discrimination legislation.
Bathroom bills like North Carolina’s don’t protect women. They put trans people in danger. End of story. Hopefully, Monday’s federal civil lawsuit brought against North Carolina by the Department of Justice, in which the DOJ demands that North Carolina’s legislature repeal House Bill 2 or face the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in public school funding, makes that clear to North Carolina — and the rest of the country — once and for all.