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15 Experts Debunk Right-Wing Transgender Bathroom Myth

March 20, 2014 10:00 am ET

Experts in 12 states -- including law enforcement officials, government employees, and advocates for victims of sexual assault -- have debunked the right-wing myth that sexual predators will exploit transgender non-discrimination laws to sneak into women's restrooms, calling the myth baseless and "beyond specious."

Media Outlets Have Promoted Myths About Sexual Assault To Attack Transgender Non-Discrimination Laws

Media Outlets Have Promoted "Urban Myth" About Restroom Sexual Assault In Trans-Inclusive Jurisdictions. According to Gay Star News' Jane Fae, transphobic bathroom myths have been promoted by news outlets that fail to fact-check unsubstantiated stories about alleged sexual assaults:

Have you heard the one about the trans woman who went into a female changing room and exposed herself to all and sundry?

No: that's not joke, so much as persistent urban myth. However, thanks to an unhappy combination of reactionary and transphobic groups in the United States, and newspapers with a less than whole-hearted commitment to fact-checking, this is one trope that looks set to run and run.

[...]

Early opposition, primarily from religious groups in bizarre alliance with some radical feminists, led to the circulation of scary video clips: one depicted the supposed nightmare scenario of a young girl entering a toilet, to be followed moments later by a mustachioed man in a dress. Since, however, this was mostly preaching to the converted, the campaign appears to have gone mainstream, with an increasingly regular drip-feed of stories of the kind highlighted above.

The transphobic tendency is often aided and abetted by journalists who don't check the stories. [Gay Star News, 1/9/14]

DC Trans Coalition: Conservatives Use "Bathroom Panic" To Defeat Transgender Non-Discrimination Laws. According to the DC Trans Coalition:

All over the world, anti-trans bigots try to convince the public that trans people are somehow a "threat" in public bathrooms. We've seen it in New Hampshire, in Gainesville, Fl and close to home in Montgomery County, Md: Our opponents stereotype trans people as sexual predators and try to use "bathroom panic" to defeat legislation that would protect our ability to gain employment and live safe lives. [DC Trans Coalition, accessed 3/18/14]  

Fox News Has Promoted Harassment Fears About Transgender Access To Restrooms. Fox News has repeatedly invoked fears of sexual assault and misbehavior in restrooms to attack equal access to public accommodations for transgender people, including a fake story about a transgender student harassing females in her school's restroom. [Equality Matters6/5/132/27/138/14/1310/15/13]

Conservative Media Outlets Have Promoted Bogus Bathroom Stories. Numerous conservative media outlets, including The Daily Caller, WND, and the Media Research Center, have similarly promoted the myth that sexual predators will exploit trans-inclusive restrooms to prey upon women. [Equality Matters8/19/138/22/132/3/14]

Experts From 12 States Debunk, Condemn Transgender Bathroom Myth

Colorado

State Law Has Prohibited Discrimination In Public Accommodations Since 2008. In 2008, Colorado expanded its Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination in public accommodations, to include sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected class. [The Denver Post5/29/08]

Coalition Against Sexual Assault: Opponents Of Protections Are Creating "Unsubstantiated Fear." Alexa M. Priddy, director of training and communications at the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, reported no problems as a result of her state's non-discrimination law. In an email to Equality Matters, she wrote:

Denying equal rights is yet another form of discrimination against transgender individuals, which is pervasive within our society and institutions. Such criticisms of this law and ads [that] invoke what we see as "trans panic," an attempt to create fear of transgender people and a false label of trans individuals as sexual predators.

CCASA would love to see the real focus be on the realities that transgender people are far too often targeted for sexual violence, and if they seek support through victim services or the criminal justice system in the aftermath, they often face continued discrimination from the very people who are there to help. Sexual assault is already an under-reported crime, and we see this increase with marginalized communities. We want to focus on creating safety for transgender survivors and not on creating unsubstantiated fear. [Email exchange, 3/8/14]

Connecticut

State Law Has Prohibited Discrimination In Public Accommodations Since 2011. In 2011, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed into law legislation prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations based on gender identity or expression. [Bay Windows7/6/11]

State Commission On Human Rights: "Unaware Of Any Sexual Assault." In an email to Equality Matters, Jim O'Neill, legislative liaison and spokesman for the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights in Opportunities, reported no problems as a result of the state's non-discrimination law:

I am unaware of any sexual assault as the result of the CT gender identity or expression law.  I'm pretty sure it would have come to our attention. [Email exchange, 3/6/14] 

Hawaii

State Law Has Prohibited Discrimination In Public Accommodations Since 2006. In 2006, Hawaii expanded its non-discrimination laws to prohibit discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. [Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, accessed 3/12/14]

State Civil Rights Commission: Non-Discrimination Law "Has Not Resulted In Increase[d] Sexual Assault Or Rape."  William Hoshijo, executive director of the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, told Equality Matters in an email:

In Hawai`i, the protection against discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sex, including gender identity or expression, has not resulted in increase sexual assault or rape in women's restrooms.  The HCRC is not aware of any incidents of sexual assault or rape causally related or attributed to the prohibition against discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression. (In contrast to anecdotal reports of transgender students being harassed and bullied in school restrooms when forced to use an assigned restroom inconsistent with their gender identity.) [Email exchange, 3/6/14] 

Iowa

State Law Has Prohibited Discrimination In Public Accommodations Since 2007. In 2007, the Iowa Civil Rights Act was expanded to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in public accommodations. [Iowa Civil Rights Commission, accessed 3/14/14]

Des Moines Police Department: "We Have Not Seen That."  In an interview with Equality Matters, Des Moines Police Department spokesman Jason Halifax stated that he hadn't seen cases of sexual assault related to the state's non-discrimination ordinance:

We have not seen that. I doubt that's gonna encourage the behavior. If the behavior's there, [sexual predators are] gonna behave as they're gonna behave no matter what the laws are. [Phone interview, 3/13/14] 

Maine

State Law Has Prohibited Discrimination In Public Accommodations Since 2005. In 2005, Maine adopted legislation prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. [GLAD, 2/25/14

State Human Rights Commission: "No Factual Basis" For Sexual Assault Fears. In an email to Equality Matters, Executive Director Amy Sneirson of the Maine Human Rights Commission said that the state's non-discrimination law hadn't led to increased sexual assault or rape:

I know that this concern persists but I personally have not seen any factual basis for it.

I am not aware of any increased sexual assault or rape in women's restrooms as a result of Maine's 2005 adoption of protections in the Maine Human Rights Act for sexual orientation (which, in Maine, includes "a person's actual or perceived heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality or gender identity or expression"). [Email exchange, 3/7/14] 

Massachusetts

Cambridge Has Prohibited Discrimination In Public Accommodations Since 1997. In 1997, the city of Cambridge expanded its non-discrimination ordinance to prohibit discrimination against transgender people in public accommodations. [National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, July 2008]

Cambridge Police Superintendent: "No Incidents" Of Transgender Protections Being Abused. Police Superintendent Christopher Burke told Equality Matters in an email:

Back in 1984 Cambridge enacted an ordinance that established the Human Rights Commission. The purpose of the ordinance was to protect the human rights of all citizens of the City. In 1997 this ordinance was amended to specifically include gender identity and expression. Much like the Transgender Equal Rights Bill proposal, the City of Cambridge sought to offer protection to transgender individuals from being harassed, fired from a job, denied access to a public place, or denied or evicted from housing. 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. Specifically, as was raised as a concern if the bill were to be passed, there have been no incidents of men dressing up as women to commit crimes in female bathrooms and using the city ordinance as a defense. [Email exchange, 3/7/14, emphasis added]

State Victims' Advocacy Group: Fears About Transgender Protections Are "Beyond Specious." Toni Troop, spokeswoman for the statewide sexual assault victims organization Jane Doe Inc., told Equality Matters in an email:

The argument that providing transgender rights will result in an increase of sexual violence against women or men in public bathrooms is beyond specious.  The only people at risk are the transgender men and women whose rights to self-determination, dignity and freedom of violence are too often denied.  We have not heard of any problems since the passage of the law in Massachusetts in 2011, nor do we expect this to be a problem.  While cases of stranger rape and sexual violence occur, sexual violence is most often perpetrated by someone known to the victim and not a stranger in the bush or the bathroom. [Email exchange, 3/7/14, emphasis added]

Minnesota

State Law Has Prohibited Discrimination In Public Accommodations Since 1993. In 1993, Minnesota amended its Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination against transgender people in public accommodations. [OutFront Minnesota, accessed 3/13/14]

Minneapolis Police Department: Fears About Sexual Assault "Not Even Remotely" A Problem. Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder told Equality Matters in an interview that sexual assaults stemming from Minnesota's 1993 transgender non-discrimination law have been "not even remotely" a problem. Based on his experience, the notion of men posing as transgender women to enter women's restrooms to commit sex crimes "sounds a little silly," Elder said. According to Elder, a police department inquiry found "nothing" in the way of such crimes in the city. [Phone interview, 3/11/14]

Nevada

State Law Has Prohibited Discrimination In Public Accommodations Since 2011. In 2011, Nevada enacted three transgender non-discrimination laws, including a law explicitly prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations. [National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 6/2/11]

Las Vegas Police Department: No Problems Since Passage Of Non-Discrimination Law. Asked whether Nevada's 2011 gender identity law had fueled a rise in sex crimes, Las Vegas Police Department spokesman Jesse Roybal told Equality Matters, "the answer would be no." After the department's lieutenant for sexual assault ran a check of crimes since 2011, Roybal told Equality Matters that the department had not "had any incidents involving transgender suspects." [Phone interview, 3/6/14, 3/11/14]

New Mexico

State Law Has Prohibited Discrimination In Public Accommodations Since 2003. In 2003, New Mexico amended its Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in public accommodations. [The Williams Institute, September 2009]

Albuquerque Police Department: "Unaware Of Any Cases Of Assault" Due To Non-Discrimination Law. Officer Tasia Martinez, Public Information Officer for the Albuquerque Police Department, told Equality Matters in an email:

We are unaware of any cases of assault in our city as a result of transgendered [sic] accommodations. [Email exchange, 3/13/14]

Oregon

State Law Has Prohibited Discrimination In Public Accommodations Since 2007. In 2007, Oregon enacted the Oregon Equality Act, which prohibits discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. [Lambda Legal, accessed 3/13/14]

Bureau of Labor And Industries: "Zero Allegations" Of Assault Due To 2007 Law. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries spokesman Charlie Burr told Equality Matters in an email:

The Oregon Equality Act protects the rights of LGBT Oregonians in employment, housing and public places and has done so without any incidents of LGBT assaults on women in public restrooms that we're aware of. Our agency has encountered zero allegations of LGBT assault related to this public accommodation protection. [Email exchange, 3/7/14] 

Portland Police Department: "I Have Never Heard Of Any Issues Like This." Portland Police Department spokesman Peter Simpson wrote in an email to Equality Matters:

I have never heard of any issues like this in Portland. We have a very low rate of sexual assault/rape crimes here overall. [Email exchange, 3/7/14] 

Rhode Island

State Law Has Prohibited Discrimination In Public Accommodations Since 2001. In 2001, Rhode Island explicitly prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression in public accommodations. [GLAD, 2/25/14]

State Commission for Human Rights: No Increase In Sex Crimes Due To Non-Discrimination Law. Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights Executive Director Michael D. Evora told Equality Matters in an email:

The Commission for Human Rights has not taken in any cases alleging gender identity discrimination in respect to bathroom usage in public facilities since the law was amended to prohibit such discrimination.  In addition, we are not aware of any affect the passage of the law has had on incidents of assault in public restrooms. [Email exchange, 3/7/14] 

Vermont

State Law Has Prohibited Discrimination In Public Accommodations Since 2007. In 2007, Vermont explicitly prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender identity in public accommodations. [GLAD, 3/4/14]

State Human Rights Commission: "We Are Not Aware" Of Any Problems From Non-Discrimination Law. In an email to Equality Matters, the Vermont Human Rights Commission's Karen Richards said:

I have only been here a short time so was checking with my staff to find out if they were aware of any issues. ... We are not aware of any other issues or problems similar to this caused by prohibiting discrimination against those who are transgendered. [Email exchange, 3/7/14] 

Montpelier Police Department: No Complaints. Montpelier Police Chief Tony Facos responded to an email inquiry about whether the state's non-discrimination law had led to incidents of rape or sexual assault in women's restrooms, stating, "We do not have any complaints related to this issue." [Email exchange, 3/10/14]