October 07, 2015 5:10 pm ET
Fox News reported a bogus story about a California mom who claims to have been kicked out of an REI sporting goods store for complaining about a man frightening her daughter in the store's women's restroom. Fox's reporting was based on statements made by an anti-LGBT hate group with a history of fabricating similar incidents in order to fearmonger about transgender people using public restrooms.
Fox Parroted Mom's Allegation Of Being "Booted" From Store. In an October 2 article on FoxNews.com, Fox News reporter Perry Chiaramonte reported a California woman's allegation that she was kicked out of a Santa Rosa REI sporting goods store after complaining that a man had frightened her daughter in the women's restroom:
A California mom who says she was recently kicked out of a sporting goods store after alerting a manager that man had frightened her young daughter in the women's restroom is demanding answers - and a policy change - from the Washington-based chain.
The woman, who spoke to FoxNews.com but asked not to be identified, said she was shopping with her 12-year-old daughter and the girl's younger friend when her daughter told her what had happened moments earlier at an REI sporting goods store during a shopping trip in late August.
"We started to drive to another store and she said to me, 'Mom, I need to tell you something,'" said the woman. "I asked her what was wrong and she told me 'A man used the bathroom while we were in there and it scared me.'"
When the mother turned the car around and went back to the store to confront the manager of the Santa Rosa store, she said she was stunned to learn that the man, who she said was not dressed in women's clothes and did not appear outwardly to be transgender, had done nothing wrong in the eyes of the employees and other customers. [FoxNews.com, 10/2/15]
Fox Based Its Report On Claims Made By The Pacific Justice Institute. Chiaramonte's reporting relied heavily on statements made by the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), a California-based legal group acting on behalf of the woman who complained to REI:
The angry mom contacted The Pacific Justice Institute, a California-based law advocacy group, which has fired off letters to both the Santa Rosa store and company headquarters calling for an apology and a clear policy to protect the safety and privacy of customers using public restrooms. The legal nonprofit cited California's civil rights laws, a building code mandating gender-specific restrooms and the right to privacy set forth in the state constitution.
"It's one thing for a stranger of the opposite sex go into the ladies bathroom and traumatize young girls," Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, told FoxNews.com. "It's another to have the sanction and blessing of the store manager.
"Any reasonable person would feel shocked and emotional violated with a member of the opposite sex coming into their restroom," he added. "This man's intention, whatever they may have been, in no way negates the shock." [FoxNews.com, 10/2/15]
Fox News Linked The Controversy To California Law Prohibiting Discrimination Against Transgender People. Chiaramonte described the incident as part of the ongoing controversy over California's non-discrimination protections for transgender people:
California is grappling with the issue of transgenders and public restrooms, passing a recent, controversial law mandating that public schools allow students to choose the restroom associated with their own gender perception. The city of West Hollywood in 2014 began requiring all businesses to make their single-stall restrooms gender-neutral. Similar laws were passed in Washington, D.C., in 2006 and Philadelphia in 2013, where it was required that new or renovated city-owned buildings must include unisex bathrooms.
The California law has been met with opposition, with a counter bill being proposed for a November 2016 ballot. The Personal Privacy Protection Act aims to mandate that people in government facilities would use a restroom according to their biological sex and not based on which gender they may identify with, The law also aims to protect business owners from potential lawsuits for requiring that employees use bathrooms based on their sex. [FoxNews.com, 10/2/15]
After Investigation, REI Finds "No Evidence" Of Incident, Confirms Woman Was Not Asked To Leave. In a statement posted on their website, REI said store personnel had found no evidence to support the claim that a man was in the women's restroom. Additionally, the sporting goods retailer denied the woman's allegation that she was asked to leave the store (emphasis added):
Customer safety—especially where children are involved—is paramount in our stores. Whenever we receive a customer concern about safety, we take it seriously. We investigate it thoroughly from all sides, which we are doing in this case. In full transparency, we have not had an opportunity to speak directly with the customer since the incident, but have made that request.
To date, based upon our investigation, which includes reviewing relevant video footage, we have found no evidence to suggest that a man entered the women's restroom on the date in question. As a co-op, we are owned by our members and so we focus huge energy on ensuring that experiences in our stores are overwhelmingly positive.
On the subject that is being discussed in this thread, we want to clarify that when you visit an REI store, you will see that we have bathrooms designated as men's and women's, as required by California state law. Our practice is -- and has always been -- to comply with applicable state law in all of our store locations.
The disagreement between the customer and our staff was not consistent with a usual experience in REI and we have asked to speak with the customer to understand how we could improve our service in the future. As we have said before, however, the customer was not asked to leave the store and she is welcome to come back at any time. [REI Newsroom, accessed 10/7/15]
The Pacific Justice Institute Has Been Designated An Anti-Gay Hate Group. The Southern Poverty Law Center has listed PJI as an anti-LGBT hate group since 2014 -- a designation reserved for groups that knowingly spread falsehoods about LGBT people and engage in groundless, repeated name-calling. [Truth Wins Out, 2/28/14]
PJI Previously Fabricated A Story About Transgender Bathroom Access. In 2013, the PJI was criticized after being caught fabricating a story about a transgender Colorado student who it said was harassing girls in a school bathroom. Fox Nation reported that bogus story without issuing a retraction. [Media Matters, 12/29/13]
Fox Was Recently Duped By Another Bogus PJI Story About LGBT People. In February 2015, Fox News contributor Todd Starnes fell for another another bogus PJI horror story about anti-gay students being bullied at a California high school. [Media Matters, 2/19/15]
PJI Has Used The REI Story To Advocate For A Rollback Of Non-Discrimination Protections. In a September 28 press release, PJI used the REI incident to advocate for the passage of its Personal Privacy Protection Act:
Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, commented, "Retailers and other places of public accommodation face significant liability if they do not take adequate steps to ensure the safety and privacy of their restrooms. This incident raises serious concerns about the policies and practices of REI, and it appears that political correctness is putting young girls at risk."
Earlier this year, PJI attorneys drafted the Personal Privacy Protection Act, a statewide initiative that is currently gathering signatures. The PPPA focuses on sensitive facilities like restrooms and seeks to encourage businesses to protect customer privacy. [Pacific Justice Institute, 9/28/15]
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. [Equality Matters, 6/5/13, 2/27/13, 8/14/13, 10/15/13, 10/30/14]
Independent Experts Have Debunked The Transgender Bathroom Myth. Law enforcement officials, victims' rights advocates, and human rights commission officials in states and localities with transgender non-discrimination protections have debunked the claim that sexual predators will exploit non-discrimination laws, calling it "beyond specious." [Media Matters, 3/20/14]
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