A Day of Pink and the Stupidity of the Transgender Bathroom Argument

A t-shirt proclaiming, "It's time to talk about bullying, homophobia, transphobia. Day of Pink, April 13, 2016."
Today is the Day of Pink, an International Day against Bullying, Discrimination, Homophobia, Transphobia, and Transmisogyny across the world.
I’ve been noticing a theme in the search terms bringing people to my blog lately—many variations of “stupidity of transgender bathroom argument.” Which is understandable. We have certain states falling all over themselves to pass anti-gay and anti-trans laws in the wake of the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling, and the argument which seems to get the most traction with voters (or will get a certain type of person who isn’t a reliable voter to turn out) is the argument claiming that laws protecting trans people leads to sexual predators lurking in public bathrooms. So the laws that are getting passed include specific language demanding that people use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender listed on their birth certificate, or that “matches their genitals” and so forth. Which in turn means a lot of people who want to figure out how to debunk those arguments are searching the web for an answer.

And it makes sense that some of those searches will land here, since I’ve written about this topic at least once or twice before:

Setting aside some of the other ludicrous claims, the one take away that we need to return to, again and again, is that many states and cities have had laws that specifically allow transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, and in none of those places as there been a single documented case of someone using that law in order to try to commit a sexual assault. Not one. Which is summed up nicely in the chart below.

None of those bathroom or locker room horror stories have a basis in fact. (Click to embiggen)
This chart (which was included in one of those previous posts) is a bit over a year old. Now, in addition to the original Media Matters nice compilation of statements from law enforcement officials and other experts from the 12 states that have had laws protecting transgender people on the books for year (some going back to 1993!) showing that there has never been an assault in a bathroom because of them, we have even more! Media experts, law enforcement, and real live trans people explain why the fear of men “pretending” to be trans to attack women and children in bathrooms has no basis in reality, and More Republican Lawmakers Arrested For Sexual Misconduct In Bathrooms Than Trans People.

But it’s important to note that in the 200 cities and 17 states with laws like this [allowing trans people to use the bathroom that matches their identity] already on the books, there are no examples documented of someone using it for nefarious purposes, of a transgender person who is this sex predator in the bathroom. It’s got no factual foothold. If anything, the irony in this is that it actually would require — and North Carolina now requires transgender men who have beards, who are muscular, to use the women’s restroom. So it actually creates the very problem that it claims to solve. —Dominic Holden, speaking on PBS’s Newshour

Why have I chosen today, the Day of Pink, which is supposed to be a day to raise awareness of bullying to come back to this topic? Because any time a law criminalizes or otherwise penalizes people because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender, it encourages bullying. Businesses, school officials, hospital workers, and so on will reference the law as justification when they discriminate against someone who is queer or gender-non-conforming. The laws foster the notion that it is okay to mistreat, demean, and bully some people.

Ironically, these bathroom bills increase the likelihood that there will be assaults in bathrooms. It’s just that the victims will be the queer kids (or kids who are perceived by their peers as being queer). And it’s not as if school bathrooms aren’t already a place of terror for kids who are perceived as gender non-conforming, let along openly gay or trans children! In my early elementary school days, most of the teachers were women, and so the boys’ bathroom was a place where other boys could gang up on the class sissy or freak (usually me) with impunity. It got so bad for me at one school, that I simply stopped going to the bathroom at school. I avoided drinking anything all day, to try to stay out. My mom kept asking why I was running home from school and rushing straight to the bathroom.

So you can imagine the horror I felt when I read the headline: Kansas Bill Would Pay Students A $2,500 Bounty To Hunt For Trans People In Bathrooms! Geeze, talk about dehumanizing children!

"More United States Senators have been arrested for sexual misconduct in bathrooms than trans women."
It’s not just a meme…
I quote Dominic Holden (who used to write for one of our local weekly alternative papers, so I’ve been a fan for years) for his appearance on PBS’s Newshour above, and I’ve embedded a Youtube video of a snippet below (the link after the embed leads to a longer video and transcript, by the way). And while I agree with most of Dominic’s points, I think he gets one little bit slightly wrong. “…it’s really put LGBT advocates in a difficult place because they haven’t figured out how to respond to this. And for the most part, they have not taken it on directly.”

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)

The part I disagree with is where he says that these laws have put advocates in a difficult place. No, we put ourselves there.

We were so giddy at the Supreme Court ruling, that we allowed ourselves to think the battle was won. I say “we” even though I was raising this concern back then. I raised the concern, but what did I do about it? Most of our official advocacy groups have been avoiding taking the issue on directly. They responding half-heartedly, if at all, to some of the earliest instances of backlash. They deployed a really generic fairness response in the Houston equal rights repeal, for instance.

And to imply that we don’t know how to respond is simply wrong. The current trans bathroom bill arguments are not substantially different than the arguments they have always made against queer people. The bigots have always claimed we are delusional—our orientation or gender identity is a choice we’ve made for sinful or other nefarious reasons, not an inherent characteristic. They have always claimed that we are dangerous sexual predators. They have always claimed that acknowledging our existence will cause confusion and harm to children. Exactly how they couched those arguments has changed. Which segment of the non-heterosexual population they were demonizing has changed, but the essence of the arguments are the same.

That is what they are claiming now. We’ve dealt with those arguments before. We have won battles in the court of public opinion against those arguments before. We can do it again. We just have to actually try. Marriage equality was only one touchdown out of a very long game. And it directly benefits only some of us, and only in some situations. The fight still belongs to all of us.

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