While many have argued that transgender people using the bathroom that corresponds with their identity somehow endangers cisgender people, and fought to pass legislation and school policies to keep their bathrooms separate, a new study confirms that this narrative is completely false.
The study presents findings from analyses of areas of Massachusetts both with and without ordinances that protect transgender peoples’ right to use bathrooms, as well as analyses of data from public record requests of criminal incident reports related to assault, sex crimes, and voyeurism in public restrooms, locker rooms, and dressing rooms. Ultimately, the study found that any instances of privacy or safety violations are “exceedingly rare.” The key finding is that “fears of increased safety and privacy violations as a result of nondiscrimination laws are not empirically grounded.” Basically, the argument that transgender people pose a threat to cisgender people in bathrooms is plain old wrong.
In other words, the study shows that discriminating against transgender people doesn’t protect cisgender people. It does, however, hurt transgender people. There are many examples of situations where transgender people have experienced greater harm at the hands of cisgender people by simply trying to use a public space like a bathroom or changing room. In a landmark survey from the National Center for Transgender Equality, released in 2016, where 27,715 people were surveyed, the results found that approximately 12% of transgender people were verbally harassed in public restrooms within the previous year, 1% were physically attacked, and 1% were sexually assaulted.
Chase Strangio from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), has called out anti-trans policies like discriminatory bathroom bills as effectively tools to ban transgender people from all public spaces. While speaking with Rachel Maddow on her show in 2016, Strangio said, “Trans people deserve to have access to public space. It is not a threat to anyone’s public safety to extend nondiscrimination protections to people based on gender identity and sexual orientation,” adding that, “There has never been ever, in the history of nondiscrimination protections or anything in the United States, an example of someone exploiting a nondiscrimination ordinance for the purpose of assaulting someone in a bathroom.” And in a tweet from 2017, he said, “”This is about the right for trans people to exist in public spaces. If you can’t use the restroom, you can’t go out.”
Not only does the study prove with concrete data and evidence that transgender people aren’t harming others in any way, shape, or form by going to the gender-marked bathroom they feel comfortable in and that most closely matches their identity, but also echoes a larger conversation about “othering” trans people, which has proven to be harmful and even violent. In a recent campaign from GLSEN and Movement Advancement Project (MAP), a transgender high school student named Emme, talked about the harmful effects of denying young trans students access to bathrooms, or sending them to separate bathrooms, which interrupts their education and creates unneeded anxiety.
“Most trans youth have real everyday obstacles that impact their mental health, social capacity, and ease of movement. Bathrooms, changing rooms, and otherwise gendered public facilities are some of the most intimidating places,” Emme told Teen Vogue previously, adding that, “Some trans youth plan their entire day around avoiding school bathrooms and changing. For so many of us, our daily movements are dictated by fear.”
Previous research surrounding transgender people’s ability to exist safely in public spaces like schools and specifically bathrooms has shown that it’s a national issue. Statistics in an infographic from MAP show that 65% of transgender students in America are harassed at school because of their gender expression, and on top of that, about 70% of transgender students say they have avoided bathrooms at school.
There are currently more than a dozen high-risk policy states in the United States where anti-LGBTQ legislation has recently been proposed or existing supportive legislation is under attack, including Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas. Additionally, transgender students are currently not technically protected by the federal government under Title IX laws, since the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights withdrew their guidelines protecting transgender students in 2017.
Most importantly, the research could help to show that there is no solid reasoning to deny young transgender people, or any transgender people for that matter, the right to safe spaces in school and anywhere they may be.