Fear has been the primary strategy employed by conservatives opposed to transgender equality, such as in the fight against the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). A new video circulating among various advocacy groups takes this tactic to a new extreme by not only conflating transgender women with male predators, but actually attempting to portray all transgender women as having malicious intent.
The video, called “Women: Decide For Yourselves,” was published to YouTube last weekend by an apparently pseudonymous “Jane Williams,” but has since been shared by several anti-LGBT organizations, including the Illinois Family Institute and the “Just Want Privacy” campaign to overturn Washington’s state-level transgender protections. Over the course of the 23-minute video, a female narrator graphically describes sexual assaults and murders committed by men who tried to disguise themselves in dresses or who later actually came out as transgender (like Michelle Norsworthy and Michelle Kosilek) alongside stories of perfectly harmless transgender girls simply seeking access to facilities that match their gender.
“This film covers just a small selection of violent and predatory men,” the video opens, “all of whom would be allowed in women’s most vulnerable spaces under the laws that are being passed around the country. Please watch and decide for yourself whether women have reason to be concerned.”
After three examples of men violating women’s spaces to spy on women, the video switches to Lila Perry, a transgender high school student in Missouri. Last year, her school made national news after girls staged a protest to object to her being supported by the school in her identity. The video — which misgenders her — doesn’t claim she did anything criminal except to use the women’s locker room. “The federal government is now threatening schools with loss of funding if they don’t give in to the demands of teenage boys to access naked girls,” the video claims. It then resumes talking about individuals convicted of sex crimes.
The video seems to target Washington specifically. Following one example about a Seattle man charged with voyeurism, it claims, “According to Washington state law, men dressed as women now have the right to use women’s bathrooms, so he will be allowed access to vulnerable women and girls.”
Not so, says Danni Askini, executive director of Gender Justice League, a transgender advocacy group in Washington. “The reality is that the law that we have here in Washington state — the state nondiscrimination law — it does nothing to legitimize illegal conduct or behavior,” she told ThinkProgress. “So if people enter a bathroom and commit illegal conduct, they absolutely will be arrested and prosecuted, as were the people in that video. The reason why we know about these examples is because they were arrested and prosecuted.”
Askini rejected conservatives’ claims that the law somehow prevents people from being asked about their identity if other people suspect they might be in the restroom for nefarious purposes, noting that the Human Rights Commission has specifically issued guidance clarifying just that. “Inquiring if someone’s in the illegitimate bathroom is absolutely permissible under law, however harassing someone for using the bathroom for its intended purposes is not permissible.” The law, she said, only protects trans people from intimidation, not basic questions to make sure people are where they are supposed to be.
According to Laurie Higgins at the Illinois Family Institute, the video “illuminates the risk posed to girls and women when men intrude into women’s private safe spaces.” The “Just Want Privacy” campaign called it an “important video to consider,” having previously highlighted some of the stories from it as examples as to why the state’s gender identity protections should be overturned.
But Askini, who is herself a survivor of sexual assault, points out that “a vast majority of people [81 percent] who’ve been sexually assaulted unfortunately know the person who assaulted them. Very few people are assaulted by a stranger and even less are assaulted in a place of public accommodation.”
Though the kind of bathroom violence portrayed in the video is exceedingly rare, it’s conversely quite common for transgender people to experience harassment in such spaces. According to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 53 percent of transgender people had experienced verbal harassment in places of public accommodation, with 22 percent saying they were specifically denied access to the appropriate bathroom in their place of employment.
“We will be accused of cherry-picking the worst of the worst, but we did not,” the video claims. “This film could have been hours long. For each offender here, there are dozens more we could have chosen, and for each offender there are victims. There are women and children who have been terrorized, violated, and even murdered, yet these men and their advocates keep telling us that this never happens — that men who wear women’s clothing never commit sexual crimes and that women have no right to privacy, no right to safety, and no right to fear. Decide for yourself.”
The problem with this strawman is that it has nothing to do with laws that protect transgender people from discrimination. As Media Matters has repeatedly documented, states that have had these protections for years report absolutely no increase of sexual assault because of them — indeed, not a single attributable case.
“It’s like saying that men should not be allowed to use the same facilities as young boys given that a vast majority of perpetrators of sexual violence are men,” Askini reasons. “It’s sort of a reverse logic argument to say that — because there are unfortunately transgender people who also commit crimes — that all transgender should be barred from participating in public life. We don’t bar men from participating in all public life even though they are the vast majority of people who commit sexual assault and sexual violence.” This is besides the fact that many of the individuals in the video do not even identify as transgender.
It is unclear who exactly is responsible for making the video. A credit page lists a variety of blogs, all of which advocate against transgender equality and some of which explicitly reject transgender youth. They are all written anonymously, but reflect a movement known as the “Trans Exclusive Radical Feminists” (TERFs), usually lesbian women who reject the idea that transgender women are women and see the trans movement as perpetuating male violence.
Among the listed blogs, however, is Gender Identity Watch, which is written by Cathy Brennan, an activist with a storied reputation of advocating against transgender equality who has also been accused of harassing transgender women. Brennan denied responsibility for the video this week, noting that though she advocates against opening women’s facilities to transgender women, she does oppose laws that criminalize transgender individuals’ bathroom use. In particular, she worries that such bills would encourage the profiling and harassment of cisgender women who appear to be gender nonconforming.
Another promoter of the video is “Keep Locker Rooms Safe,” a group of women in Washington who were victims of sexual assault and now advocate against transgender equality. Recently profiled by the Heritage Institution’s Daily Signal, the group’s leaders blatantly reject the authenticity of transgender identities.
The Keep Locker Rooms Safe Facebook page shared the video earlier this week, but was shut down shortly thereafter for violating Facebook’s Community Standards. The group has migrated to a new page, “Keep Locker Rooms Safe and Sex Specific,” where it has again shared the video.
The video was also shared this week by Don’t Do It Charlotte/Keep NC Safe, an organization that opposed and is now working to overturn nondiscrimination protections in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Askini notes that it’s a “common tactic” of hate groups to engage in this sort of conflation to try to smear transgender people as criminals and propagate violence against them. “Transgender people are in all parts of our society. They’re our teachers, our doctors, our neighbors, our elected officials,” she said. “Unfortunately, some transgender people commit crimes, and that is deplorable, and they should be punished in the same way all people should be punished.”