Study debunks bathroom safety concerns over transgender equality

Opponents of transgender equality have long argued that respecting people's gender identities will somehow endanger women and make them vulnerable to assault or invasion of privacy. Now, a group of psychiatrists says that's all wrong. (PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images)

Opponents of transgender equality have long argued that respecting people’s gender identities will somehow endanger women and make them vulnerable to assault or invasion of privacy. A group of psychiatrists recently investigated this claim, however, and found almost nothing to support the argument.

In a new study published in The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, a team of researchers sought out any evidence they could find that sexual predators are somehow taking advantage of transgender equality. Despite searching various archives, the only claims they found were those being peddled by anti-LGBTQ groups like the Family Research Council, American Family Association, and Liberty Counsel. Those lists did not survive the researchers’ scrutiny.

“A thorough review revealed that only a small number of cases actually involve perpetrators who were transgender, perpetrators who falsely claimed to be transgender, or perpetrators who attempted to disguise themselves as a member of the opposite sex to gain restroom access,” the report stated.

In an op-ed for HuffPost Tuesday, lead researcher Brian Barnett, a psychiatrist in Cleveland, Ohio, was a bit more blunt. “We found only one instance — one! — of a transgender perpetrator in an alleged sex crime in a changing room,” he wrote.

“Likewise,” he continued, “we found just one case where a man (who, frankly, sounds like a provocateur) allegedly entered a women’s locker room without disguising his gender in any way and stated that a new local law expanding transgender bathroom access allowed him to be there.” That man was a provocateur, and the Washington State Human Rights Commission clarified immediately afterward that the law in no way protected his behavior.

(Analysis by Media Matters similarly found no evidence that passing transgender protections has led to any increase into sexual assault.)

As for cisgender men dressing up as women to enter women’s facilities, the study found 13 alleged cases in the United States since 2004 — about one per year.

“The safety concerns of those opposing the expansion of transgender bathroom access aren’t based in reality,” Barnett insisted. “With millions of Americans using public facilities daily, there is simply no reason to be concerned about sharing bathrooms with the country’s 1.4 million transgender citizens or worry about what might happen if they are legally permitted to use the bathroom of their choice.”

Conservatives have conversely tried to claim there are more than 100 incidents that they believe justify their rejection of transgender equality. Most of those incidents, however, were cisgender men violating women’s spaces — which is already illegal — or transgender people simply minding their own business in spaces that match their gender identity. In none of the cases was criminal behavior somehow excused or permitted because of laws guaranteeing transgender people equal access to facilities.

Despite there being no evidence to actually substantiate this fear-mongering, conservative groups continue to deploy it. This year, several of them are trying to overturn a Massachusetts law protecting transgender people from discrimination in public spaces. The “No on 3” Campaign, which collected signatures to challenge the law through a referendum, posts a regular litany of stories suggesting that women’s safety in restrooms is in jeopardy.

Though proponents of maintaining the nondiscrimination law have vastly outspent their opponents, polling has not indicated an easy win. A May poll showed only a slim 52 percent majority supporting defending the law, and a June poll showed that number dipping to a 49 percent plurality.

In reality, it is transgender people who are vulnerable to violence, not women and children who might share a space with them. But that doesn’t mean the myth isn’t prevalent, even in a blue state like Massachusetts.