When A Transgender Person Uses A Public Bathroom, Who Is At Risk? | KERA News

When A Transgender Person Uses A Public Bathroom, Who Is At Risk?

May 15, 2016
Originally published on May 17, 2016 4:19 pm

One issue at the center of North Carolina's so-called bathroom bill controversy is safety, but who's at risk? Depends on whom you ask.

Supporters of House Bill 2 tend to focus on people born male who later transition to female. The HB2 supporters say that without the new law, sexual predators could just say they're a transgender person with the right to use a women's bathroom and easily gain access to potential victims.

"He could be there to look at the anatomy of the opposite sex. He could be there because he's a sex pervert. He could be there to bring damage to a young girl," says Ron Baity, president of Return America and pastor at Berean Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Baity organized a rally at the state Capitol last month to thank lawmakers and North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory for making HB2 into law.

The legislation limits civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, preventing local governments from extending rights beyond what the state offers.

The part of the law getting the most attention requires public institutions — including schools and government offices — to ensure that public restrooms be designated "male" and "female" and used by people based on their biological sex.

Baity and others with similar beliefs offer anecdotal evidence — crime reports — to support their claims.

But those cases involve sexual predators who put on women's clothes and violated any number of previously existing laws. And conflating "transgender" with "predator" is something many find offensive.

"As a trans person ... it's hard not to take it personally when people are comparing trans people to child predators or saying that we're somehow dangerous," says Alison Gill, vice chair of the Trans United Fund.

Gill points out that not long ago, many people incorrectly thought gay men were pedophiles.

She says some people just don't understand that when it comes time for a transgender person to start using the other restroom, they'd rather do it privately, and with as little fuss as possible.

"The last thing you as a trans person would want to do is draw attention to yourself," Gill says.

So far 17 states and many more communities across the United States include transgender people among protected classes for public accommodations.

UCLA School of Law's Williams Institute, a research group that focuses on sexual orientation and gender identity law and policy, is working on a study to learn whether extending public accommodations rights to transgender people leads to more crimes by predators.

Early indications are that it does not.

"As far as we know there hasn't been some sort of, you know, devolving into chaos in restrooms," says Jody Herman, a public policy scholar at the institute.

One thing Herman can say for certain: Based on her survey of 93 transgender and gender nonconforming people in Washington, D.C., in 2008 and 2009, they themselves are at risk in restrooms.

"About 70 percent of the sample reported experiencing being denied access to restrooms, being harassed while using restrooms and even experiencing some forms of physical assault," says Herman.

Eight of the 93 respondents in her survey said they had been physically attacked in a restroom.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

The Obama administration and North Carolina have sued each other over the state's so-called bathroom bill, which transgender people say targets them directly. This past week, President Obama wrote a letter telling every public school district in the country to let transgender students use the bathrooms that match their gender identity. At the center of the controversy is a question of safety. As NPR's Jeff Brady reports, who's at risk depends upon whom you ask.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Supporters of North Carolina's House Bill 2 claim that without the new law, sexual predators could just say they're a transgender person and easily gain access to potential victims.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RON BAITY: That's the reason you're here today - to stand up for the rights of our ladies, our women when they go into the restroom so they don't have to look out over their shoulder to see if there's male presence there.

(APPLAUSE)

BRADY: Ron Baity organized this rally at the state capitol a few weeks back. He's a pastor and head of the group Return America. He wanted to thank lawmakers and the governor for making HB2 into law. Among other things, it requires public institutions to insure that public restrooms are designated male and female and used by people based on their biological sex. I called up Baity to hear more about his concerns and learned he does not follow the common practice of calling transgender women female.

BAITY: You don't become a female because you think you're female. You figure out if you're a male by looking at your anatomy that you're born with, the anatomy that God gave you.

BRADY: Baity says when transgender women are allowed into women's restrooms, that creates a loophole that someone with nefarious intentions can exploit.

BAITY: A male who could be a predator could walk in the restroom. And he could be there for many reasons. He could be there to look at the anatomy of the opposite sex. He could be there because he's a sex pervert. He could be there to bring damage to a young girl.

BRADY: Baity and others offer anecdotal evidence to support this claim. But the cases are all sexual predators who put on women's clothes and are violating all sorts of laws. Conflating transgender with predator offends Alison Gill.

ALISON GILL: As a trans person, it just feels like - it's hard not to take it personally when people are comparing trans people to child predators or saying that we're somehow dangerous for using the bathroom appropriately.

BRADY: Gill is vice chair of the Trans United Fund. She points out that not long ago, many people incorrectly thought gay men were pedophiles. She says some people just don't understand that when it comes time for a transgender person to start using the other restroom, they'd rather do it privately.

GILL: It's a very hard decision. It's challenging at first. You're very aware of where you are and the spaces you enter into and try to create as little problem or as little fuss as possible while using the bathroom because the last thing, you know, you as a trans person would want to do is draw attention to yourself.

BRADY: So far, 17 states and many more communities across the U.S. include transgender people among protected classes for public accommodations.

JODY HERMAN: As far as we know, there has been some sort of, you know, devolving into chaos (laughter) in restrooms.

BRADY: Jody Herman is with the Williams Institute at UCLA law school. Her group focuses on sexual orientation and gender identity and is working on a study to learn if extending rights to transgender people leads to more crimes by predators. Early indications are that it does not. One thing Herman can say for certain - transgender people themselves are at risk in restrooms. She surveyed a group in Washington, D.C., a few years back.

HERMAN: So about 70 percent of the sample reported experiencing being denied access to restrooms, being harassed while using restrooms and even experiencing some forms of physical assault.

BRADY: About 9 percent of respondents in her survey said they had been physically assaulted in a restroom. Jeff Brady, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.