By: Mikki Gillette
This year’s election saw the disappointing failure of Houston voters to uphold their city’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), which offered full civil rights protections to its LGBTQ community.
To defeat the ordinance, HERO’s opponents cynically employed a strategy centered on “the Bathroom Myth”: the idea that allowing transgender residents the right to use the restrooms and facilities that align with their gender identities will lead to an outbreak of rapes and assaults by cisgender men posing as transgender women to invade women’s bathrooms.
This idea, which is backed up by not a single historical incident, is troubling for several reasons.
For one, it’s completely false. There are no examples of cisgender women being assaulted by transgender women (or cisgender men posing as transgender women) in restrooms or locker rooms. There are many cases of transgender women being assaulted in such situations, such as this case, which occurred at a Baltimore McDonald’s in 2011. (Warning: this video contains violence.)
Rather than actually protecting women and girls, as proponents of the Bathroom Myth claim to be doing, they’re perpetuating the pernicious stereotype of transgender women as mentally ill predators, and increasing the likelihood of horrible hate crimes like this one.
The Bathroom Myth preys on the worst fears about transgender women–that they’re dangerous men in dresses – while ignoring the true oppression faced by all transgender people. For instance, one in five transgender people has experienced houselessness, one in four has lost a job due to their gender identity, and one-fifth say being transgender has led to their being denied housing.
An equal rights ordinance like HERO could help combat such discrimination, but instead the fear tactics used by its opponents will likely reinforce it.
Additionally, the Bathroom Myth completely erases transgender men. Forcing transgender people to use restrooms that align with the gender they were assigned at birth does not keep men from using women’s restrooms; rather, it ensures that men–transgender men–will be compelled to use them, a fact forcefully illustrated by Minnesota resident Michael Hughes, during last year’s “We Just Need to Pee” selfie campaign.
Intolerant opponents of LGBTQ rights who demonize transgender women with their narrow focus on Norman Bates-like bogeymen deny the diversity of the transgender community, which includes men, women, boys, girls and non-binary individuals of all ages who each deserve human rights and equality.
Transgender visibility in our culture is still new, but transgender individuals are just like everyone else: they wish to contribute to society, they appreciate acceptance, and, when they visit a restroom . . . it’s because they need to visit a restroom.
The Bathroom Myth is a horrific tool that relies on transphobic stereotypes, designed to scare people into rescinding rights from honest individuals. And, unfortunately, in Houston it worked just as planned. Let’s make sure the next time it’s used, we denounce it with a loud, clear voice. Let’s speak out against hate and intolerance, and speak up for transgender people’s humanity.