Earlier this summer, in our very own Washington, DC, a transgender woman was assaulted for using the restroom in a Giant Food grocery store on H Street NE. The assailant, Francine Jones, was working as a security guard for the grocery store. Jones saw the woman, Ebony Belcher, go into the women’s restroom. Jones followed Belcher into the restroom and grabbed her. Jones called Belcher the derogatory name for a homosexual, told her “I know you’re a man,” and pushed her out of the store.
Belcher called the police. Jones was arrested and charged with simple assault (DC Code §22-404). Her case is still pending in DC Superior Court.
Jones had justified her actions by claiming that the law hasn’t passed yet allowing Belcher to use the women’s restroom.
She is wrong. The law in DC does permit Ms. Belcher to use the women’s restroom.
The Current Law in Washington DC
The District’s Human Rights Act protects transgender people from discrimination. The law specifically allows an individual to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity. In fact, District of Columbia Municipal Regulation § 4-801(e) makes it unlawful for any government facility to: “[deny] access to restroom facilities and other gender specific facilities that are consistent with a person’s gender identity or expression.”
Therefore, it is against the law in DC to deny someone access to a restroom if they are a customer of the business. In fact, DC has required that all single-user bathrooms be designated as gender-neutral. Seventeen states have also adopted similar laws that protect the rights of transgender people to use the bathroom that fits their gender identity.
Other States and Their Stances
The problem is that other states have taken a different stance on the issue. Most vocally, North Carolina recently passed House Bill 2, which bans transgender people from using any bathroom other than the one that corresponds to their gender identified on their birth certificate. The bill applies to all public facilities, including schools and government buildings. States such as Arizona, Florida, Texas, and Kentucky have similarly passed laws restricting the restrooms used by transgender individuals.
Proponents of these discriminatory “Bathroom Bills” argue that the laws are necessary to protect others from sexual assault and sexual voyeurism. The rationale provided by the proponents is that rapists and sexual deviants will take advantage of the looser bathroom laws by pretending to be a transgender woman in order to sexually assault or harass women and children in the restroom.
This “bathroom predator” myth is entirely unsubstantiated. According to the Transgender Law Center, the Human Rights Campaign, and the ACLU, there have been zero reported incidences of any assaults in restrooms by men posing as transgender women. The statistics provided by the seventeen states and over two hundred cities who have passed non-discrimination laws show that there has been no increase in sexual assaults, simple assaults, or any other public safety issue since the passage of the laws.
Does The Data Support the Justification?
Therefore, the justification for these laws is entirely without basis. The one proven result from these laws is the harm that they cause for transgender people. These laws serve to instill fear and justify hate crimes against transgender individuals. They are fueled by ignorance, intolerance, and fear about the LGBTQ community. The laws and discussion irrationally and unfoundedly conflate “transgender” with “sexual predator,” thereby increasing the likelihood that transgender individuals will be subject to hate-crimes and assaults. They justify people like Francine Jones becoming vigilantes against this non-existent threat, and make transgender individuals the target of assaults and discrimination.
A survey published by the Williams Institute in 2013 found that 70% of transgender respondents in the Washington, DC area have been verbally assaulted in the restroom. In fact, 9% of the respondents reported that they had also been victims of actual physical assault. The Daily Beast reported that there has been a clear increase in reports of assaults in restrooms after North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” took center stage in the media outlets.
Dangerous Rhetoric Creating Dangerous Environment
This dangerous rhetoric can also harm individuals who simply do not conform with gender norms, who can be assaulted or harassed because they are mistaken for a man or a transgender woman. The Huffington Post reported that a cisgender (non-transgender) woman was violently thrown out of a restaurant in Detroit last year for using the women’s restroom because her physical appearance did not match societal standards of “female.”
The fact is that someone assaulting another in a restroom is always illegal, even without these discriminatory laws. If an actual sexual predator wants to assault or harass people in a restroom, the anti-transgender laws are not going to stop them. A coalition of 250 organizations who work and protect victims of sexual assault and domestic violence called on politicians to stop using this harmful myth to perpetuate the discrimination against transgender people. The laws do nothing to serve and protect actual victims or actual potential victims. All they do is create another subset of victims who want to do nothing else but pee in peace.
So, just let them pee.