North Carolina Republican legislators, most of whom voted to racially gerrymander their own districts, hold supermajorities in both the state House and Senate. But despite agreeing to repeal an anti-LGBT law that has been nationally condemned and has cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars and counting, Republicans failed to do so on Dec. 21 during a hastily arranged special session called specifically to repeal it.
Now Republicans in other states including Texas, Washington and Virginia are moving to consider similar legislation, undeterred by the North Carolina law’s failings.
North Carolina’s House Bill 2, known as the “bathroom bill,” prevents transgender people from using the restroom that matches their gender identity and bars local governments from enacting nondiscrimination laws that protect the LGBT community, among other provisions. After its passage last March, businesses, high-profile sporting events and film companies left the state, refusing to operate somewhere that openly discriminates against LGBT people. The GOP governor signed HB2 and vigorously supported it during his campaign, something that may have cost him reelection. He was the first North Carolina governor to lose reelection since 1892.
After months of intense national scrutiny and public outcry over the discriminatory law and its harmful economic effects, the GOP decided to convene its fifth and final special session of the year—fitting, as the first “emergency” special session, called on March 23 to prevent a transgender-inclusive bathroom ordinance passed by the Charlotte City Council from going into effect—to repeal its handiwork.
No intention of a full repeal
Reportedly, incoming Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper had brokered a deal between GOP leaders and the Charlotte City Council: Charlotte would repeal its bathroom ordinance and the General Assembly would repeal HB2. But it didn’t work: on the morning of Dec. 21, the Council fully repealed its bathroom ordinance. Later that day, after many hours of caucus meetings and a bit of political theater from Sen. Pro Tempore Phil Berger, a repeal didn’t pass. Republicans wouldn’t go for a clean repeal of HB2; they insisted on tacking on a moratorium on local nondiscrimination ordinances until next fall, allowing them ample time to concoct another, similar law to replace HB2 before then. Democrats didn’t take the bait.
Legislative leaders blamed everyone but themselves: The Charlotte City Council was untrustworthy. Democrats wanted to keep HB2 on the books for political gain. Cooper sabotaged the whole thing from the start.
But what these North Carolina Republicans—who’ve been ridiculed on the national stage numerous times over the past several years, including for their recent power grab stripping significant authority from the new governor—couldn’t admit was this: They consider transgender people undeserving of equal treatment under the law.
A myth to justify discrimination
Whether they believe it or not, North Carolina politicians, their Twitter minions and conservative Christian groups have consistently claimed that allowing transgender people to use the restroom that matches their gender identity puts women at a higher risk of sexual assault and endangers their privacy.
Right-wing websites such as The Daily Caller, Red State and Breitbart News—the racist “alt-right” hub known for its conspiracy theories, not to mention its sexist content—have posted anecdotes, mainly involving women being assaulted by men in restrooms, as proof that inclusive transgender bathroom laws put women at risk. Many of these accounts had problems: most couldn’t be verified by fact-checkers. Some attackers weren’t convicted. In many accounts, the attackers were not cisgender men (men whose gender is consistent with their gender assigned at birth) dressing up as women; they were cis men presenting as such who went into women’s restrooms with the intent to assault someone. And most of the stories took place in parts of the county without transgender bathroom laws. None of these articles appear to reference legitimate studies proving their point. Even if all were verified, anecdotes don’t make an argument.
But GOP Gov. Pat McCrory repeatedly talked about “boys” in the “girls’ locker rooms” and said that transgender bathroom ordinances could lead to “major public safety issues” and “deviant actions.” Dan Bishop, the state senator who was the prime architect of HB2, wrote, wildly erroneously, “Any biological man—regardless of whether he “identifies” or “expresses” himself as a man OR as a woman—now has the legal right under [Charlotte’s] amended ordinance to access the most intimate of women’s facilities.”
A man could dress as a woman and enter a women’s bathroom because he’s “a sex pervert,” right-wing Baptist pastor Ron Baity from Winston-Salem told NPR. “He could be there to bring damage to a young girl.”
By associating transgender people with sexual predators, a bigoted and incorrect assumption, people like McCrory, Bishop and Baity evoke the falsehood that gay men are pedophiles, which homophobes circulated not long ago.
“We are not the first people who have been called predators for political gain,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality and a transgender woman, told Time.
The real story
So should we believe conservative politicians and far-right websites, or have any sexual violence experts or university researchers spoken on the issue?
Hundreds of groups that work to reduce violence against women have stated that transgender bathroom laws do not endanger women in any way. These groups are staffed by people who spend their lives protecting women, unlike the mostly male Republican politicians who appear concerned about women when it comes to bathroom safety yet pass abortion restrictions, refuse to expand Medicaid — which would provide healthcare to hundreds of thousands of poor women and children in North Carolina — and supported Trump even after his infamous “pussy grabbing” comments became public.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice’s lawsuit against North Carolina says that HB2 violates the Violence Against Women Act.
250 organizations working to reduce sexual assault and domestic violence — including the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, the Battered Women’s Justice Project and the National Organization for Women — signed a letter entitled “Full And Equal Access For The Transgender Community” last April, which reads:
“Those who are pushing these proposals have claimed that these proposals are necessary for public safety and to prevent sexual violence against women and children. As rape crisis centers, shelters, and other service providers who work each and every day to meet the needs of all survivors and reduce sexual assault and domestic violence throughout society, we speak from experience and expertise when we state that these claims are false.”
Seventeen states, Washington, D.C., and more than 200 municipalities have laws protecting transgender people’s access to facilities that align with their gender identity. Not one of these areas has reported increased sexual assaults under these nondiscrimination laws, according to the letter.
On April 1, Politifact North Carolina rated a statement that “there have not been any public safety issues in … communities” with trans-friendly bathroom ordinances “mostly true,” writing: “We haven’t found any instances of criminals convicted of using transgender protections as cover in the United States. Neither have any left-wing groups or right-wing groups.” One man in Toronto, which has a trans-inclusive ordinance, posed as a woman and attacked several at a shelter.
Numerous police spokespeople from states that prohibit discrimination against transgender people in public accommodations say that these policies have not increased sexual assault. For example, a Minneapolis Police Department spokesman told Media Matters that sexual assaults stemming from Minnesota’s anti-discrimination policy, which has been effect since 1993, have “not even remotely” been a problem. Police departments in major cities in at least seven states with trans-friendly accommodations policies told Media Matters they are unaware of a single complaint related to the issue.
Who is really at risk?
Meanwhile, transgender people are actually at risk in public bathrooms. Jody Herman of the Williams Institute, a research center on sexual orientation and gender identity that’s part of the UCLA School of Law, conducted a study of 93 transgender and gender nonconforming people in Washington, D.C. “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,” she told NPR.
“Transgender people already experience unconscionably high rates of sexual assault,” says the letter from the sexual assault and domestic violence organizations, “and forcing them out of facilities consistent with the gender they live every day makes them vulnerable to assault.”
Many of the scholars who study transgender issues and are affiliated with the Williams Institute filed an amicus brief in a lawsuit challenging HB2, detailing the long history of abuse transgender people have endured. The brief cites a 2009 article by university professor Rebecca Stotzer, stating that “transgender individuals also suffer ‘a high prevalence of sexual assault and rape starting at a young age.’” One 2006 survey found that 59 percent of transgender respondents experienced forced sex or rape, and that most trans-sexual assault victims don’t report incidents to the police because of prior mistreatment by law enforcement.
Regarding the privacy claims, it’s obvious that the Republican legislators and their supporters don’t know a thing about transgender people, and it’s highly doubtful any of them knows one transgender individual personally. People who don’t understand transgender people have “probably been using bathrooms next to trans people for a long time,” Human Rights Campaign attorney Cathryn Oakley told Time.
This trans man from Georgia, where the governor vetoed an anti-LGBT bill last year, would have to use the women’s bathroom in North Carolina. How, exactly, does making him use the ladies’ room protect women’s privacy?
If they won’t listen to experts, these politicians, who think transgenderism is a mental defect or even that it simply doesn’t exist, should learn a thing or two. They should get to know trans people, who, they’ll find out, are actually human beings, too.
Alex Kotch is an independent investigative journalist who specializes in money in politics. Follow him on Twitter.