How Anti-Transgender Bathroom Laws Are Ignoring The Real Threat To Women: Cisgender Men

It’s become the commonest of refrains, the idea that we “need to keep transgender people out of women’s bathrooms to protect women and young girls.” It is a fear- and hate-inciting rallying cry that not only creates a threat where none exists, but egregiously distracts from an overwhelmingly pervasive and deadly one: violence against women by cisgender men.

This meme began during last November’s debate over the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), a 2015 bill that would have extended nondiscrimination protections to the city’s trans residents in housing, employment, and all public accommodations — including bathrooms. In truth, transgender people were just one of the many groups affected by the bill: HERO would have extended the same rights to veterans, immigrants, and the elderly. It was, however, voted down at the polls. Critics, like former pro baseball player Lance Berkman, argued that it posed a danger to Houston’s “mothers, wives, and daughters.”

That same argument has been a staple of nearly every state, city, and locality in which anti-trans bathroom legislation has been introduced. After North Carolina passed House Bill 2 — which forced transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex they were assigned at birth, rather than the one that matches their gender identity — Lieutenant Gov. Dan Forest and House Speaker Tim Moore used the same logic to defend the legislation. A poll from Raleigh-Durham’s WRAL showed a majority of the state’s residents agreed: 56 percent felt that “allowing transgender individuals to use the restroom of their choice pose[s] a security risk for women and children.”

Research has shown, however, the residents of North Carolina have little to worry about when it comes to using the restroom with transgender folks. In the United States, there’s never been a single reported case of a trans person assaulting someone else in a public facility. In fact, as UCLA’s Williams Institute has consistently shown, transgender people have been the most vulnerable to attack in restrooms: 70 percent report being harassed while using a bathroom, locker room, or changing area. In addition, a recent study published in the Journal of Homosexuality found that denying trans people affirming bathroom access is correlated with higher risk of suicide.

There’s never been a single reported case of a trans person assaulting someone else in a public facility … 70 percent [of transgender people] report being harassed while using a bathroom, locker room, or changing area.

It’s particularly troubling that lawmakers across the country would be so concerned about the safety of women in public restrooms, which statistics have shown isn’t a problem, while the epidemic of domestic violence remains largely ignored. Many of the states considering anti-trans bathroom legislation have the highest rates of domestic violence in the nation. In April, South Carolina Sen. Lee Bright introduced a bill, Senate Bill 1203, that would effectively bring North Carolina’s anti-trans law to the Palmetto State. Meanwhile, South Carolina leads the nation in female homicide victims.

If Republican lawmakers really want to do something to “protect women and girls” across the country, they shouldn’t be policing bathrooms. They should be focused on ending the culture of intimate partner violence that claims far too many women’s lives every single year.

To single out a lone state, however, is to diminish the severity of domestic violence across the nation. In a 2015 speech, Vice President Joe Biden called domestic violence a “public health epidemic,” and there’s more than enough evidence to back that up. Frequently cited statistics from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that 1 in 3 women will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives. The Center for American Progress cites a similar figure for murder victims: Between the years of 2003 and 2012, 34 percent of women who were killed died at the hands of a male intimate partner. That rate is 13.6 times the number of men killed by their wives, spouses, or girlfriends.

When broken down, this comes out to around 1,300 deaths from domestic violence every single year. Although heart disease remains the number-one killer of women, domestic violence causes more annual injuries than car accidents or sexual assault. It’s also the leading cause of death among expectant mothers and women in the workplace, who are more likely to be murdered at their desk than to be die through on-the-job related injuries. As ThinkProgress’ Bryce Covert found, a great deal of these deaths were due to a husband, boyfriend, or ex-lover showing up at the victim’s work with deadly intent.

Looking at the facts on violence against women across the U.S., there’s almost no good news. While Do Something estimates that a woman is abused or beaten every nine seconds, a report from the New Jersey Star-Ledger chillingly illustrates the scope of the issue, as well as our unwillingness to recognize it. “The number of American troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2012 was 6,488,” the Star-Ledger’s Mary Pettrow writes. “The number of American women who were murdered by current or ex male partners during that same time period was 11,766.” She further points out that “if this many lives were lost due to another kind of crisis, for instance a disease, we would view it differently.”

When it comes to domestic violence, however, we’d often prefer not to view it at all. During Biden’s speech, Yolanda Haywood spoke about her own experiences as a survivor of partner violence. Haywood, a dean at George Washington University, went to the emergency room after being beaten by her husband 30 years ago. When she shared what happened with the physician on duty, here was his advice: “You need to learn how to duck.” In the 2015 book Police Wife: The Secret Epidemic of Police Domestic Violence, Alex Roslin found that 4 in 10 partners of police officers experience physical abuse at home. Their departments, however, routinely brush these issues under the rug, advising victims to stay silent.

[She] went to the emergency room after being beaten by her husband 30 years ago. When she shared what happened with the physician on duty, here was his advice: “You need to learn how to duck.”

This treatment of abuse extends to how we prosecute the issue. In South Carolina, the country’s domestic violence capital, the state devotes more resources to animal welfare than it does women’s safety. As the Charleston Post Courier reports, every single county in the state has “at least one animal shelter to care for stray dogs, but the state has only 18 domestic violence shelters to help women trying to escape abuse.” The prosecution for cruelty against animals is also worse than it is for a first-time domestic abuser:

“A man can earn five years in prison for abusing his dog but a maximum of just 30 days in jail for beating his wife or girlfriend on a first offense.”

If Republican lawmakers really want to do something to “protect women and girls” across the country, they shouldn’t be policing bathrooms. They should be focused on ending the culture of intimate partner violence that claims far too many women’s lives every single year. Transphobia is merely a distraction from the pressing issues at hand: In North Carolina, which started the anti-trans backlash, a woman has no legal ability to revoke consent. Thus, if a woman agrees to intercourse but then her partner begins to slap her and beat her during sex, she can’t say no. No matter how much she protests to the abuse, it isn’t considered rape in the eyes of the law.

It’s time to stop scapegoating the LGBT community and face up to what should be obvious by now: Trans people don’t endanger the lives of women. The real threat is cisgender men and the clueless lawmakers who enable them.