North Carolina is the first state in the country to pass a law aimed at broadly controlling transgender people’s access to public restrooms. Proponents of the law claim it’s needed to prevent sexual predators from sneaking into women’s bathrooms by dressing up as women and pretending to be transgender.
That “bathroom predator” talking point is a myth. Law enforcement experts and people who work with victims of sexual assault have called it “beyond specious” and “the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.” There have been zero proven incidents in the more than 17 states and 200 cities where transgender people are currently protected from discrimination and allowed to use public bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity.
But the “bathroom predator” myth has dominated news coverage of the fight for transgender equality. Reporters repeat the talking point without debunking it, so viewers are left thinking that LGBT nondiscrimination protections might lead to sexual assault.
Chase Strangio, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, criticized news networks’ uncritical repetition of the “bathroom predator” talking point, telling Media Matters:
Journalists who talk about this as two co-equal sides are essentially letting proponents of these talking points get away with mythic narratives about trans predators or non-trans predators having access to bathrooms and locker rooms. And that story is incredibly damaging and really undermines efforts to protect trans people and the whole LGBT community.
When the media doesn’t point out that the bathroom talking points are complete bullshit, what they’re doing is participating in a falsehood that allows trans people to be associated with intrusions into privacy, with violence, and with harm to other people. The reality is none of these things are true.
Instead of focusing on mythic stories about bathroom predators, news networks should ask how “bathroom bills” like North Carolina’s will be enforced. As Strangio explained, these laws “would open the door to major intrusions into people’s privacy and people’s medical information, … allow[ing] for policing of people’s gender every time they walk into a restroom.”
Republican politicians are using imaginary horror stories about bathroom predators to pass creepy, invasive laws policing the gender of anyone who goes to the bathroom in a public place. That’s the story media outlets should be telling when covering “bathroom bills” like North Carolina's.
Video by Coleman Lowndes and Carlos Maza.