Opponents of Houston's LGBT-inclusive Equal Rights Ordinance warn that non-discrimination protections threaten women's safety in public restrooms. But experts -- including law enforcement officials, government employees, and advocates for sexual assault victims -- from three Texas cities with similar non-discrimination ordinances debunk the “bathroom predator” myth, citing empirical evidence and experience working with sexual assault victims.
Houston Voters Will Decide Next Month Whether To Retain Or Repeal City's Non-Discrimination Ordinance
Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance Will Be On The Ballot In November. On November 3, Houstonians will vote on whether to repeal the city's Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), which was enacted in May 2014. [International Business Times, 8/5/15]
HERO Prohibits Discrimination On The Basis Of Fifteen Characteristics, Including Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity. HERO prohibits discrimination in areas like employment, housing, and public accommodations on the basis of 15 characteristics including race, sex, religion, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, and gender identity. [Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, 5/14/14]
Opponents Falsely Claim That HERO Allows Sexual Predators To Sneak Into Public Restrooms. HERO's opponents have claimed HERO would allow male sexual predators to sneak into women's restrooms by dressing up as women and pretending to be transgender. [Equality Matters, 5/13/14; Equality Matters, 5/30/14]
Houston Media Have Uncritically Parroted The “Bathroom Predator” Myth. Television news stations in Houston have uncritically parroted opponents' “bathroom” talking point without giving viewers empirical evidence about the impact of similar non-discrimination laws in other states and cities. [Media Matters, 8/13/15]
Texas Cities With Similar Non-Discrimination Laws Disprove The Bathroom Predator" Myth
Media Matters Contacted Officials In Three Texas Cities With Similar Non-Discrimination Laws. Media Matters contacted city officials, law enforcement officials, and advocates for sexual assault victims in Texas cities with similar non-discrimination laws in place, and asked:
Have gender identity/transgender public accommodations protections resulted in increased sexual assault or rape in women's restrooms? Has [CITY] encountered any other problems as a result of such protections?
Austin Has Prohibited Discrimination On The Basis Of Gender Identity Since 2004. In 2004, Austin's city council voted to add “gender identity” to the list of characteristics protected from discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and employment. [City of Austin, 6/10/04; Austin Equal Employment and Fair Housing Office, accessed 10/6/15]
SAFE Alliance: “Cannot Recall A Single Incident” Of Sexual Assault In Public Restrooms. Emily LeBlanc, director of community advocacy at Austin's SAFE Alliance -- a group that works with survivors of sexual assault and exploitation, domestic violence, and child abuse and neglect -- told Media Matters:
I checked in with the manager who oversees all of our advocates--she reads reports on every forensic medical accompaniment we provide and has for about 5 years. She cannot recall a single incident in a women's restroom in that time. So while I can't tell you for sure that it never happens I can tell you that it has not been an issue we've seen for the survivors who've reached out for our services. [Email to Media Matters, 10/2/15]
City Council Mayor Pro Tem: “Have Not Heard Of Such Incidents” As A Result Of Non-Discrimination Ordinance. Kathie Tovo, mayor pro tem of the Austin City Council, told Media Matters:
Austin incorporated gender identity into our non-discrimination ordinance in 2004; the only notable change is that those who are transgender have a legal remedy should they be denied a public accommodation. While the data would be difficult to track, I can say that I have not heard of such incidents in my years of service on the Austin City Council. [Email to Media Matters, 10/10/15]
Austin Police Department: “Never Heard Of Any Cases” Of Suspect Entering A Public Restroom While Claiming To Be Transgender. Austin Police Department Detective Mike Crumrine told Media Matters:
I have never heard of any cases in which a suspect entered a public restroom while being dressed as a woman, (or claiming to be transgender), and sexually assaulted a female victim, nor have I heard of a male and assaulting another male victim in this manner. I checked with detective Rae Egan who just transferred from Sex Crimes to homicide, she too has never heard of APD working a case like that. Sergeant Benningfield was a detective in Sex Crimes before me and is currently the sergeant of the unit. She may have heard of such a case but, to my knowledge, in the six plus years from when she left as a detective to when she came back as the sergeant there has not been a case. [Email to Media Matters, 10/13/15]
Sergeant Sandra Benningfield also told Media Matters:
We have checked and we have nothing that matches transgender going into bathrooms to commit sexual assaults. [Email to Media Matters, 10/13/15]
Dallas Has Prohibited Discrimination On The Basis Of Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity Since 2002. For over a decade, Dallas has prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment, and public accommodations. [City of Dallas, accessed 10/5/15]
Dallas Fair Housing Office “Not Aware” Of Increase In Sexual Assault In Women's Restrooms. In response to Media Matters' inquiry, Fair Housing Office Assistant Director Beverly Davis stated that her office was unaware of any increase in sexual assault attributed to the city's non-discrimination ordinance:
In response to your inquiry, we are not aware of any increase in sexual assaults or rapes in women's restrooms here in the City of Dallas that can be attributed to our LGBT non-discrimination ordinance.
The city's leadership has made a concerted effort to promote diversity and respect for all citizens and visitors to the City of Dallas. [Email to Media Matters, 9/16/15]
Dallas Rape Crisis Center: Bathroom Predator Myth Comes From “Ignorance.” April A. Mitchell, chief executive officer at the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center (DARCC), told Media Matters:
These protections are passed with the intention to protect those that are vulnerable to harm in their communities. In our experience, sexual predators will perpetrate under ANY circumstance that presents itself. These types of ordinances or laws do not increase the sexual assaults or rapes for the community. Further, for communities to refuse these basic protections for all citizens will give power to those that would harm others. Last, those that cite this proposition as an “opportunity” to victimize someone are simply doing so in ignorance; not understanding the mentality of perpetrators.
To our knowledge there have not been any problems related to sexual assault and these mandated ordinances by any gender identified or trans gendered persons. [Email to Media Matters, 10/12/15]
El Paso Has Prohibited LGBT Discrimination Since 2003. In 2003, El Paso amended its municipal code to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in places of public accommodation. [City of El Paso, accessed 10/5/15]
El Paso Human Resources Director: “No Evidence” Of Negative Outcomes From Non-Discrimination Ordinance. In response to Media Matters' inquiry, Linda Thomas, City of El Paso Human Resources Director, said that there was “no evidence” of sexual assault related to the city's LGBT non-discrimination ordinance, adding “HR has not received complaints of that nature, nor are they in Police statistics.” [Email to Media Matters, 9/18/15]
El Paso Police Department: “We Haven't Seen These Types Of Incidents Here.” Sergeant Enrique Carrillo from the El Paso Police Department told Media Matters in a statement:
We haven't seen these types of incidents here. Not an issue. [Email to Media Matters, 10/14/15]
Center Against Sexual And Family Violence: LGBT Non-Discrimination Laws “Do Not Put Women At Risk.” Stephanie Karr, executive director of El Paso's Center Against Sexual and Family Violence, told Media Matters:
El Paso approved an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination law in April of 2003. In our experience 80% of all our clients who were sexually assaulted knew their perpetrator, which is on par with statistics nationwide. Sexual assault is a crime of opportunity facilitated by knowing the victim. Of all the transgender persons we have worked with, every one of them, has been the victim of a sexual assault. LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination laws do not put women at risk of being sexually assaulted. These laws help foster a culture that validates and protects LGBT individuals from discrimination and violence. [Email to Media Matters, 10/7/15]
Experts In 15 Other States Have Previously Debunked The Transgender Bathroom Myth. Law enforcement officials, victims' rights advocates, and human rights commission officials in states and localities with transgender non-discrimination protections have debunked the claim that sexual predators will exploit non-discrimination laws, calling it “beyond specious.” [Media Matters, 3/20/14]