One of the main arguments behind so-called “bathroom bills” — which restrict a transgender person’s public bathroom usage to the gender on their birth certificate rather than whatever aligns with their identity — just took a major beating. Researchers at the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute, a think tank focused on gender identity, released a study Wednesday showing there's no statistically significant evidence behind the charge that transgender bathroom access and bathroom-related crimes are related. Because Massachusetts passed an anti-discrimination law that some say threatens public safety — and are now trying to overturn in a ballot initiative — the researchers zeroed in on restroom crime reports in the state before the anti-discrimination provision was adopted. The researchers found no increase in crime and no difference between cities with and without the restrictive bathroom policies in the first-of-its-kind study. That’s a blow to activists who argue trans rights risk safety to women and children in the restroom,.
“Massachusetts was like this perfect petri dish,” Rachel Dowd, a spokeswoman for the Williams Institute, told the Boston Globe. “Different localities started to adopt it, and there was enough that allowed us to look at crime statistics over two years. And right as we were wrapping up our research, Massachusetts passed the statewide law.”
Using public records requests, the researchers gathered police incident reports and compared bathroom crime data between cities with anti-discrimination laws and other Massachusetts cities that lacked them. The cities were paired based on comparable crime rates, demographics, poverty and voting trends. The researchers also explored whether cities saw any change in bathroom crime after the enactment of a pro-LGBT law.
The Obama administration released guidance in 2016 that protected the rights of transgender students using restrooms and locker rooms that matched their gender identities nationwide, citing Title IX protections. Those protections were later rescinded by the Trump administration. The “bathroom bill” movement was perhaps first weaponized by North Carolina, but it remains prevalent across the country. Texas might explore the anti-LGBT legislation next year, the Daily Beast reports, and the bill somehow keeps coming back from the dead there. And in places without protection of transgender rights, like Achille, Oklahoma, outrage over inclusion has endangered trans kids. A 12-year-old there was recently outed by transphobic parents after she used the girls bathroom, in line with her gender identity.
Cover image: Two signs mark an all-gender restroom, in the San Francisco Bay Area town of San Ramon, California, July 20, 2017. In 2017, California AB1732 (the Equal Restroom Access Act) made all single-user restrooms in the state gender-neutral. (Photo via Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)