Even Without Bathroom Bills, Restrooms Can Be Terrifying for Trans People

A cis man in Oregon was convicted of a hate crime last week after brutally beating a trans woman for using a women's restroom.
February 3, 2020, 9:45pm
transgender, lgbtq, bathroom bills, public restrooms, lauren jackson, fred costanza, oregon, assault, hate crime, conviction, convicted, charged, trans woman, trans women, safety, violence, hate violence,
Photo by the Broadly Gender Spectrum Collection

Bathroom bills might have fallen out of favor among Republican lawmakers who want to make trans people’s lives as difficult as possible—the transphobic legislation du jour are bills that would ban trans kids’ access to puberty blockers and other forms of life-saving health care if passed—but that doesn’t mean that trans people’s bathroom access is any less fraught than it used to be.

Case in point: Lauren Jackson, a trans woman from Oregon who was brutally attacked on Aug. 24, 2019 after emerging from a state park’s women’s restroom. Last Wednesday, Fred Costanza—a cis man who was charged with assault, harassment, disorderly conduct, and a felony hate crime—was convicted of a first-degree bias crime last Wednesday thanks in part to the state’s hate crime laws, which were updated to include gender identity as a protected status a month before the incident. The Oregon court also found him guilty of second-degree assault and harassment, as CNN reported last Friday.


Witnesses told police that Costanza walked more than 100 yards across the park to assault Jackson, shattering her jaw and fracturing her skull, per The Oregonian. Prior to the attack, he shouted epithets at her, according to an interview Jackson gave to local ABC affiliate KATU.

"He just comes up and starts yelling something about me being a lady, thinking I’m a lady,” Jackson said. “I just stand there and I don’t say anything. I don’t raise my hands. And he just blindsides me from the beginning and the rest was him dragging me around and continuing to punch me, and I’m just screaming. Someone heard and ran across the park and tackled this guy off of me."

Jackson’s experience reflects one facet of the violence that many trans people risk daily from cis men and women alike. Nearly one-quarter of respondents to the National Center for Trans Equality’s 2015 survey of trans Americans said that someone had questioned or challenged their presence in a public restroom in the past year, and one in eight said that they’d been verbally harassed, physically attacked, or sexually assaulted while using such a facility. More than half of respondents said they’d avoided using a public restroom because of this potential threat, resulting in urinary tract infections, kidney infections, and other kidney-related problems among nearly one in 10 of survey participants.

It’s unclear whether Costanza’s conviction offers Jackson any peace. Some trans people might feel that justice was served in this case—a rare instance in which the harm enacted on an oft-ignored group finally gets attention from the criminal justice system. Others, myself included, might find little comfort in such carceral solutions, instead hoping for a world where they can use the restroom in peace, where their safety doesn’t depend on the threat of prison time.

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