Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Call for Volunteer Researchers: Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Laws and Public Lavatory Climate

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | November 28, 2008 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Florida, Gainesville, gender identity, transgender, transgender law

As a professor of Law and Society at a liberal-arts institution, one of my major functions, in addition to teaching, is to conduct research on questions of major importance in my field.

One of these questions is regarding the effect of gender identity non-discrimination laws on the climate of safety in women's public bathrooms. An effective tool of opponents of such laws is the argument that, because gender identity and expression are essentially self-defined, it allows men to enter women's dressing rooms and harass or assault women with impunity. I am conducting research on the question of what is the incidence of this type of incident, and whether it is related to gender identity non-discrimination laws.

I'm asking for volunteers to help in this research. Obtaining grants for such research can take years of effort, and few organizations really care enough about this question to fund it. In addition, my school has money for student-faculty research and I was able to get a bright student to help me do this. The volunteer-driven research model has been used successfully before, notably in the AIDS crisis. If you or someone you know is willing to spend an hour in web training, and put in about two to five hours a week for a month, then please contact me at [email protected], with "Research" in the subject line. I will forward details.

More info about the research after the jump.

The Research Questions

Every good research design needs good research questions. This research is designed to determine the incidence of harassment or assault of women in public restrooms, and the number of such incidents perpetrated, if any, by persons claiming (whether truthfully or deceitfully) to be transgender. In addition, the research will look to determine whether the presence or absence of gender identity laws is related to the incidence.

After a decade of work in this field, I have never heard of a situation where a person used a claim of gender identity for the purpose of entering a women's bathroom for the purpose of committing harassment or assault. I have certainly heard of a few cases where a man dressed as a woman in order to commit a crime, such as robbery or burglary, and escape detection (though of course, having heard of the cases, the attempts were obviously not successful). I have also heard of many cases of men committing crimes in women's bathrooms. But these cases all involved an attempt to escape notice, not to call attention to false claims about gender identity. More significantly, these cases do not appear to have been spurred by the passage of a gender identity non-discrimination law.

Do We Really Need This Research?

It might seem to some that the research is a waste of time. We don't know of any such cases, end of discussion. However, it is one thing to say that I have never heard of such a case, and quite another to do research to determine the statistical occurrence of such cases. I can't definitively say no such cases exist. This research will cast a wider net, and will allow a much more definitive statement about the existence (or non-existence) of such cases.

This information is essential for another reason. The argument of opponents of gender identity non-discrimination laws essentially involves a "parade of horribles." They raise cases of rape by men in women's bathrooms so frightening and anger-inducing that the reader loses all reason. While reading these cases, I found myself being very angry at the cruelty of these perpetrators, and rightly so. The visceral reaction that such prejudicial "evidence" evokes makes it the nuclear bomb of non-discrimination law. The exact same argument was used effectively in opposition to racial integration, the ERA and early gay rights laws. So don't underestimate it.

Here is the argument from the "Citizens for Good Public Policy" website. Don't click the links if you're someone who doesn't want to have the kind of nightmares that have me going around the house making sure the windows and doors are locked.

But a balanced perspective must also take into consideration widespread restroom rapes and other related molestations against women and young girls that occur when males enter female restrooms. Here is a short list that represents a large problem:


Balanced perspective, my foot. These incidents are unrelated to transgender women perpetrating crimes in bathrooms. They do not involve men attempting to claim impunity for harassing women in the bathroom. They are simply designed to get readers fighting mad. After that, critical analysis goes out the window.

Logically, the series of incidents paraded by the "Citizens for Good Public Policy" undercut their own argument. Many of these incidents occurred in areas without gender identity non-discrimination laws. Therefore, the absence of gender identity non-discrimination laws affords no protection to women. These cases involve men who entered women's bathroom's to commit crimes, law or no law. But such logic will do little to help your local Member of Congress who wants to vote in favor of ENDA, but whose constituents are on a witch hunt for transgender sexual predators. What is needed is clear-eyed, methodologically sound research. That, and a good widespread public education campaign.

To Learn More

If you would like to learn more about the issues involved in the Gainesville ordinance, read my post "Fear and Loathing in Gainesville, Florida," where an amendment is under consideration to repeal that city's non-discrimination ordinance.

If you or someone you know is willing to spend an hour in web training, and put in about two to five hours a week for a month, then please contact me at [email protected], with "Research" in the subject line. I will forward details.

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Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | November 28, 2008 6:27 PM

Jillian, admittedly I just read a couple of the links, but none of the assaults here involved men dressed in women's clothing.

So like you, I would say that these horrible incidents have no bearing on laws that prevent MtF's from using the women's bathroom, unless to prove that such laws are useless and discriminatory.

The religious right has (smartly) never claimed that these laws has anything to do with discriminating against transfolk, Brynn! Instead they wrap it in "protect the children!" hysteria that if you allow gender identity non-discrimination laws, men will just storm the women's bathrooms and start carrying off victims like the return of the Ravaging Horde.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | November 29, 2008 4:19 PM

Bil, that's essentially what I was trying to say: The incidents I read only reinforce the point that laws preventing transgender folk from using the proper restroom do nothing but discriminate against transgender folk.

MtF is not an appropriate term for a woman of trans experience.

Alyssa, no offense was meant. I use FtM to refer to myself, and my male-to-female friends are not offended by MtF. From my 18+ years experience, while the acronym offends some, there is no general consensus on this among the trans community.

A much more interesting question would be correlating male entry assaults before and after GI sensitive restroom laws are enacted.

Also, trans women assault stories should be part of that research.

recently, in the UK, a trans woman was assaulted at Pride London by a male because the staff had ordered her to use the men's room, and used her assault to justify sending trans women to an inappropriate and illegal restroom.

roz, a longtime and respected activist wrote at length about this.

On a personal note, I have been able to avoid most restroom incidents by avoiding primarily gay areas, since the level of harassment I receive tends to be much higher there.

So, a worthy question is also, how many so called gay-friendly areas deny safety to trans women?


MtF is not an appropriate term for a woman of trans experience. Use trans women, pls. It is the least likely to offend, and captures the essence of what you are trying to say.

Calling me an MtF is kinda like calling a gay man a blowjob. It does not make sense to those in the know. and is grammatically incorrect, as well as somewhat offensive.

I did Mtf. I am a woman, and trans. In that order.

When I was trying to put Gender Identity/Expression into our non-discrimination ordinance, we did a check from a lot of cities around the country. We came up with nothing on attacks in restrooms from trans people. Yes, there are rapes that happen in the restroom, men and womans restrooms but we couldn't find anywhere that a person who was a transgendered person did any of the attacks. We looked hard because that was what the people were afraid of and they still say that men will dress up as women just so they can enter the facility to molest women and children.
Logically speaking, why would a guy do that. He would just go in and do his attrocity and leave.

This is some much needed research. I have always responded that I've never heard of non-discrimination bathroom abuse, but I'm glad to hear from you too.