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What The Bathroom Debate Misses

Recently our news (and social media feeds) have been consumed with one subject: the ability of transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice. At Blackburn Center, we fully support the right of transgender men and women to use whichever bathroom they are comfortable using. We affirm the right of each person to freely express their gender identity.

Proponents of discriminatory bathroom laws, which mandate that people must use the public restroom that matches the sex on their birth certificate, claim that this is a safety issue. The governor of North Carolina claimed that allowing a person with male genitalia to use a women’s restroom would put citizens in danger from “deviant actions.” They claim that if transgender people are allowed to use the bathroom of their choice, non-trans men will be able to dress up as women in order to go into public restrooms or locker rooms and assault women. In short, transgender men and women should be penalized based on the possibility cisgender men will break the law.

This argument is flawed in many respects. Perhaps most importantly, it ignores the reality of sexual assault: the overwhelming majority of victims are assaulted by someone known to them. 82% of sexual assaults against adults were committed by someone known to the victim. For children, 93% were victimized by someone known to them. Whether the attacker is a family member, friend, neighbor, teacher, acquaintance, pastor, priest or a romantic partner, most sexual assault victims are hurt by someone that they know. While possible, the chances of being assaulted by a stranger in a public bathroom are very low.

If we are concerned about safety and reducing sexual assaults, the focus should be on prosecuting the assaults that already happen and addressing the root causes of gender violence — not on bathrooms. Let’s work on primary prevention measures, like increased education. Let’s make affirmative consent the standard across the United States. Let’s ensure that organizations like Blackburn Center have enough funding to provide support services to victims and to educate the public about gender violence. Let’s strengthen laws on sexual assault and provide more training to law enforcement on how to handle sexual assault cases. Let’s end the rape kit backlog, and provide funding to ensure that all jurisdictions have rape kits available. Let’s stop victim blaming. Let’s support and encourage victims. Laws about who can use what bathroom do nothing to reduce or eliminate the number of sexual assaults in our society. They distract from the real issues, while punishing a group of people who already face marginalization and oppression. Enough with the bathroom debate. It’s time to make a real change in our society.

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