Giving transgender people equal access to bathrooms does not in fact jeopardize public safety, a new study confirms.
The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, an LGBTQ think tank, reports that nondiscrimination protections that took effect in 2016 did not result an increase in criminal activity.
That may be an obvious finding for LGBTQ advocates. However, it’s big news as the state faces the first ever statewide referendum on transgender rights this year. The study is the first of its kind.
Massachusetts voters will decide in November if they want to repeal the 2016 gender identity public accommodation nondiscrimination protections. Despite the state’s progressive tilt, advocates forecast a 50 percent chance of repeal, which they say could foretell fights for trans equality across the nation. However a WBUR poll shows that 52 percent of voters favor keeping protections while just 38 percent wish to repeal them.
“Opponents of public accommodations laws that include gender identity protections often claim that the laws leave women and children vulnerable to attack in public restrooms,” said study lead author Amira Hasenbush, in a statement. “But this study provides evidence that these incidents are rare and unrelated to the laws.”
The authors chose Massachusetts because the state has had nondiscrimination protections based on sexual orientation since 1989. Gender identity protections did not include public accommodations until 2016, however.
The study, which is the first of its kind, crunched data from public records requests in a spate of Massachusetts towns, some with gender identity protections and some without. It then compared incidents across towns similar in size and demographics to examine if crimes fluctuated due to protections.
The study showed that immediately after gender accomodations protections took effect in 2016, reports of privacy and safety violations actually decreased. Those included assault, sexual assault, rape, voyeurism, public sex (including sex work), lewd behavior and indecent exposure in public bathrooms, locker rooms and changing rooms.
The study also found a slight uptick after 20 months before crimes decreased again. Overall, however, the report found incidents of violations “exceedingly rare.”
“Research has shown that transgender people are frequently denied access, verbally harassed or physically assaulted while trying to use public restrooms,” said study author Jody Herman. “This study should provide some assurance that these types of public accommodations laws provide necessary protections for transgender people and maintain safety and privacy for everyone.”