In the fight to defend Charlotte’s anti-discrimination ordinance, supporters questioned claims that it would have been a threat to public safety.
Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC, said many large cities have rules similar to what Charlotte proposed before the legislature nullified it. Equality NC has since sued North Carolina to try to overturn the law.
“There have not been any public safety issues in those other communities,” Sgro said at a rally outside the legislature just days before Charlotte’s bill was overturned.
Conservatives weren’t swayed, though. Before Charlotte’s bill was passed, and then after when it was being debated by the General Assembly and even now that is has been overturned, concerns about safety have been frequently mentioned.
Mostly, opponents said opening up women’s restrooms to transgender women – people who are biologically male but identify as female – will make it easier for male sexual predators to commit crimes in bathrooms and locker rooms.
Online, supporters galvanized around the motto #KeepNCSafe and sent out ads that included the phrase “don’t let our girls become victims” and “keep children safe.”
N.C. GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse cited “privacy and safety concerns” in attacking Attorney General Roy Cooper, who is running for governor as a Democrat, for not stepping in to stop Charlotte’s bill on his own.
A popular Christian author from Charlotte, Frank Turek, wrote an article about the backlash to the law that included the line, “The danger is real from sexual predators in women’s restrooms.” The N.C. GOP distributed his column via email and put that sentence about sexual predators in boldface.
So who is right? The evidence is overwhelmingly on Sgro’s side.
That’s not to say that people don’t have honest concerns over privacy or mental anguish. Indeed, several opponents of Charlotte’s ordinance have spoken of their own experiences with sexual assault, and their fears that seeing someone with male genitalia in a women’s room might trigger painful memories.
But still, Sgro said, Charlotte’s bill would not have legalized sexual assault, harassment or voyeurism – it just would have let transgender men and women use the bathrooms they’re more comfortable in.
“Transgender people are not predators,” he said.
Examples to prove Sgro wrong?
The entire state of Maryland and some of the largest cities in the country, including New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Seattle and Austin, Texas, have rules banning discrimination against transgender people in public accommodation, including bathrooms. More than 200 cities and counties also ban workplace discrimination against transgender people.
A dozen state public school systems and dozens of college campuses also have ordinances banning discrimination against transgender people, including in bathrooms.
We asked the N.C. GOP if they could point to anything that backs up the safety fears. They provided a link to a news story in Seattle from earlier this year, about a man who had twice gone into a women’s locker room and began undressing. Seattle does allow transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender they identify as.
The man didn’t identify as transgender and didn’t appear to present as a woman, the story said. No one called the police, and the man wasn’t charged with any crime. Follow-up stories described the incident as a stunt, perhaps politically motivated.
The liberal group Media Matters For America has studied the bathroom issue for several years, largely under the guidance of Carlos Maza.
Maza, a Wake Forest University graduate, tweeted after North Carolina’s new law passed that “A man has never used an LGBT non-discrimination law to sneak into a bathroom.”
Maza has also polled public school systems that allow transgender students to use the bathroom of the gender they identify as. In a June 2015 article, he wrote that in 17 districts with a total of 600,000 students, officials hadn’t reported a single incident of “harassment or inappropriate behavior” related to transgender students and bathrooms.
But we still weren’t satisfied, so we kept digging, looking for examples of proven criminal behavior. We were likewise unable to find any examples in the United States, though we did find a case in Canada.
In that case, Christopher Hambrook posed as a woman to gain entry to women’s shelters, where he attacked several people before being caught. Hambrook was sentenced to an “indefinite” jail term in 2014 that could lead to his spending the rest of his life in prison.
Hambrook committed the crimes in Toronto, which has an ordinance protecting transgender people. That appears to be the first, and so far only, incident of its kind in North America.
After spending hours combing through conservative blogs and family values websites dedicated to news about transgender bathroom ordinances, we were able to confirm three cases in the United States in the last 17 years in which a biological male was convicted of a crime that involved him in a women’s bathroom or locker room and dressed as a woman.
It’s unclear if any of the three identified as transgender women, but none of those cases happened in cities where it would have been legal for a transgender woman to use the women’s room anyway. And none involved sexual assault or rape.
In 1999, Patrick Hagan was convicted in Tampa, Fla., for punching a woman in a bar bathroom during an argument. In 2010, Norwood Burns was convicted in Gordon County, Georgia, for exposing himself in a Walmart bathroom. In 2011, Thomas Lee Benson was convicted of trespassing in a Clackamas, Ore., women’s locker room and trying to talk to children.
Again, though, none of those crimes occurred in places where biological men would have had any legal claim to be in a women’s room by virtue of being a transgender woman.
The blogs did identify a few examples of alleged criminal activity having taken place under the guise of transgender-friendly bathrooms laws, but we couldn’t find proof of any convictions in those cases.
Chris Sgro, the executive director of Equality NC, said, “There have not been any public safety issues in those other communities” with ordinances allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice.
We haven’t found any instances of criminals convicted of using transgender protections as cover in the United States. Neither have any left-wing groups or right-wing groups.
There was one incident in Canada, involving a rapist. In the U.S., there have been a few yet-unproven allegations.
We rate this claim Mostly True.
Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran