New "transgender bathroom crime" study misses the mark

When I saw the title of this article from the Boston Globe yesterday I immediately wondered if there was a new transgender bathroom bill being debated somewhere. The title pretty much saves you the trouble of reading the entire piece unless you’re bored. “Study finds no link between transgender rights law and bathroom crimes.”

As it turns out, Massachusettes already has a “bathroom bill” on the books and has since last year. But there’s a referendum coming up in November where the voters are being offered the chance to overturn it. The group pushing the referendum unfortunately chose to base much of their objections on the specter of increased violent crimes and sexual assaults on women and young girls in public restrooms. Clearly, somebody orchestrated this study to shoot down that idea prior to the vote.

A first-of-its-kind study being released Wednesday refutes the premise that the state’s transgender antidiscrimination law threatens public safety, finding no relation between public transgender bathroom access and crimes that occur in bathrooms.

Researchers at the Williams Institute, a think tank focused on gender identity at the UCLA School of Law, examined restroom crime reports in Massachusetts cities of similar size and comparable demographics and found no increase in crime and no difference between cities that had adopted transgender policies and those that had not. The data were collected for a minimum of two years before a statewide antidiscrimination law took effect in 2016.

First of all, they didn’t go to some random data collection center or law enforcement records analysis group to get this study. It came out of the Williams Institute. This is a shop, or self-described “think tank” out at UCLA which proudly proclaims it’s mission to be one focused on the health and well-being of LGBTQ communities. Not exactly an unbiased pillar of research if we’re being honest.

Then there’s the study itself. The Williams Institute has a link to this report on their home page but all they offer is a press release and a summary. They don’t put up their data for examination. As soon as I saw this story I got hold of one of my contacts in law enforcement to ask how they thought the data for such a study might be compiled and they were skeptical, to put it mildly. Criminal data is classified in many fashions, including various violent crimes (rape, robbery, homicide, arson), the names of suspects where available, race and gender data and locations. But as far as I was able to find out, there is no standard category for “bathroom crimes.”

Even location data may mention where inside any given building a crime took place, or it may not. On top of that, if you’re looking for instances of crime committed by transgender individuals, that’s such a tiny percentage of the population to begin with that any numbers you generated would be down in the noise level of the margin of error. Add on the additional requirement that it must have taken place in a public bathroom and there likely isn’t a data pool large enough to draw conclusions.

But let’s just assume for a moment that this study somehow magically produced an accurate data set. As I mentioned above, the people focusing on trying to repeal the transgender bathroom law were mistaken to put so much of their focus on the potential for violent crime. That’s certainly one concern, but far more to the point is the question of common decency and privacy. There has yet to be a single scientific study showing that there are more than the two known genders of our species (plus those with rare chromosomal aberrations) and they have traditionally respected each other’s privacy when it comes to public bathroom, locker room, and shower accommodations. That is more than adequate reason to oppose the bill. Trying to build the entire case on crime statistics is a red herring.