Ken Paxton

If the GOP’s Worried About Safety, They’re Banning the Wrong People from Bathrooms


A version of this story ran in the June 2016 issue.

Ken Paxton
Attorney General Ken Paxton at the 2016 Texas GOP convention, where he and other state leaders traded in transphobic rhetoric all weekend long.  Patrick Michels

If only the party of small government would get back to actually making the government smaller, so at least we could argue about that instead of fighting the latest bogeyman: transgender people using public restrooms.

Instead, Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton is meddling in the affairs of private businesses by haranguing Target about the retailer’s policy of letting people pee where they feel comfortable peeing, without first installing some kind of bathroom police to inspect folks’ genitals or survey their birth certificates.

In May, Paxton issued a letter to Target saying that the store is “free” to have whatever bathroom policy it likes, but that theirs “could lead to criminal and otherwise unwanted activity.” He then asked for “the full text of Target’s safety policies regarding the protection of women and children from those who would use the cover of Target’s restroom policy for nefarious purposes.”

I have good news for Paxton on that last point, though I’m surprised that as the state’s highest-ranking lawyer he is unaware of the means by which Target, and every other public or private entity in Texas, can help ensure women’s and children’s safety: the Texas Penal Code.

Sexual abuse and sexual assault are illegal in the state of Texas. Nondiscrimination policies — whether from Target or a local municipality, such as Houston or Rockwall — do not create a defense to prosecution. Nowhere in Texas is being transgender or cisgender or tall or short or blue or purple a defense to criminal sexual activity, and yet Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has also gotten on his bizarre high horse about Target, vowing to boycott the retailer for their trans-friendly policies. (Patrick announced his boycott on social media, using platforms developed by companies that, themselves, have trans-friendly workplace polices regarding the use of facilities. We can only hope that Patrick defects from the internet, too.)

There’s a certain predilection for prurience in drawing a straight line between “public restroom” and “opportunity to sexually assault a woman or child.”

I’m more than a little creeped out about where the minds of men such as Paxton and Patrick seem to go when they think about public restrooms. There’s a certain predilection for prurience in drawing a straight line between “public restroom” and “opportunity to sexually assault a woman or child.” In the most disturbing example, U.S. Congressman Louie Gohmert, the East Texas Republican, recently said in a radio interview that he’d have jumped at the chance to pretend to be transgender as a teenager in order to infiltrate the girls’ bathroom at his school.

When I think about public restrooms, I’m usually thinking about whether there’s going to be a functional soap dispenser or one of those fun Dyson hand dryers. I’m less likely to wonder if they will afford me an opportunity to commit a sex crime.

I surveyed Texas newspaper reports from the last five years, and turned up eight or so examples of sexual assaults and abuse occurring in public facilities. All alleged perpetrators were cisgender men who did not claim to be transgender in their own defense. And I can think of a couple of other incidents my search didn’t turn up: Last fall, Houston-area police say, a man assaulted a 12-year-old girl in a CVS bathroom, and in early May, a girl in Frisco reported that a man attempted to film her in a Target dressing room.

Nondiscrimination policies that protect transgender people, people of color, pregnant people, veterans and others from being fired or denied housing because of their identities don’t stop creeps with cameras in dressing rooms, and they don’t afford them relief from prosecution.

If Paxton and his fearmongering colleagues in the GOP are so worried about protecting women and children, they would do well to concern themselves not with which public bathrooms transgender people use, but with the fact that cisgender men can use them at all. Cisgender men are statistically more likely than anyone else to be the perpetrators of sexual assault and abuse — assault and abuse of women, of children and of other men.

But something tells me Dan Patrick would be mighty offended if, because of the creepy proclivities of some of his fellow men, he couldn’t make a pit stop at his favorite gas station, Buc-ee’s.

This brand of meddling bigotry doesn’t even match the GOP’s reigning logic in other areas. Gun control is unnecessary, they say, because criminals will just get weapons, anyway. Why, then, are we to believe that gender-based bathroom regulations will deter sexual predators?