Campaign Fact-Check: Cruz Ad Spreads Misinformation on Bathroom Discrimination Laws

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Analysis Politics

Campaign Fact-Check: Cruz Ad Spreads Misinformation on Bathroom Discrimination Laws

Ally Boguhn

Cruz released a 30-second ad attacking Donald Trump’s stance on bathroom discrimination laws Thursday, doubling down on his own anti-LGBTQ rhetoric on the matter.

Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) latest campaign ad plays on anti-LGBTQ myths and fear-mongering that allowing trans people to use restrooms corresponding with their gender identity will jeopardize the safety of others.

Cruz released a 30-second ad attacking Donald Trump’s stance on bathroom discrimination laws Thursday, doubling down on his own anti-LGBTQ rhetoric on the matter. “Should a grown man pretending to be a woman be allowed to use the women’s restroom?” asks the text of Cruz’s new ad while ominous music plays in the background. “The same restroom used by your daughter? Your wife?”

Playing a brief clip of Trump voicing his support for people using “the bathroom that they feel is appropriate,” the spot goes on to claim that allowing trans people to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender is both “not appropriate” and “not safe.”

“It’s PC nonsense that’s destroying America,” the ad concludes of Trump’s stance.

Roe is gone. The chaos is just beginning.

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During a Thursday morning appearance on NBC’s Today, Trump criticized North Carolina’s HB 2, which bans trans people from using restrooms in public facilities and schools in accordance with their gender identity. (Trump has since said the decision should ultimately be left up to “local communities and states.”) Trump’s initial comments, which were later featured in Cruz’s ad, quickly set off his rival Republican presidential candidate, who countered that it was “basic common sense” that “grown adult men—strangers—should not be alone in a bathroom with little girls,” according to USA Today.

Cruz and other conservatives justify discriminatory bathroom bills using the myth of the “bathroom predator” who would exploit nondiscrimination laws in order to prey on women and children. But advocates and fact-checking organizations say this argument is not supported by any evidence.

Last week, a coalition of over 250 national, state, and local organizations spoke out against the discriminatory laws and the myths behind them. “Those who are pushing these proposals have claimed that these proposals are necessary for public safety and to prevent sexual violence against women and children,” wrote the organizations in a statement. “As rape crisis centers, shelters, and other service providers who work each and every day to meet the needs of all survivors and reduce sexual assault and domestic violence throughout society, we speak from experience and expertise when we state that these claims are false.”

Their letter goes on to note that laws allowing trans people to use the bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity have been implemented elsewhere, and that there has been no corresponding increase in violence or sexual assault in those places:

Nondiscrimination laws protecting transgender people have existed for a long time. Over 200 municipalities and 18 states have nondiscrimination laws protecting transgender people’s access to facilities consistent with the gender they live every day. In some cases, these protections have been in place for decades. These laws have protected people from discrimination without creating harm. None of those jurisdictions have seen a rise in sexual violence or other public safety issues due to nondiscrimination laws. Assaulting another person in a restroom or changing room remains against the law in every single state. We operate and advocate for rape crisis centers and shelters all over the country, including in cities and states with non-discrimination protections for transgender people. Those protections have not weakened public safety or criminal laws, nor have they compromised their enforcement.

Carlos Maza, a research fellow at media watchdog group Media Matters for America, has been tracking the myth of the “bathroom predator” for years and told Rewire by email that the misinformation surrounding it is just the latest effort by conservatives hoping to curb LGBTQ equality efforts.

“It’s a bogus talking point that’s been used to stop or roll back LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws across the country for years, and it works because it exploits people’s fears, especially for the safety of women and children,” said Maza, who previously led Media Matter’s LGBTQ program. (Full disclosure, I used to work with Maza at Media Matters before joining Rewire.)

“Right-wing groups have made this argument for years, but it’s just recently that bathroom access has become a topic of national debate,” Maza added. “And it’s just the latest edition in a long story of conservatives using bathroom panic to fight against basic legal protections for marginalized groups.”

Maza and other researchers at Media Matters have surveyed law officials, anti-sexual violence advocates, government employees, and other experts in multiple locations with anti-discrimination ordinances—all of whom have categorically debunked claims that such laws open the door to safety issues.

Furthermore, analyzing a claim from Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC, that “[t]here have not been any public safety issues” in cities that have passed such laws, fact-checking site PolitiFact found no evidence of “any instances of criminals convicted of using transgender protections as cover in the United States.” In its response to Cruz’s ad, PolitiFact also noted, “It’s not accurate to say that transgender women are men … a transgender woman is a woman and not ‘a grown man pretending to be a woman.'”

LGBTQ advocates say that Cruz’s claim borrows from the same falsehoods about trans people that allowed North Carolina’s HB 2 to pass in the first place. “He’s just spouting the same nonsense that [North Carolina] Gov. Pat McCrory has been spouting about transgender people being predators. It isn’t true, it isn’t fair, and what they’re finding out is, it isn’t as political expedient as they thought it was,” commented Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), to MSNBC on the Texas senator’s comments.

A previous investigation by Mic in April 2015 also turned up no evidence to support the myth that trans people in particular have abused nondiscrimination laws:

Spokespeople from the Transgender Law Center, the Human Rights Campaign, and the American Civil Liberties Union told Mic that no statistical evidence of violence exists to warrant this legislation. Vincent Villano, the director of communications for the National Center for Transgender Equality, told Mic in an email that there isn’t any firm data to corroborate these lawmakers’ claims, and that NCTE has “not heard of a single instance of a transgender person harassing a non-transgender person in a public restroom. Those who claim otherwise have no evidence that this is true and use this notion to prey on the public’s stereotypes and fears about transgender people.”

Meanwhile, those who face harassment and violence in restrooms are often trans people. A June 2013 study from the Williams Institute surveying the experiences of trans people in Washington, D.C., found that 70 percent of respondents reported experiencing either verbal harassment, physical assault, or denial of access when using gender-segregated restrooms.

These statistics correspond with the high rates of discrimination and harassment experienced by trans people on a day-to-day basis. The National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s 2015 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, which interviewed 6,450 transgender and gender-nonconforming people across all 50 states as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, found widespread discrimination in many aspects of the lives of those surveyed. In total, 63 percent of respondents had experienced a “serious act of discrimination” in their lifetime, which could include physical assault, sexual assault, homelessness, denial of medical services, or the loss of a job due to anti-transgender bias.