To Michelle Duggar, Michael Brown, and the Rest: Stop Attacking Trans Women

19 Kids and Counting, the oddly popular TLC show about a gigantic evangelical Christian family, may be approaching its final days.

Or so we hope. There are plenty of reasons to find the Duggar family (all 19+ of them) nauseating, and many LGBT folks, atheists, and others who don’t agree with their aggressive conservatism may have been rooting for them to go off the air for years. But the last straw came when the show’s matriarch, Michelle Duggar, recorded a robocall urging Fayetteville, Arkansas residents to vote against a transgender rights law. The ordinance (which passed) allows trans people to use public facilities, such as restrooms and locker rooms, that correspond with their gender identity, rather than their sex assigned at birth.

Duggar’s call reiterated tired, defamatory claims that trans people (particularly trans women) are sexual predators:

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar

Hello, this is Michelle Duggar. I’m calling to inform you of some shocking news that would affect the safety of Northwest Arkansas women and children. The Fayetteville City Council is voting on an ordinance this Tuesday night that would allow men — yes, I said men — to use women’s and girls’ restrooms, locker rooms, showers, sleeping areas and other areas that are designated for females only.

I don’t believe the citizens of Fayetteville would want males with past child predator convictions that claim they are female to have a legal right to enter private areas that are reserved for women and girls. I doubt that Fayetteville parents would stand for a law that would endanger their daughters or allow them to be traumatized by a man joining them in their private space. We should never place the preference of an adult over the safety and innocence of a child. Parents, who do you want undressing next to your daughter at the public swimming pool’s private changing area?

I still believe that we are a society that puts women and children first. Women, young ladies, and little girls deserve to use the restroom and any other women’s facility in peace and safety. Will you speak up for protecting women and children? Call 575-8330 and tell the Fayetteville City Council members and Mayor Jordan to vote “No” on ordinance 119. The number again is 575-8330. For more information, please go to www.freefayetteville.org. Paid for by freefayetteville.org.

Now there’s a petition for TLC to drop the show, a counter-petition to “defend the Duggars,” and notoriously homophobic Christian columnist Dr. Michael Brown is here to share his infinite wisdom on the entire thing.

In his column, Brown repeats multiple times that he is not transphobic (he doesn’t seem to know the meaning of the word), yet he continues to misgender trans people, spread lies about trans people as predators, and cite false evidence to prove his point. In defending Michelle’s robocall and the Duggar family, he writes:

First, it is not transphobic for women and girls using bathrooms and locker rooms to feel uncomfortable when a man comes into that bathroom dressed as a woman.

He may genuinely believe he is a woman.

He may have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

He may be a very nice man.

But if he is a biological male, it’s only natural for many women to feel uncomfortable in his presence in the privacy of the ladies bathroom or locker room.

Of course, some will call me transphobic for referring to “him” as “he,” but unless someone can prove definitively that “he” really is “she,” I’ll call him “he.”

It’s transphobic to interfere with someone else’s life because of what they look like, it’s transphobic to put your own comfort before their health and safety, and it’s transphobic to discount their identity. Not to mention that the genitals of the person in the stall next to you are none of your business. I don’t know how other people treat Dr. Brown in restrooms, but I wouldn’t want a stranger taking it upon themselves to “prove definitively” that I am the gender I say.

Brown defends Duggar by saying that she didn’t mean to assert that all trans people (not “transgenders,” as he states below) are predators, but that this law would ultimately enable sexual predators who could claim to be trans in order to get away with criminal behavior. Again, not true.

Second, as far as I can tell, Michelle Duggar was not alleging that transgenders were, generally speaking, child predators but rather that male heterosexual predators could easily take advantage of this law. Why wouldn’t they?

If they know that the law allows for men who identify as transgender to use the ladies room, why wouldn’t they take advantage of it? Why wouldn’t they dress up as women to be around women and girls in this private setting?

Don’t sexual perverts do perverted things? Don’t sexual predators do whatever they can to prey on the innocent? And are the gay activists guaranteeing us that there are no men who now identify as transgender women who are sexual predators?

If Michelle Duggar were making the generalized case that men who identify as transgender women are sexual predators, then that would actually be “transphobic,” but I don’t believe that was her point at all.

Advocates have repeated this ad nauseam: There have been virtually no cases of cisgender (non-trans) men dressing up as women in order to access women’s restrooms and harass people. Yet some conservatives still make this out to be their greatest fear. Not only does this trope equate transgender identity with being a sexual predator, but it suggests that gay rights activists want immunity for people who do commit acts of sexual harassment. That’s not what we’re about.

If a person with a penis assaults a girl in a bathroom, that person should and would be arrested and punished, regardless of what the person was wearing or how the person identifies. There’s no question there.

The problem is that conservatives like Brown consider a trans person’s very presence in a particular locker room to be a sex crime. Here’s his last point:

Third, there’s already a case in Olympia, Washington, where a man who is legally a woman but still has male genitalia shocked teenaged girls who found him sitting naked with his legs open in the girls sauna. (The police report stated that “she” was exposing “her male genitalia.”)

The girls, who are in high school, share a pool with a local college where the individual in question, whose name is now “Colleen” and who is about 45 years old, is taking classes. But since the school has a policy of no discrimination based on gender identity, there was absolutely nothing that could be done to stop “Colleen” from doing this again.

As it turns out, the case Brown cites — from 2012 — is infamous in trans activist circles because it was egregiously misreported but has nonetheless become a paramount talking point for politicians fighting against trans rights.

Here’s how ABC’s Alyssa Newcomb originally covered the story of Colleen Francis, a trans woman who became the face of the anti-trans movement against her will:

The decision to allow a transgender 45-year-old college student who identifies as a woman but has male genitalia to use the women’s locker room has raised a fracas among parents and faith-based organizations, who say children as young as 6 years old use the locker room.

The locker room at Evergreen College in Olympia, Wash., is shared with the Capital High School swim club and a children’s swim academy, along with the students at Evergreen.

“The college has to follow state law,”  Evergreen spokesman Jason Wettstein told ABC News affiliate KOMO. “The college cannot discriminate based on the basis of gender identity. Gender identity is one of the protected things in discrimination law in this state.”

But according to parents, the fact that the student has exposed her male genitalia, in one instance in the sauna, is cause for concern.

“[A mother] reported her daughter was upset because she observed a person at the women’s locker room naked and displaying male genitalia,” said a police report filed in September by a mother on behalf of her 17-year-old daughter.

Turns out this is not a true representation of what happened and many facts were omitted from mainstream coverage. Here’s what Cristan Williams, a writer for The TransAdvocate, wrote in response a year later after speaking to the school’s president and other officials:

Here’s the nugget of truth to the story: two teens did claim to see Colleen Francis nude while in the Evergreen College sauna.

Here’s what may not have not heard:

  • The sauna area was off limits to the two teens.
  • Unless one specifically tries to see inside the sauna, you can’t view the people inside the sauna.
  • Colleen Francis AND her cisgender female friend were using the sauna together. They were sitting there talking.
  • At no point did Francis act to expose herself to children.
  • At no point was Francis walking around nude in the area where children were.

So, the actual story is that two 17 year olds went into an area they weren’t allowed, attempted to view the people in the sauna and saw Francis. The rest of what you’ve probably heard about this incident is, at this point, an urban myth.

My conversation with Todd Sprague, the Executive Director of College Relations was preceded by an email exchange which immediately brought into question everything I thought I know about this incident. Sprague wrote, “Unfortunately many news reports and online commentaries have chosen to take a sensational, and often inaccurate, path in characterizing what has and has not happened at Evergreen.” He went on to clarify, “On the occasion that sparked the media coverage, the individual in question was using the sauna, an area generally off limits to swim team members.” Sprague also made it clear that this was “one incident that occurred in September 2012, not multiple incidents” and that Francis was “covered up with a towel on the way to the sauna and when leaving it. ”

In other words, the most famous example of why trans people are “dangerous” in public bathrooms is false. Transgender people — like cisgender people — do not enter public places in order to “expose themselves” to children. And if they did, the law does not protect people who commit acts of sexual harassment, trans or not trans. Ordinances like this one won’t change that.

It’s high time for extreme right-wingers like Michael Brown and Michelle Duggar to stop dehumanizing trans people in the name of their own morality. Transphobia is not a “family value,” 19 kids or not.

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