One of the progressive Left’s most successful tactics has been to frame reasonable objection to radical social policy as evidence of an evil mind and a bigoted heart. Anyone who objects—even a little—to the Left’s social agenda is labeled a bigot and a hater. That this strategy has largely succeeded is a testament to both changing mores and the power of public shame.

Even as we have become a vastly more tolerant society over the last 50 years, the penalty for dissent from progressive orthodoxy has grown exponentially more severe. This has naturally had a chilling effect on civil discourse. No one wants to end up like Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, hounded from his job for making a $1,000 donation in support of a successful California ballot referendum opposing same-sex marriage. No one wants to be like the bakers, or the florists, or the pizzeria owners, who have been targeted for their religious objections to same-sex marriage. No one wants to end up in the liberal media’s angry spotlight for standing against progress.

With the gay-marriage debate now settled, courtesy of a 5-4 Supreme Court vote, progressive legislators have turned their attention to transgender rights. The fight is mostly focused on defeating the passage of so-called “bathroom bills” requiring people who identify as transgendered to use public restrooms—including in schools—that match their sex at birth. Earlier this month, South Dakota’s Republican governor Dennis Daugaard vetoed such a bill. Tennessee’s legislature is currently considering one.

Supporters of the bathroom bills say that their primary concerns are privacy and safety, mostly that of women and children. They worry that without such protections, the sexual predators and Peeping Toms who have always been among us will exploit society’s increasing acceptance of transgender people to gain entrance to women’s bathrooms in search of victims.

Is this an unreasonable concern? Advocates for transgender rights say it’s worse than unreasonable. Marcie Bianco, a staff writer at, wrote last year that the bathroom bills “are driven by hate, born out of unjustified fear and, if adopted into law, set a dangerous precedent for how we treat the humanity of people.” The Human Rights Campaign has called Tennessee’s bathroom bill “appalling,” “outrageous,” and an attack on “the dignity and rights” of transgendered people. “It is difficult to imagine a more targeted attack against transgender and gender non-conforming students,” said Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project. “These appalling proposals would compromise the safety and well-being of the young people we all have the duty and obligation to support and protect,” according to an open letter signed by seven national advocacy groups including the American Academy of Pediatricians and the National Education Association.

Such white-hot rhetoric serves only to confuse the issue, perhaps intentionally. The fact is, sexual predators are overwhelmingly male, and they often target women and children in restrooms. A 63-year-old woman was sexually assaulted in a public restroom in New York City’s Union Square in October, at 3:00 in the afternoon. An 18-year-old man dressed in drag was busted in 2012 after Everett, Washington cops caught him in a community college women’s bathroom. He confessed that he’d previously snuck into the shower area of the girl’s locker room “for sexual gratification.” In May 2013, a 33-year-old man in a “wig, women’s clothing, and a bra” was arrested for filming women in the restroom at a Los Angeles-area Macy’s.

Even as the raucous debate over bathroom bills plays out in the nation’s statehouses, some big-city politicians have opted to charge ahead with bills allowing transgender people to use bathrooms and locker rooms according to their gender identity, not their biological sex. In February, the Charlotte, North Carolina city council passed such a law against the wishes of the state’s governor, former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has signed Executive Order No. 16 mandating that transgendered people must be allowed to use any bathrooms they like “without being required to show identification, medical documentation, or any other form of proof or verification of gender.”

De Blasio dismissed all questions about the new regulation as pure bigotry. “Somehow, hate is making a comeback,” he said. The estimated 25,000 transgendered New Yorkers make up less than a third of 1 percent of the city’s population. A far greater number of people will now feel that their privacy and safety have been compromised in city bathrooms. De Blasio doesn’t want to hear it, preferring to demonize their concerns. (Its self-righteous lecturing aside, the de Blasio administration does have some idea of the connection between restrooms and predatory behavior: it will suspend the new regulation in city jails.)

What will happen now if someone sees a man enter a woman’s restroom, and alerts the cops? Could the would-be rapist claim that he actually identifies as a woman, and demand that the officers leave him alone? It appears that, under de Blasio’s new regulation in New York, he can do just that.

Photo by Dave Mathis


City Journal is a publication of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (MI), a leading free-market think tank. Are you interested in supporting the magazine? As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations in support of MI and City Journal are fully tax-deductible as provided by law (EIN #13-2912529).

Further Reading

Up Next