The belligerent battle against progress in North Carolina wages on. The state has struggled in recent months under the weight of heavy media attention over its archaic policies concerning transgender people and their rights to public washroom access. The latest news? Some North Carolina schools are letting kids carry pepper spray to school to arm themselves against transgender people. The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education made an announcement on Monday that it would allow students to arm themselves with pepper spray, or what the board is referring to as "defensive sprays." Board member Chuck Hughes explained the endorsement of this perplexing move, according to Slate:
Depending on how the courts rule on the bathroom issues, it may be a pretty valuable tool to have on the female students if they go to the bathroom, not knowing who may come in.
Hughes is talking about the infamous House Bill 2 or "bathroom bill," a bill supported by North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory that dictates that transgender people are legally obligated to use the public washroom that corresponds with their gender assigned at birth. Hughes later dialed back his comments, saying "Perverts and pedophiles taking advantage of this law in bathrooms was my major concern," according to the Huffington Post. But the damage was done, and even Hughes' edited problems perpetuate a dangerous myth: that trans-friendly bathroom access leads to more predatory crime.
HB2 has been hotly disputed ever since its passage, with musicians like Bruce Springsteen canceling performances in the state and Attorney General Loretta Lynch filing a Department of Justice lawsuit against the state. She said, according to the Huffington Post:
The legislature and the Governor placed the state of North Carolina in direct opposition to federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex and gender identity. More to the point, they created state-sponsored discrimination against transgender individuals who simply seek to engage in the most private of functions in a place of safety and security.
So how does North Carolina respond to allegations of state-sponsored discrimination? Beginning in the fall, the Rowan-Salisbury School Board will allow its schools to arm students with pepper spray in case HB2 is overturned pending the Department of Justice lawsuit.
As board member Chuck Hughes alluded to The Salisbury Post, the defensive pepper spray is meant to be used by girls in public restrooms if a threatening person (many believed he was alluding to trans people) enters and they feel threatened. Perhaps they are worried that someone will go to Herculean lengths to invent a transgender identity just to get into the restroom and watch girls wash their hands or something.
But, much to Hughes' (and the collective right wing's) dismay, there is absolutely no evidence that sexual assaults have ever happened in trans-friendly restrooms. I need to say that again: there is no evidence that predatory crime increases. Experts from 12 states got together to debunk the urban myth of sexual predators using trans-friendly restrooms to prey upon unsuspecting women. None of those states found that crime increased after new laws were passed.
Unfortunately, stats on aggression and violence that trans people encounter in restrooms are not as promising. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, at least 63 percent of respondents had experienced a serious act of discrimination in their lifetime and roughly 70 percent of transgender individuals report having been denied entry, assaulted, or harassed when trying to use a public restroom.
Since news broke of the decision to allow pepper spray in schools as a defensive measure against transgender individuals, the school board seems to have changed its tune. Rowan-Salisbury Board member Hughes told BuzzFeed News that he now realizes, "the cons far outweigh the pros" and that he will personally vote to have pepper spray returned to the prohibited list when the board next votes on May 23. Hughes was eager to retract his original statement regarding the bathroom laws, telling BuzzFeed News;
The LGBT issue has never been a problem to my knowledge. People have a different sexual identity, they go about their business. You don’t even know that a transgender is in your bathroom. They’re not there to create havoc. But perverts are.
I'm going to go ahead and call that one a small victory, but let's hope he isn't the only one voting against the proposed measure at the end of the month.