In the battle across the United States over providing transgender access to public restrooms, key groups are divided about the effects of such a policy.
Opponents of transgender access say it would increase sexual assaults and abuse, enabling predators to claim a specific, perceived gender identity to access bathrooms used by potential victims.
Proponents say such a policy is necessary to prevent discrimination against transgender individuals, defined as those who perceive their gender to be different than the gender of their biological sex.
Opinion columns and video interviews on the Internet spotlight women survivors of abuse who say sexual predators would be eager to use perceived sexual identity as a camouflage to gain access to potential victims in restrooms and locker rooms. Conversely, other victims say such reasoning is based more on fear than truth.
Professional counselors and advocates for abuse victims from various walks of life also disagree on the efficacy of such a policy, news reports show.
The debate continues as President Obama issued a directive May 13 advising public schools to allow students who identify as transgender to use bathrooms aligning with their perceived gender identity.
The Obama directive sparked an outcry among an array of elected officials and conservative leaders. Some of the first to express concern include Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas, Matt Bevin of Kentucky, Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota, Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas and Phil Bryant of Mississippi; U.S. Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and David Vitter and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana; former Republican presidential nominee Mike Huckabee; Penny Young Nance, president of Concerned Women for America; and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. One school superintendent in Texas told a local TV station the directive "is going straight to the paper shredder."
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a leading religious freedom organization, is promoting its campaign, "It's common sense: No men in the women's restroom," seeking signatures for a petition at the group's website. ADF posted a video on its website of three female survivors of sexual abuse as well as a person identified as a transgender woman who oppose transgender bathroom laws.
"I think it all boils down to that right of privacy and is this something worth preserving," Alliance Defending Freedom legal counsel Matt Sharp said on the ADF video. "It's just students and parents wanting what's best for their kids and wanting to know that when they drop them off, they're not going to be exposed to someone of the opposite sex in the restroom or locker room.
"And the courts have recognized that right to privacy," Sharp said. "Our laws recognize the right to privacy, but we're seeing more and more school districts and even our own Department of Education, neglecting and trampling on that right to privacy."
Texas Baptist culture commentator Jim Denison, in his commentary May 13 at the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture, linked to a YouTube video he described as "documented cases" of transgender sexual predators. The 23-minute video, "Women Decide for Yourselves," posted by someone identified only as Jane Williams, names 26 such perceived predators, many of whom are documented by media reports from local and national news agencies.
Offenses cited in the video occurred in toilets, locker rooms and showers in such locations as retail stores, schools and prisons, the video asserts.
"We will be accused of cherry picking the worst of the worst, but we did not. This film could have been hours long," the film's narrator states. "For each offender here, there are dozens more we could have chosen. And for each offender, there are victims. There are women and children who have been terrorized, violated and even murdered.
"Yet these men and their advocates keep telling us that this never happens," the narrator said, "that men who wear women's clothing never commit sexual crimes, and that women have no right to privacy."
Denison, in his commentary, said he believes the video shows such a transgender bathroom policy would be counterproductive.
"A study by the Williams Institute estimates that 0.3 percent of the population identify as transgender," Denison said. "What about the vast majority of students who are not transgender, many of whom are not comfortable taking showers or using bathrooms with people who claim to be transgender?"
Southern Baptist Bob Stith, founder of Family and Gender Issues Ministries in Southlake, Texas, told BP in written comments, "If our president is genuinely concerned about transgendered people, he would be seeking a middle ground that acknowledges the concerns of these women as well. While some activists would oppose this, it would be more likely to unite the nation rather than furthering the radical divide his current policy will most assuredly bring about."
Transgender bathroom laws have the support of many, including the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women. Composed of 250 national, state and local organizations supporting victims and advocating for prevention, the group has signed a "national consensus statement" supporting "full and equal access for the transgender community."
The task force is opposed to what is termed "anti-transgender initiatives," with a membership including such national groups as the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, the Battered Women's Justice Project, the FaithTrust Institute, the National Organization for Women and the YWCA.
"As organizations that care about reducing assault and violence, we favor laws and policies that protect transgender people from discrimination," the statement reads, "including in accessing facilities that match the gender they live every day."
According to the task force, more than 200 cities and 18 states have nondiscrimination laws protecting transgender access to bathrooms and similar facilities.
Among other proponents, Media Matters for America posted an April 12 video showcasing transgender men and women who fear for their safety if forced to use the bathrooms of their biological gender.
The video, whose narrator uses profanity, knocks the supposed "bathroom predator myth" with a quote from transgender American Civil Liberties Union attorney Chase Strangio.
"So basically the idea is you can't protect trans people because if we do, everyone's going to pretend to be trans so they can go into the bathroom and assault the people they've really wanted to assault, but they can't because there is no legal mechanism for them to do so," Strangio said on the video. "That's ridiculous."
Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press (bpnews.net), news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.