This Woman Shows ‘Bathroom Safety’ Isn’t Only a Trans Concern

A lesbian mistaken for a man was followed into a hospital restroom and thought to be a danger to other occupants.
Jessica Rush and her wife. (Photo: Instagram)
May 2, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Alex Janin is an editorial intern at TakePart and a senior at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

The notion of “bathroom safety” has become a hot-button issue lately thanks to heated legislative battles in several states over restroom access for members of the transgender community. Now, a viral video of a confrontation in a Dallas bathroom between a man and 25-year-old Jessica Rush, a lesbian woman who chooses to wear traditionally masculine clothing, suggests, as Rush put it, that “it’s not just a transgender problem.”

“My heart jumped out of my chest because I thought I was going to be attacked.... I usually tell people, ‘Hey, you're good. I’m not going to hurt you,’ ” Rush told TakePart about her encounter with the man. “But I was so embarrassed.”

The man took it upon himself to make using the bathroom a safety issue when he stormed into a restroom at Baylor Medical Center late last week to stop Rush, whom he thought was a man.

Rush said the man explained he was trying to protect his mother, an elderly woman who was also using the women’s restroom, although the mother did not seem to notice her presence.

“She didn’t seem concerned at all. She just walked right past me and went into the bathroom,” Rush said.

Once the man started to leave the bathroom, Rush confronted him and started recording. In the video she uploaded to Facebook, the man is seen arguing that he thought Rush was male because of how she was dressed. Rush said there have been numerous times when she has been openly judged or asked to leave while using a women’s restroom or a locker room. This time she feared for her life.

Some are defending the man’s actions, arguing that he was justified in confronting Rush, because he wanted to protect his mother. But Rush counters by pointing out that he could have simply waited outside rather than entering the bathroom.

In March, North Carolina passed the controversial House Bill 2, a law that, among other things, prevents transgender people from using restrooms that align with their gender identity. Many states, including Rush’s home state of Texas, are considering “bathroom bills” similar to North Carolina’s.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told the Dallas NBC News affiliate that he would support such legislation for his state. “I say that common sense, common decency, says that men should stay out of the ladies’ room,” he stated. “Does a woman not have a right to be able to walk into a bathroom and feel comfortable?”

There are also health implications to consider. Marvin Belzer, an adolescent medicine physician based in Los Angeles, told TakePart he has had many patients who, because of a fear of being judged based on their gender identities or expression, refuse to use public restrooms. This can cause serious health issues that many people don’t even think about, Belzer said.

“It has led to permanent damage to their bladders, chronic constipation, bowel problems,” he said. “Using the bathroom is a human right that prevents a lot of terrible health consequences.”

The infamous “bathroom myth,” or the idea that transgender women will take advantage of the ability to use women’s bathrooms to sexually assault other women and children, is a common concern for opponents of LGBT rights. While pervasive, this fear is largely unfounded. As of 2014, there has not been a reported incident of violence or peeping by trans men or women in bathrooms in the U.S., according to data from Media Matters.

“There is absolutely zero evidence of any violence ever committed in a restroom by such individuals. However, violence against these persons is quite commonplace,” doctoral student Demetrios Psihopaidas, who studies gender and sexuality at the University of Southern California, wrote in an email to TakePart.

Critics of “bathroom bill” legislation have been vocal on social media, often asking why people are so concerned about other people’s bathroom habits in the first place.

“There are so many things in this world that are so much more important than the bathroom,” said Rush. “I always pay it forward and put good out there, because maybe you can change one person’s opinion and they’ll think, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t be so judgmental.’ ”

Belzer questioned why the public is so focused on which bathroom other folks choose to use. “People are using bathrooms for the purpose of doing natural things,” he said. “There’s no hidden agenda.... People have to get back to the important issue, which is the health and well-being of people.”