KOKOMO – When the Kokomo Common Council voted last March to approve increased protections for LGBT residents, opponents expressed one concern more than any other: restroom and locker room safety.
But more than one year removed from the contentious votes, such worries have proven to be unfounded, according to information provided to the Tribune by the Kokomo Police Department.
Since the council’s second and final vote on March 14, 2016, no instances have been reported to KPD of a transgender person or someone disguised as the opposite sex causing an incident or committing a crime in a public restroom in Kokomo, as confirmed by local officials.
Additionally, KPD has not responded to any calls or investigated any complaints involving a person abusing gender identity protections to enter a restroom.
Records also show that KPD has not received any calls, in any capacity, since the vote regarding a transgender person utilizing a public restroom, according to KPD officials.
Only one 911 report related to someone of the wrong sex entering a women’s restroom was given to the Tribune by KPD.
A Feb. 6 call report from Casey’s General Store described two males entering a women’s restroom for five minutes before one subject came out and left in a van. The other male was still in the restroom when the call was made, and it’s unclear how the incident was resolved.
Last March, the council amended the human rights municipal code to include LGBT protections, specifically a ban on discrimination concerning a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The affected residents are now protected in the areas of housing, financial institutions, employment, labor organizations, public accommodations and education.
Common Council member Steve Whikehart, who sponsored the ordinance, became the public face for many on the issue, receiving roughly 300 phone calls in the week between the legislation’s first and second readings.
During that time, Whikehart was often told the legislation could put local women and children at risk of being assaulted by sexual predators.
One Kokomo resident, Mariah Roberts, encapsulated those concerns when speaking to the council during the ordinance’s second reading.
“Do you have kids, grandkids or wives? If you do, imagine them being little, or if they already are, imagine them going into a bathroom that allowed any LGBT person with them,” she said. “Would you want them being exposed to a man trying to be a woman, or a woman trying to be a man?
“Just imagine how that would confuse little innocent and pure eyes and minds, which God calls us to guard and protect. You are creating fear by this. You would have so many pedophiles hide behind this law to take advantage of women and children because they won’t be stopped by any employee since they would be fined … for so-called discrimination.”
In an interview last week, Whikehart said that at the time he saw such comments as nothing more than rhetoric playing to a certain kind of fear.
For some, he noted, the claims were laughable.
“It’s not surprising,” said Whikehart, referencing the lack of criminal incidents. “We did a lot of research, with other communities who had passed similar ordinances, even states, to see if they had ever encountered any problems. And the one constant was no.
“Often times, those questions were met with laughter, not at the question itself but because it’s the same rhetoric they heard over and over again when they had done the same thing.”
Whikehart also referenced a point made by many ordinance supporters: that the legislation was never going to open new routes for sexual predators to enter public restrooms.
It’s always been possible for such criminals to dress “in certain attire” to enter a restroom, and the legislation doesn't make the crime any easier to get away with, noted Whikehart.
But mostly, Whikehart expressed optimism that a year’s worth of data will provide an entry point for a new consensus.
“That would be the hope. It’s the hope and the intent to let people understand the true facts of what these protections mean, what they mean for individuals who fall under the category of LGBT,” he said. “And also to create the inclusive and welcome environment many of us feel we have in the community.”
However, one of Whikehart’s fellow Common Council members, Cindy Sanders, said she still is concerned about the issue. Following the ordinance’s first reading, she said: “Women and children, both male and female children, are going to be affected.”
In an interview last week, Sanders said she was pleased no significant issues have been reported to police, but referenced unspecified reports that “facilities have become breeding grounds for predators, because criminals are taking advantage of this policy to commit crimes.”
Sanders claimed that she has heard of occurrences in other communities, mainly those of privacy violations in restrooms or locker rooms, and called concerns “legitimate.”
Sanders said her worries are not related to the transgender community, but instead are focused on sexual predators exploiting new laws – a contrast to Whikehart’s position that criminals could just as easily have acted out before LGBT protections were passed.
Additionally, Sanders highlighted her belief that legislation across the nation has given sex criminals “a license almost” to enter restrooms, that they’ve become emboldened.
“It’s negligent to have policies that kind of elevate the emotional comforts of relatively few people over the physical safety of a large group of vulnerable people,” she noted.
“I’m really happy that they haven’t been reported or there’s none reported in this community, but I still know that those things are occurring. They’re factual, they’re happening,” Sanders later added, referencing Target’s controversial transgender policy and separate national incidents of men entering female facilities.
When asked about whether such incidents are actually taking place in Kokomo but going unreported, Sanders said that she “wouldn’t know” if that was the case.
And when asked why such things would be happening in other communities but not Kokomo, Sanders said, “That’s a question I don’t have the answer to. I don’t have the answer to that.”
On the opposite side of the issue, Kokomo Pride President Darrell Blasius questioned the motivations of some who fought against the legislation, and expressed relief that no one has attempted to take advantage of the new protections.
“It didn’t really make sense but for some people that want to blow things out of proportion, it was a perfect excuse to be able to do it,” he said.
“It is really great that no one did come out and try to do anything offensive in these restrooms,” Blasius added later.
Notably, Blasius referenced the similarities between LGBT residents, who he believes have been maligned by some in the community, and the rest of Kokomo.
Many LGBT people and couples have children and want the same level of safety for their family as others in the city, he noted.
“We’re not all just out there to cause trouble, like some people want to think that’s what the LGBT community is all about, all we do is have sex all the time, anywhere and everywhere,” he said.
“That’s not what it’s about. We’re just regular people that have a home and a job and want security for our lives and our families also.”
But about both the current and future states of LGBT tolerance in Kokomo, Blasius expressed cautious optimism.
“We’ve got a long way to go, but we really have come a long way here in Kokomo, to where we don’t feel as discriminated against or any fear like we used to have,” he said.
“We’ve got a lot more work to make sure that [young people] are able to have the comforts the rest of their life and to have everything equal.”