Virgin Active Embroiled in Trans Changerooms Fearmongering

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The transgender community is once again being portrayed as predatory after the Virgin Active gym group in South Africa confirmed it allows transgender people to use its changing rooms according to their gender identity.

The furore started after a video of an American individual who canceled his gym membership over the issue was shared on Twitter. User Oupa Ampie reacted by asking both the Planet Fitness and Virgin Active chains in South Africa to clarify their position on trans women using women’s changerooms.

While Planet Fitness did not answer his question, Virgin Active replied: “Virgin Active does not permit male members to access female-only spaces such as change rooms at any point. However, we are committed to fostering inclusive environments where all members feel valued and respected.

“We fully support members who have transitioned and updated their identification documents to align with their gender identity. As a result, access to the change room corresponding to their gender identity is allowed, in accordance with our principles of acceptance and dignity,” said the company.

This response was met with an onslaught of hateful transphobia and ignorance, with many invalidating and disparaging transgender women’s identity, essentially asserting that trans women are men “pretending” to be women.

Many stated that transgender women are a threat to the safety of other women and children and suggested that trans women’s motives in accessing changing rooms are lurid or predatory.

“The only ones being harmed are the women. So Virgin Active only cares about men. If you have a penis you are a man. Even if you cut it off you are still a man,” exclaimed one person.

Some even threatened violence, with an individual tweeting: “If any man shows up in my daughter’s changing room, he will be transitioned.”

There were several threats of a boycott and of cancelling memberships. “My wife is no longer safe in your change rooms! I will cancel mine and my wife’s membership tomorrow if this is the case,” proclaimed another user.

The South African, one of the largest online media publishers in the country, got in on the fearmongering with a sensationalist article headlined: “Shock as Virgin Active lets trans members choose change rooms.” The author of the piece displayed their ignorance by incorrectly referring to trans women as “trans males.”

(A later comment by Virgin Active to The South African that it may demand that medical documents be produced by transgender people to “prove” their identity is problematic, possibly illegal and appears to be an effort to placate its transphobic critics.)

Despite the hysterical rhetoric that the inclusion of transgender people in public facilities is a danger to women and children, the reality is that incidents of transgender women engaging in inappropriate behaviour in these spaces are almost non-existent.

A 2018 American study, for example, found that laws allowing transgender people to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity are “not related to the number or frequency of criminal incidents in these spaces.”

Additionally, the study found that “reports of privacy and safety violations in public restrooms, locker rooms, and changing rooms associated with inclusive spaces are exceedingly rare” and that “fears of increased safety and privacy violations as a result of nondiscrimination laws are not empirically grounded.”

Numerous studies have shown that it is trans and other LGBTIQ+ individuals who are most at risk in public facilities and more likely to endure abuse, harassment, and violence. The dehumanising, aggressive and demeaning tone of many comments on social media around this issue shows that this is a very real concern.

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