This article responds to claims advanced by “gender critical” feminists, most recently expressed in a criminological context by Burt (2020) in Feminist Criminology, that the Equality Act—a bill pending in the United States Congress—would place cisgender women at risk of male violence in sex-segregated spaces. We provide legal history, empirical research, and conceptual and theoretical arguments to highlight three broad errors made by Burt and other trans-exclusionary feminists. These include: (1) a misinterpretation of the Equality Act; (2) a narrow version of feminism that embraces a socially and biologically deterministic view of sex and gender; and (3) ignorance and dismissal of established criminological knowledge regarding victimization, offending patterns, and effective measures to enhance safety. The implications of “gender critical” arguments for criminology, and the publication of such, are also discussed.
This is a preview of subscription content,to check access.
Access this article
We reject the assertion made by “gender critical feminists” that “TERF”—an acronym for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist”—is a slur. Therefore, throughout this article, we follow the lead of McCann (2020) and refer to this brand of “feminism” as “trans-exclusionary feminism” and those who subscribe to it as “trans-exclusionary feminists.”
The plus sign ( +) in LGBTQ+ refers to intersex, questioning, asexual, and other persons who do not fall within traditional norms of being both cisgender and heterosexual.
We note that just days after the publication of Burt’s (2020) article, the Supreme Court of the United States, in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, 590 U.S. ___, 140 S. Ct. 1731, 1754 (2020), held that an “employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender” violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In its majority opinion, written by Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, the Court refutes many of Burt’s flawed legal analyses.
Equality Act §§ 3–8 (2019), amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination or segregation, including in public accommodations, education, federal funding, and employment; Equality Act §10 (2019), amending the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination in housing; Equality Act §11 (2019), amending the Equal Credit Opportunity Act to prohibit discrimination in banking; Equality Act §12 (2019), amending the Jury Selection and Services Act to prohibit discrimination in jury selection.
The Schroer case is groundbreaking for its protections of transgender people under Title VII, but we note that the US District Court for the District of Columbia found it unnecessary to rule on the “extensive medical testimony on the components of sex” (Levasseur 2015: 980). Two decades ago, however, an Australian court (In re Kevin  Fam CA 1074 (Austl.)) recognized that not only is gender identity biological, but it also serves as primary determinant of sex (see Levasseur 2015). For a broad analysis of the ways medical science informs many areas of law in the US with regard to transgender people, see Schroth and colleagues (2018).
See Cosponsors: H.R. 5-Equality Act 116th Congress (2019–2020). Retrieved on August 2, 2021, from https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/5/cosponsors.
The Human Rights Campaign (2020b) reports that nearly 550 organizations endorse the Equality Act, including, but not limited to, the following women’s and feminist groups: the National Organization for Women (NOW); 9to5: The National Association of Working Women; The Coalition of Labor Union Women; Feminist Majority; Girls, Inc.; Jewish Women International; In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda; NARAL, MANA: A National Latina Organization; MomsRising; National Alliance to End Sexual Violence; National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (NAPAWF); National Association for Female Executives; National Women's Health Network; National Women's Law Center; Planned Parenthood; Positive Women’s Network-USA; and American Association of University Women.
Some commentators advocate this approach given the history of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people (see, e.g., Elkind 2007). Others, however, ask if “is it enough to simply add gender identity as a suspect class?,” noting that courts have not always interpreted such laws in ways that maximize the rights of transgender people (Hart 2020: 335).
It is important to note that prior to the women’s movement (and during a period when gender was conceptualized as binary), the study of crime and delinquency was historically focused on offending by men, and male criminologists justified this by stating that women were “irrelevant” to study given that most crime was committed by men (Mallicoat 2019).
Ainsworth, C. (2015). Sex redefined. Nature, 518(7539), 288–291.
Baca-Zinn, M., & Dill, B. T. (1996). Theorizing difference from multiracial feminism. Feminist Studies, 22(2), 321–331.
Ball, M.J. (2019). Unsettling queer criminology: Notes towards decolonization. Critical Criminology: An International Journal, 27(1), 145–161. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10612-019-09440-0.
Beck, A.J., Rantala, R.R., & Rexroat, J. (2014). Sexual victimization reported by adult correctional authorities, 2009–11 (NCJ: 243904). U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved on July 29, 2020, from https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/svraca0911.pdf.
Bent Bars Project. (2020). Trans prisoners information sheet #2: Frequently asked questions. London, England. Retrieved on February 2, 2021, from https://uploads-ssl.webflow.com/5f008e177bc6f82d3047d132/5fccb7f83e0fae043ce1b2b8_BB_TIS_2.pdf.
Black, M.C., Basile, K.C., Breiding, M.J., Smith, S.G., Walters, M.L., Merrick, M.T., Chen, J., & Stevens, M.R. (2011). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Summary Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved on September 5, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/nisvs_report2010-a.pdf.
Bosworth, M., & Carrabine, E. (2001). Reassessing resistance: Race, gender and sexuality in prison. Punishment & Society, 3(4), 501-515.
Buist, C.L., & Lenning, E. (2016). Queer criminology. Abingdon, Oxon, UK, and New York: Routledge.
Burgess-Proctor, A. (2006). Intersections of race, class, gender, and crime: Future directions for feminist criminology. Feminist Criminology, 1(1), 27–47.
Burt, C.H. (2020). Scrutinizing the U.S. Equality Act 2019: A feminist examination of definitional changes and sociolegal ramifications. Feminist Criminology, 15(4), 363–409.
Butler, J. (2004). Undoing gender. New York and Abingdon, Oxon, UK: Routledge.
Caracappa, M.V. (2018). Note: Title VII and the etiologies of homosexual attraction: How the distinction between sex and sexual orientation discrimination vanished. Seton Hall Legislative Journal, 42(2), 337–375.
Castleberry, J. (2019). Addressing the gender continuum: A concept analysis. Journal of Transcultural Nursing, 30(4), 403–409. https://doi.org/10.1177/1043659618818722.
Chandy, S.P. (2019). Equality Act of 2019: Hearing on H.R. 5 before the House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties (testimony of the Legal Director of the National Women’s Law Center, April 2). Retrieved on September 20, 2021, from https://docs.house.gov/meetings/JU/JU00/20190402/109200/HHRG-116-JU00-Wstate-ChandyS-20190402.pdf.
Civil Rights Act of 1964, Pub. L. No. 88–352, tit. VII, 78 Stat. 241, 253–66 (codified as amended at 42 U.S.C. §§2000e to 2000e-17).
Clune-Taylor, C. (2019). Securing cisgendered futures: Intersex management under the “Disorders of Sex Development” treatment model. Hypatia, 34(4), 690–712.
Collins, P.H. (2002). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. New York and Abingdon, Oxon, UK: Routledge.
Coston, B.M. (2021). Power and inequality: Intimate partner violence against bisexual and non-monosexual women in the United States. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 36(1-2), 381-405.
Coulter, R.W., Mair, C., Miller, E., Blosnich, J.R., Matthews, D.D., & McCauley, H.L. (2017). Prevalence of past-year sexual assault victimization among undergraduate students: Exploring differences by and intersections of gender identity, sexual identity, and race/ethnicity. Prevention Science, 18(6), 726–736.
Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford Law Review, 43(6), 1241-1299.
Davis, A. (2003). Are prisons obsolete? New York: Seven Stories Press.
Dennien, M. (2020). Law dean who was under fire for transgender comments steps down from role. Brisbane Times, November 3. Retrieved on September 5, 2021, from https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/national/queensland/law-dean-who-was-under-fire-for-transgender-comments-steps-down-from-role-20201103-p56b5f.html.
Dhejne, C., Lichtenstein, P., Boman, M., Johansson, A.L.V., Långström, N., & Landén, M. (2011). Long-term follow-up of transsexual persons undergoing sex reassignment surgery: Cohort study in Sweden. PLoS One, 6(2), e16885.
Englert, P., & Dinkins, E.G. (2016). An overview of sex, gender, and sexuality. In H.F. Fradella & J.M. Sumner (Eds.), Sex, sexuality, law, and (in)justice (pp. 1–30). New York and Abingdon, Oxon, UK: Routledge.
Elkind, D. (2007). The constitutional implications of bathroom access based on gender identity: An examination of recent developments paving the way for the next frontier of equal protection. University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law, 9(3), 895–928.
Equality Act, H.R. 5, 116th Cong. (as passed by the House of Representatives, May 17, 2019). Retrieved on September 5, 2021, from https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/BILLS-116hr5rfs/pdf/BILLS-116hr5rfs.pdf.
Fradella, H.F., & Sumner, J.M. (Eds.). (2016). Sex, sexuality, law, and (in)justice. New York and Abingdon, Oxon, UK: Routledge.
Franklin, C. (2012). Inventing the “traditional concept” of sex discrimination. Harvard Law Review, 125(6), 1309–1380.
Fretwell-Wilson, R. (2016). Squaring faith and sexuality: Religious institutions and the unique challenge of sports. Law & Inequality, 34(2), 385–487.
Gender Recognition Act, 2004, c. 7 (Eng.).
Geertz, C. (1983). Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology. New York: Basic Books.
Gilroy, P.J., & Carroll, L. (2009). Woman to woman sexual violence. Women & Therapy, 32(4), 423–435.
Girshick, L.B. (2002). No sugar, no spice: Reflections on research on woman-to-woman sexual violence. Violence Against Women, 8(12), 1500–1520.
Griffiths, D.A. (2018). Shifting syndromes: Sex chromosome variations and intersex classifications. Social Studies of Science, 48(1), 125-148.
Guadalupe‐Diaz, X.L. (2019). Transgressed: Intimate partner violence in transgender lives. New York: New York University Press.
Guadalupe‐Diaz, X.L. (2014). Same‐sex victimization and the LGBTQ community. In T.N. Richards & C.D. Marcum (Eds.), Sexual victimization: Then and now (pp. 173–192). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Hasenbush, A., Flores, A.R., & Herman, J.L. (2019). Gender identity nondiscrimination laws in public accommodations: A review of evidence regarding safety and privacy in public restrooms, locker rooms, and changing rooms. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 16(1), 70–83.
Herdt, G. (1990). Mistaken gender: 5-alpha reductase hermaphroditism and biological reductionism in sexual identity reconsidered. New Series, 92(2), 433–446.
Hill, W.W. (1935). The status of the hermaphrodite and transvestite in Navaho culture. American Anthropologist, 37(2), 273–279.
Hines, S. (2020). Sex wars and (trans) gender panics: Identity and body politics in contemporary UK feminism. The Sociological Review Monographs, 68(4), 699–717.
Human Rights Campaign. (2020a). Equality Act NOW. Retrieved on June 16, 2020, from https://www.hrc.org/resources/the-equality-act.
Human Rights Campaign. (2020b). 547 organizations endorsing the Equality Act. Retrieved on June 16, 2020, from https://assets2.hrc.org/files/assets/resources/Orgs_Endorsing_EqualityAct.pdf?_ga=2.153888312.1845727454.1559605217-929517122.154449369.
Jeffreys, S. (2008). They know it when they see it: The UK Gender Recognition Act 2004. The British Journal of Politics and International Studies, 10(2), 328–345. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-856x.2007.00293.x.
Jenness, V., Sexton, L., & Sumner, J. (2019). Sexual victimization against transgender women in prison: Consent and coercion in context. Criminology, 57(4), 603–631.
Johns, M.M., Lowry, R., Andrzejewski, J., Barrios, L.C., Demissie, Z., McManus, T., ... & Underwood, J.M. (2019). Transgender identity and experiences of violence victimization, substance use, suicide risk, and sexual risk behaviors among high school students—19 states and large urban school districts, 2017. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 68(3), 67.
Jones, C., & Slater, J. (2020). The toilet debate: Stalling trans possibilities and defending ‘women’s protected spaces’. The Sociological Review Monographs, 68(4), 834–851.
Klimko, A.A. (2016). Comment: Transgender employment discrimination equality in Wisconsin: The demise of a former LGBTIQ+ rights trailblazer. Marquette Benefits & Social Welfare Law Review, 18(1), 163–188.
Koyama, E. (2020). Whose feminism is it anyway? The unspoken racism of the trans inclusion debate. The Sociological Review Monographs, 68(4), 735–744.
Kristen, E., & Nahmias, D. (2018). The writing on the wall: The future of LGBT employment antidiscrimination law in the age of Trump. Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, 38(1), 89–115.
Lang, S. (2016). Native American men-women, lesbians, two-spirits: Contemporary and historical perspectives. Journal of Lesbian Studies, 20(3/4), 299–323.
Langley, L. (2006). Self-determination in a gender fundamentalist state: Toward legal liberation of transgender identities. Texas Journal on Civil Liberties & Civil Rights, 12(1), 101–131.
Lenning, E. (2009). Moving beyond the binary: Exploring the dimensions of gender presentation and orientation. International Journal of Social Inquiry, 2(2), 39–54.
Levasseur, M.D. (2015). Gender identity defines sex: Updating the law to reflect modern medical science is key to transgender rights. Vermont Law Review, 39(4), 943–1004.
Maddera, J. C. (2016). Batson in transition: Prohibiting peremptory challenges on the basis of gender identity or expression. Columbia Law Review, 116(1), 195–235.
Mallicoat, S. (2019). Women, gender, and crime. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
MAP: The Movement Advancement Project. (2021). Identity document laws and policies. Retrieved on September 5, 2021, from https://www.lgbtmap.org/equality-maps/identity_document_laws.
McCann, H. (2020). Is there anything “toxic” about femininity? The rigid femininities that keep us locked in. Psychology & Sexuality. Published online on June 28, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1080/19419899.2020.1785534.
McQueen, P. (2016). Feminist and trans perspectives on identity and the UK Gender Recognition Act. The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 18(3), 671–687.
Messinger, A.M. (2017). LBGTQ intimate partner violence: Lessons for policy, practice, and research. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.
Mezey, S.G. (2021). In favor of the 2019 Equality Act: A comment on Burt. Feminist Criminology. First Published on January 27, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1177/1557085121991336.
Meyer, D. (2012). An intersectional analysis of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people's evaluations of anti-queer violence. Gender & Society, 26(6), 849-873.
Miller, L.R. & Grollman, E.A. (2015). The social costs of gender nonconformity and transgender adults: Implications for discrimination & health. Sociological Forum, 30(3), 809-831.
Ministry of Justice. (2020). The care and management of individuals who are transgender. HM Prison and Probation Service. Re-Issue Date: January 27, 2020. Retrieved on September 5, 2021, from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/863610/transgender-pf.pdf.
Mogul, J.L., Ritchie, A.J., & Whitlock, K. (2011). Queer (In)justice: The criminalization of LGBT people in the United States. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Norton, A.T., & Herek, G.M. (2013). Heterosexuals’ attitudes toward transgender people: Findings from a national probability sample of U.S. adults. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 68(11–12), 738–753.
Overall, C. (2012). Trans persons, cisgender persons, and gender identities. In N. Power, R. Halwani, & A. Soble (Eds.), Philosophy of sex: Contemporary readings (6th ed., pp. 251–267). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Patel, N. (2017). Violent cistems: Trans experiences of bathroom space. Agenda, 31(1), 51-63.
Pearce, R., Erikainen, S., & Vincent, B. (2020). TERF wars: An introduction. The Sociological Review Monographs, 68(4), 677–698.
Pfeffer, C.A. (2018). Methodological investments and disinvestments. In D. Compton, T. Meadow, & K. Schilt (Eds.), Other, please specify: Queer methods in sociology (pp. 304–325). Oakland, CA: University of California Press.
Potter, H. (2015). Intersectionality and criminology: Disrupting and revolutionizing studies of crime. Abingdon, Oxon, UK, and New York: Routledge.
Price, C. (2020). Women’s spaces, women’s rights: Feminism and the transgender rights movement. Marquette Law Review, 103(4), 1509–1564.
Railey, J.J. (2019). Married on Sunday, evicted on Monday: Interpreting the Fair Housing Act’s prohibition of discrimination “because of sex” to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Buffalo Public Interest Law Journal, 36(1), 99–128.
Rantala, R.R. (2018). Sexual victimization reported by adult correctional authorities, 2012–2015. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, July 2018 (NCJ 251146). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved on September 5, 2021, from https://bjs.ojp.gov/content/pub/pdf/svraca1215.pdf.
Reality Check Team. (2018). How many transgender inmates are there? BBC News, August 13. Retrieved on September 5, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-42221629.
Richards, K., & Dwyer, A. (2014). Unspeakably present: the (un)acknowledgment of diverse sexuality and gender human rights in Australian youth justice systems. Australian Journal of Human Rights, 20(2), 63–79.
Richards, T.N., & Marcum, C.D. (2014). Sexual victimization: Then and now. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Schilt, K. (2018). The “not sociology” problem. In D. Compton, T. Meadow, and K. Schilt (Eds.), Other, please specify: Queer methods in sociology (pp. 37–49). Oakland, CA: University of California Press.
Schilt, K., & Lagos, D. (2017). The development of transgender studies in sociology. Annual Review of Sociology, 43, 425-443.
Schroth, P.W., Erickson-Schroth, L., Foster, L.K., Burgess, A., & Erickson, N.S. (2018). Perspectives on law and medicine relating to transgender people in the United States. American Journal of Comparative Law, 66(Issue suppl_1), 91–126.
Sharpe, A. (2020). Will gender self-declaration undermine women’s rights and lead to an increase in harms? The Modern Law Review, 83(3), 539–557.
Spade, D. (2015). Normal life: Administrative violence, critical trans politics, and the limits of law. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Stanley, E.A., & Smith, N. (Eds.) (2015). Captive genders: Trans embodiment and the prison industrial complex (2nd ed.). Oakland, CA: AK Press.
Struckman-Johnson, C., & Struckman-Johnson, D. (2006). A comparison of sexual coercion experiences reported by men and women in prison. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 21(12), 1591–1615.
Sumner, J., & Sexton, L. (2015). Lost in translation: Looking for transgender identity in women’s prisons and locating aggressors in prisoner culture. Critical Criminology: An International Journal, 23(1), 1-20. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10612-014-9243-6.
Teasdale, B., Daigle, L.E., Hawk, S.R., & Daquin, J.C. (2016). Violent victimization in the prison context: An examination of the gendered contexts of prison. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 60(9), 995-1015.
Tobin, H.J., & Levi, J. (2013). Securing equal access to sex-segregated facilities for transgender students. Wisconsin Journal of Law, Gender, & Society, 28(3), 301–330.
Upadhyay, N. (2021). Coloniality of white feminism and its transphobia: A comment on Burt. Feminist Criminology. First Published on January 29, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1177/1557085121991337.
van Anders, S.M., Schudson, Z.C., Abed, E.C., Beischel, W.J., Dibble, E.R., Gunther, O.D., Kutchko, V.J., & E.R. Silver. (2017). Biological sex, gender, and public policy. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 4(2), 194–201.
Walker, A., Valcore, J., Evans, B., &, Stephens, A. (2021). Experiences of trans scholars in criminology and criminal justice. Critical Criminology: An International Journal, 29(1), 37–56. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10612-021-09561-5.
Warne, G.L. (2008). Long-term outcome of disorders of sex development. Sexual Development, 2(4–5), 268–277. https://doi.org/10.1159/000152043.
Westbrook, L., & Schilt, K. (2014). Doing gender, determining gender: Transgender people, gender panics, and the maintenance of the sex/gender/sexuality system. Gender & Society, 28(1), 32–57.
West, C., & Zimmerman, D. H. (1987). Doing gender. Gender & Society, 1(2), 125–151.
Whalley, E., & Hackett, C. (2017). Carceral feminisms: The abolitionist project and undoing dominant feminisms. Contemporary Justice Review, 20(4), 456–473.
Whittle, S. (2002). Respect and equality: Transsexual and transgender rights. London: Routledge-Cavendish.
Wickliffe, J. (2020). Civil rights—answering the “million dollar” question: The meaning of “sex” for the purposes of Title IX, Title VII, and the equal protection clause, and its impact on transgender students' membership in fraternal organizations. University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law Review, 42(2), 327–370.
Wolff, N., Blitz, C. L., Shi, J., Bachman, R., & Siegel, J.A. (2006). Sexual violence inside prisons: Rates of victimization. Journal of Urban Health, 83(5), 835–848.
Worthen, M. G. F. (2020). Queers, bis, and straight lies: An intersectional examination of LGBTQ stigma. New York and Abingdon, Oxon, UK: Routledge.
Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., 590 U.S. ___, 140 S. Ct. 1731 (2020).
In re Kevin,  FamCA 1074 (Austl.).
Macy v. Holder, No. ATF-2011- 00751 (EEOC Apr. 20, 2012). Retrieved on September 5, 2021, from https://www.clearinghouse.net/chDocs/public/EE-CA-0354-0001.pdf.
Phillips v. Martin Marietta Corp., 400 U.S. 542 (1971).
Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989).
Schroer v. Billington, 577 F. Supp. 2d 293 (D.D.C. 2008).
Conflict of interest
The authors have no relevant financial or nonfinancial interests to disclose.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Valcore, J., Fradella, H.F., Guadalupe-Diaz, X. et al. Building an Intersectional and Trans-Inclusive Criminology: Responding to the Emergence of “Gender Critical” Perspectives in Feminist Criminology. Crit Crim 29, 687–706 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10612-021-09590-0