The Next Fight Over Transgender Bathroom Policies Is Brewing in Fort Worth, Texas

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick at a February 2015 joint press conference in Austin, Texas. 

Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

Earlier this week, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called for the resignation of the superintendent of the Fort Worth Independent School District, Kent Scribner, for the egregious offense of issuing an administrative policy that would allow children to use the bathrooms of “the gender identity that each student consistently and uniformly asserts.”

On Tuesday, Scribner, who has been superintendent since October, refused, defending the bathroom guidelines that he unveiled (with no fanfare or controversy) at an April 19 school board meeting. From a Texas Tribune report on Scribner’s response:

“I’m proud of these guidelines,’’ Scribner told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial board Tuesday. “I think they provide educators with the ability to make all students more comfortable and confident in a learning environment.”

Patrick said the policy puts students in danger and Scribner should not have acted without “any discussion with parents, board members, principals, and other community leaders.” 

“Campus safety should be of paramount concern for anyone in his position,” Patrick said in a statement Monday. “Every parent, especially those of young girls, should be outraged.”

Scribner also told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram board, “I don’t think we can wait. “Children shouldn’t have to wait for their schools to feel safe and full of respect.”

Fort Worth is the sixth-largest school district in Texas, with roughly 87,000 students, and appears to be ahead of the pack in developing a transgender bathroom policy, rather than handling bathroom-access issues on a case-by-case basis like most of the other large cities in the state.

One former Fort Worth councilmember called Patrick a “bully” expressing “fake outrage” over the policy. And, as the chair of the state Democratic Party pointed out, schools in Texas have actual problems: “Last I checked, our children are stuck in overcrowded classrooms, the school finance system is broken, the STAAR test is a mess, Pre-K needs to be expanded statewide, and our teachers need a raise, but Tea Party Lt. Gov. Patrick has nothing better to do than police the potties,” said Gilberto Hinojosa in a statement.

No one who has followed Patrick’s stupefying rise to the very top of Texas state government should be surprised by his absurd stance. Patrick has long held positions that are extreme to the point of incoherence: Not only does he support teaching creationism in public schools, but he isn’t so sure about the whole separation-of-church-and-state thing. “Our children must really be confused,” he said at a primary debate in January 2014. “We want them to go to school on Sunday, and we teach them about Jesus Christ and then they go to school on Monday—they can’t pray. They can’t learn about creationism. They must really be confused.” Er … yeah.

And, of course, Patrick will do anything to get in the news—that’s how he first made his entrée into public life, as an aggressively zany and (it appeared) frequently intoxicated sportscaster on the CBS affiliate in Houston in the late 1970s. (From a February 1984 Texas Monthly roundup of local newscasters: “Pompous sports-caster Dan Patrick attracts attention, but so does a drunk with a lampshade on his head.”) He was a radio talk show host for years, sort of a Rush Limbaugh–lite, and feels very comfortable behind a microphone.  So of course Patrick will be holding a press conference in Fort Worth to pressure other paragons of virtue to join his calls for Scribner to step down. Like many of his far-right colleagues, Patrick never pauses to consider that his press antics might cause collateral damage along the way—hurting, in this case, kids who just want to use the bathroom.