Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
Declaring that "this fight is just beginning," Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Tuesday escalated his battle against guidelines in Texas and across the country that allow students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
Speaking to reporters at the Texas Capitol, Patrick announced a number of new moves in the offensive, including a request for an opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on whether the Fort Worth Independent School District broke the law when it adapted such guidelines last month. Patrick also said he was sending a letter to all Texas school districts advising them to ignore a similar directive issued this month by the federal government.
Throughout his remarks, Patrick suggested that state lawmakers would have to step in if Fort Worth ISD did not reconsider its actions. He also repeatedly pushed back on the idea that he is intruding on a local matter, saying it is “this superintendent and school board that is prohibiting local control."
"When we have a rogue, runaway superintendent and a rogue, runaway school board, then the Legislature this coming-up session is going to have to look at this issue because the law is clear," Patrick told reporters. "So what do parents do when the superintendent and the school board ignores them? When the superintendent and school board breaks the law, if that's the case? The parents are going to look to us."
Patrick wasn't the only one to speak on the issue Tuesday. Parents of transgender children spoke at a separate news conference on the north steps of the Capitol, criticizing Patrick's efforts as a "literal pissing contest" and saying that Patrick was attacking local control of school district policies.
Holding up a picture of her transgender daughter wearing a pink dress, Kimberly Shappley of Pearland questioned why the leaders of the same political party she supports would want to force her daughter into men's bathrooms.
"I'm here to tell Dan Patrick: You — specifically you — are endangering my child's life," Ann Elder, the mother of a transgender boy named Benjamin, said while speaking to reporters outside the Capitol. "Because you have now told everyone in the state of Texas that it's okay to harass my child, that it's okay for the school district to stop supporting them."
Patrick first waded into the controversy three weeks ago, when he called for the resignation of Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Kent Scribner over new rules he implemented that seek to accommodate transgender students. The issue was compounded several days later, when the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice issued guidance to school districts across the country, telling them to let transgender students use the bathroom that matches up with their gender identity.
Patrick's request for an opinion from Paxton asks the attorney general to weigh in on two issues: whether the Fort Worth ISD guidelines violate a part of the Texas Education Code in an "effort to keep student information from parents" and whether Scribner had the power to implement the guidelines "without adoption by school board vote and without public comment." Paxton, a fellow Republican who last week sued the Obama administration over its transgender directive, is likely to side with Patrick.
Patrick's letter to Texas school districts formalizes his previous advice, voiced in a separate news conference this month, that they should not follow Obama's directive. "Now that's a violation of local control — when the president of the United States of America decides to get into every schoolhouse in the United States of America," Patrick said Tuesday.
Patrick also used Tuesday's Capitol news conference to draw attention to what he has called a series of "sham hearings" that start today in Fort Worth ISD over the controversy. Patrick scoffed at the idea the proceedings would be fairly conducted or lead to meaningful change, pointing out that Scribner has made clear he stands by the guidelines."
"If he doesn't pull down the policy, the school board should fire him," Patrick said, "and if the school board doesn't fire him, the people of the Fort Worth Independent School District will have to hold the school board accountable."
LGBT advocates with Equality Texas said the Fort Worth ISD guidelines are on solid legal ground — something they say would be proved now that Texas has "forced the issue" into the courts.
"The lieutenant governor ought to stop talking about transgender bathroom access and let the courts sift through the law," said Steve Rudner, chairman of the Equality Texas board. "It's time now for the state of Texas to stop beating up on transgender people and let the courts answer the question they have asked the court to answer."
Alexa Ura, Alana Rocha and Justin Dehn contributed to this report.
- Dan Patrick Request for Attorney General Opinion on School's Transgender Policy (417.9 KB) DOWNLOAD