AUSTIN, Texas — The fight over bathroom rights for transgender students escalated in Texas on Tuesday as the state's lieutenant governor urged schools to defy the Obama administration while parents of transgender children accused Republican leaders of stoking intolerance and making their kids targets for bullying.
Few states are as publicly and persistently pushing back on transgender rights as Texas. Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick pledged at a press conference to support for schools that refuse to let transgender students use the bathrooms of their choice. Texas is leading an 11-state lawsuit that accuses the federal government of turning schools into "laboratories for a massive social experiment."
"Transgender students deserve the rights of anyone else. It does not mean they get to use the girls' room if they're a boy," Patrick said.
Parents of transgender students warned outside the Texas Capitol on Tuesday that the constant repudiation is taking a dangerous toll. They included the mother of a 5-year-old transgender girl who held a picture of her child smiling in a pink patterned dress and shoulder-length hair. She cried while asking why the state wants to force her daughter into the boys' room at school.
She and other parents said Patrick's comments are provoking hostilities in school hallways. Like many other Republicans across the country, Patrick says the privacy and safety of students are put at risk by letting transgender people use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.
"You, specifically you, are endangering my child's life," said Ann Elder, mother of a 10-year-old transgender child near Houston. "You have now told everyone in the state of Texas it is OK to harass my child."
Transgender-rights advocates say claims of bathroom rights posing a public safety risk are malicious and false. They say that 18 states and scores of cities have experienced no significant public safety problems linked to their existing laws allowing transgender people to use the bathrooms of their choice.
Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said there wasn't much research on whether children have been threatened in bathrooms while announcing the 11-state lawsuit against the Obama administration filed last week. The lawsuit asks a federal judge to declare the directive over bathroom rights unlawful and was filed in a North Texas federal court.
Two small school districts that joined the lawsuit, one in Texas and another in Arizona, have fewer than 600 students combined and no transgender students. Other states bringing the challenge are Oklahoma, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Maine, Arizona, Louisiana, Utah and Georgia.
Patrick, a former conservative talk radio host, suggested that the Texas Legislature will take up school bathroom access in 2017. He has also asked Paxton to determine whether the Fort Worth school district — the sixth-largest in Texas — is breaking state education law with privacy rules that opponents say keeps conversations between transgender students and school officials from their parents.