Bathrooms are but the latest front in our great national culture war. On one side: People who want to do their business in a bathroom that corresponds to the gender with which they identify. On the other side: People who think that a person’s genitals should determine which bathroom they’re legally allowed to use.
If all of that sounds like extremely personal stuff for the entire world to be weighing in on, well, that’s where we are right now. Where a stranger pees is, apparently, everybody‘s business. North Carolina passed HB2 in March, a controversial law (not to be confused with Texas’ own controversial HB2) that bans transgender women from using ladies’ rooms and transgender men from using mens’ rooms. That’s in contrast to Houston’s now-defeated HERO ordinance, which was repealed in November, that would have prevented businesses from telling customers which bathrooms they were required to use.
What happens in North Carolina matters in Texas, though, as the cultural conversation is so often a national one. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch sued the state of North Carolina over HB2 on Monday. Hours later, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick took the surprising position that Fort Worth ISD superintendent Dr. Kent Paredes Scribner should resign from his post over guidelines for school bathrooms that he announced last month that would allow transgender students to use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity. Patrick said in a statement:
“After less than a year as superintendent, Dr. Scribner has lost his focus and thereby his ability to lead the Fort Worth ISD. He has placed his own personal political agenda ahead of the more than 86,000 students attending 146 schools in the district by unilaterally adopting ‘Transgender Student Guidelines.’
“Without any discussion with parents, board members, principals, and other community leaders, Dr. Scribner’s unilateral action, underscores this lack of fitness to hold his position as superintendent.
“Campus safety should be of paramount concern for anyone in his position. Every parent, especially those of young girls, should be outraged.
“The State of Texas has an affirmative responsibility to provide a safe environment in the schools where attendance is compulsory. While this may be an example of the need for the Legislature to pass a meaningful School Choice Bill, we must not allow the actions of Dr. Scribner to go unnoticed or unanswered.
“I call upon the parents within the Fort Worth ISD to take immediate steps to repeal this stealthy scheme and remove Dr. Scribner from his post.”
On Facebook, Patrick’s official page shared the link along with an image that declared that “Fort Worth ISD Allows Boys In Girls Bathrooms.”
Policing bathroom use is weird business, as we were reminded late last month when a man at Frisco’s Baylor Medical Center confronted a woman named Jessica Rush (who identified as such at birth, and who continues to do so) in the ladies’ room because, he said, “you dress like a man.” The only man in a ladies’ restroom in that story, of course, was the man who took it upon himself to investigate Rush’s genitals—but, if Patrick’s demand that Scribner step down is any indication of his legislative agenda in 2017, that may end up being a job that Texas law enforcement is tasked with in the future.
Patrick was given the opportunity two weeks ago to declare that a bathroom bill similar to North Carolina’s HB2 would be something he’d push for in the lege in 2017, and he declined to lay out a specific legislative agenda on the matter. It’s extremely clear, though, that he’s comfortable getting involved with the issue in ways that are increasingly outside of the specific reach of his office. Coming out against HERO in his hometown of Houston during a public referendum on the issue is one thing—but urging an official in a completely different part of the state to resign over a school district’s bathroom policy is another. It suggests that Patrick is invested in the idea that his office has an important role to play in determining who’s allowed to pee where in Texas.
Bathroom laws differ by city in Texas. San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, and El Paso all have laws that allow transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity. Houston, as of November, does not. (Plano has an equal rights ordinance on the books, but it doesn’t include transgender people.) Austin has additional laws on the books, too—all single-use bathrooms (that is, bathrooms that only one person can use at a time) are required to be identified as gender-neutral. Should the Lege take up bathrooms in 2017, those local equal rights ordinances would be at risk. (Austin’s law regarding gender-neutral bathrooms, meanwhile, sounds uncontroversial on its face, but protests over a similar law in California turned heated last month, so who knows for sure.)
Ultimately, Patrick’s statement is another indication that this issue isn’t going away anytime soon. Meanwhile, the consequences for men who take it upon themselves to police women’s restrooms are unclear at the moment. And bathroom matters, something that we have long agreed as a society are nobody’s business, are increasingly everybody‘s business.