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Lt. Gov. Patrick: Fort Worth ISD Transgender Policy Is 'Social Engineering'

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick went to Fort Worth Tuesday to call for the resignation of school district Superintendent Kent Scribner. Fort Worth ISD recently passed a series of guidelines intended to help transgender students – including allowing them to have access to bathrooms based on their gender identity.

Patrick called the guidelines social engineering that put the needs of transgender kids above others.

“Whether you’re a 9-year-old girl, or a 17-year-old teenager, or a 30-year-old woman, you should have a right to privacy and comfort and security in the lady’s room,“ he told reporters before a monthly school board meeting.

Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a letter to the district questioning the legality of the guidelines. Patrick pointed to Paxton's letter, and said that Scribner should focus on failing schools in his district.

"The job of the Superintendent is not to be a social engineer. The job of the Superintendent is to prepare his students for a great education. His focus should be on those 12,000 who are in struggling schools."

Proponents of transgender student protections in turn blasted Patrick and Paxton. Equality Texas says the lieutenant governor and attorney general are “fueling hysteria” and creating panic. 

Joel Burns, a former Fort Worth City Council member, said the lieutenant governor has not business calling for Scribner's resignation or a repeal of a local school district's policies.

"For Dan Patrick to blow in here into Fort Worth, with all this bluster and to intimidate and threaten, basically shows him to be the bully that he is," Burns said.

At the school board meeting, Superintendent Kent Scribner defended the guidelines.

“I am interested only in protecting, educating and serving our students,” he said. “And it is disingenuous to characterize this as anything but that.”

Several hundred people stood in a line that stretched out the door and around the building to testify at the raucus meeting. Zeb Pent helped get Fort Worth parents to turn out opposition.

“The job of the ISD is not to parent. The job of the ISD is to teach and instruct,” Pent, who has two young kids and lives in the district, said.

Pent says transgender kids should not be bullied or harassed, but he thinks the guidelines are too specific and should not have been implemented without community input.

“I’m fine with a certain set of policies or guidelines or whatever being passed, but not at the expense of redefining gender as we know it today,” Pent said.

Yasmine Barnes, a high school in Fort Worth who is transgender had a rye reaction to the whole affair: “We really have to do this? I can’t use a bathroom that other people use? Really?” 

The seventeen-year-old said there are more important issues for parents – and society in general -- to focus on than repealing guidelines aimed at making schools more inclusive for transgender people.

Fellow senior Jessica Lopez said transgender teens face higher rates of bullying and depression, so people need to get over stereotypes and try to understand what transgender means.

“Trans people aren’t all just creepy men dressing up like women. They’re not that,” Lopez said.

The teenagers want the transgender guidelines and Superintendent Scribner to stay in place. So do fellow board members. Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price praised Scribner and said it was a local issue.

Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.