Some Texas public schools allowed boys in girls' bathrooms and locker rooms without informing parents until their daughters did. The state legislature is now hosting a vicious debate on girls' privacy.
As national attention on transgender issues has fixated on proposed policy shifts in the military, a grassroots clash over emerging privacy issues is being waged in the State of Texas. On July 18, a special session of the Texas Legislature began. They focused on several legislative items, though only one proposal has generated the sort of blazing summer heat the state is known for: the Texas Privacy Act.
On July 21, a tense hearing of the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs revealed the issues and emotions surrounding the bill. Jonathan Saenz, who heads up the non-profit advocacy group Texas Values, shared his perspective with the committee, recounting how parents in small-town Dripping Springs, Tex. learned of a school board decision.
“This was one of the phone calls that we received requesting our help,” said Saenz. “In Dripping Springs, a little girl came home and told her dad, ‘Daddy, there was a boy in my bathroom today.’ That’s how parents found out about a policy change in their school!” On July 26, the Texas Privacy Act passed by a 21-10 vote of the Texas Senate and currently awaits a vote in the Texas House.
While many opinions surround the question of how to uphold all students’ privacy and dignity, local families at the heart of the issue have a perspective worth hearing. For six years, Rob and his wife Kristie have lived in Dripping Springs, where they raise their two children. (At the family’s request, their last name has been withheld to protect privacy.)
Rob and his daughter Shiloh recently granted an interview from Austin, where they were joined by Texas Values policy analyst Nicole Hudgens.
Josh Shepherd: Texans tend to value having less regulation and minimal government interference, a ‘live and let live’ mentality. How does this proposed Texas Privacy Act navigate that culture?
Rob: Most of the people I know who live here in Texas don’t want things over-regulated for them, that’s true. We want to be able to make our own decisions, so I understand the question well.
The problem in this situation is, our public school had made a decision: We’re going to give a special allowance to let this one child use a private bathroom because he’s not comfortable using the boys facilities. Then that little boy’s mom came and said, “No, my boy doesn’t want to use a private bathroom. He wants to use the girls bathroom — and I’m going to litigate if that doesn’t happen.”
Our school board wouldn’t take a stand, they wouldn’t even put this issue on the agenda in multiple meetings. Across our state, we saw schools were all over the board on this — meanwhile, while we’re waiting for some resolution, our school district is being threatened with litigation on behalf of a boy who wants to use the bathroom in mixed company.
To be honest with you, we want our children to love other kids. We’re compassionate to boys and girls who self-identify as transgender; we lead our family to love all the people around them. We just don’t want our little girl to share the bathroom with a biological male.
At this point, the state needs to step in and make a decision about this. We want our children’s privacy protected, and our schools aren’t doing that.
Nicole Hudgens: As Rob said, the same thing that happened in Dripping Springs happened in Fort Worth — a case I was involved in on behalf of Texas Values.
In 2016, the Fort Worth superintendent implemented guidelines without a vote of the school board and without a hearing including parents on these issues. As other moms and dads have reached out to us, we’ve learned this is happening in Coppell and in other schools across the state.
We now know one of the reasons. In a guidance briefing sent to schools statewide, the Texas Association of School Boards referred to a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter issued by the Obama Administration. That letter, since then rescinded by the Trump Administration, was used as a standard that the TASB leaned on.