Dripping Springs, LGBT

Haters Get Flushed: Texas Town Comes Together to Fight Transgender Bathroom Regulations

A transphobic group targeted a Dripping Springs ISD student, but didn't expect the community's reaction.


A version of this story ran in the February 2017 issue.

Dripping Springs, LGBT
Many parents and children at Walnut Springs Elementary School in Dripping Springs, including those shown here, have rallied around a trans girl targeted by social conservatives.  Holly Dawson Driggers

For Texas Values, a rightwing advocacy group, the small, relatively conservative community of Dripping Springs may have seemed like a good target for its latest anti-transgender bathroom campaign.

But three months after the group stormed into town, Dripping Springs ISD officials were standing firm in their decision to allow a 9-year-old trans girl to use restrooms according to her gender identity.

Soon after Texas Values launched its campaign, a large group of parents formed to support the third-grade student and defend the district. Organized as “Many Stripes, One Tiger,” the group plans to take its fight to Austin to lobby against Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s anti-trans bathroom bill.

“We’re trying to get the message out that our school district is doing just fine without Dan Patrick coming in and regulating our bathrooms,” said Andy Hutton, whose son attends Walnut Springs Elementary School with the trans student.

Like many residents, Hutton got wind of the controversy in late September, when a text message began circulating among parents of students at Walnut Springs, one of the town’s three elementary schools. Hutton said the trans girl’s parents, who haven’t been publicly identified, requested the accommodation after she used single-stall restrooms in previous years. Soon, there was an action alert from Texas Values alleging that Dripping Springs ISD was “allowing boys in girls’ bathrooms.”

“Parents were not notified of the administration’s decision and are very concerned for the privacy and safety of all students,” the Austin group wrote, calling on its supporters to contact school board members and speak at an upcoming meeting.

Hutton accused Texas Values of spreading misinformation and trying to “fundraise off the back of our district and this child.”

Texas Values President Jonathan Saenz didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Hutton said he believes Texas Values chose Dripping Springs for its proximity to the Capitol and its status as a rural district in which few have been exposed to the debate over LGBT rights. But he doesn’t think the group anticipated the backlash it would receive from parents who personally know the trans girl and trust the judgment of school officials.

“I don’t think anybody questions that her gender identity is true and heartfelt and sincere,” Hutton said, adding that “even a lot of social conservatives” stand behind the girl.

With the school board refusing to place the matter on its agenda, Texas Values staged a news conference in November with about a dozen parents as well as state Representative Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs.

Many Stripes, One Tiger responded with a petition to the school board that garnered 529 signatures, and a December news conference that featured more than 50 parents, some of whom read statements from the girl’s parents.

“I am taking the time to write this because there is an outside special interest group with their own agenda that will negatively impact my innocent child, and also shape the future of the type of community we live in,” the girl’s father said in his statement. “There is no danger to anyone in this situation — except to an innocent child who is loved by all.”