Texas’ child welfare apparatus is in a shambles. Zika virus threatens to put some of our most vulnerable in danger. Low oil prices have fiscal leaders worried about the future of the state’s budget. State lawmakers are facing accusations of rampant abuse of taxpayer funds in the form of unsanctioned “emergency leave” policies for certain employees. Our attorney general has been indicted on felony fraud charges. Climate change, as ever, threatens the environmental and economic survival of our communities.
And yet Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick is worried about who’s using the bathroom. The Houston talk radio host and bar owner-turned-statesman has been traveling across Texas, fomenting fear about transgender people, including kids at school, using restrooms for nefarious purposes.
The narrative worked when it came to defeating a Houston equal rights ordinance that would have protected everyone from veterans to pregnant people. “No men in women’s bathrooms” got people to the polls in Houston, although there’s no evidence that trans people use nondiscrimination laws to shield themselves from prosecution for sex crimes. Patrick also continues to demand the resignation of Fort Worth ISD superintendent Kent Scribner over his issuance of district rules that allow trans kids to use the right bathroom at school.
Attorney General Ken Paxton has been both following in Patrick’s footsteps and forging a new path in the form of a multi-state lawsuit against federal guidelines that encourage schools to let trans kids take care of their needs where they’re most comfortable.
To have Patrick and Paxton tell it, the biggest threat to Texas today is a trans child. Never mind that 41 percent of transgender people attempt suicide, compared to 4.6 percent of the overall population. Transgender people are seven times more likely to face physical violence at the hands of police. An estimated 125,350 transgender people call Texas home. Many of them are kids, who, of course, have to use the restroom at school.
We asked them about it — though we wish we didn’t have to — and also wanted to know: What could state leaders be doing to help Texas kids and families? Are their schools accommodating their needs? How had they been affected by officials’ rhetoric?
In this issue of the Observer, we’ll meet five families — of Kat Smith, Eri Reeves, Alex Kinmore, Kai Shappley and Ben Elder — navigating what is often a hostile landscape for trans people and, in particular, trans kids. You’ll also find links to their families’ stories in the photo captions below. — Andrea Grimes