It took one Texas school superintendent just five minutes to debunk the transgender bathroom panic.
At a Tuesday board meeting, Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) Superintendent Dr. Kent P. Scribner defended his district’s anti-discrimination policies, which allow students to use restrooms that correspond with “the gender identity that each student consistently and uniformly asserts.”
“I am proud of the guidelines that we’ve developed,” he said. “And I’m proud that we’re able to support this policy to provide our educators with a framework to make all students—whether they are transgendered or not—comfortable and confident in the learning environment.”
The room cheered but the superintendent deferred the praise to the board, saying that “there’s no need to applaud” him in particular. Scribner, formerly the superintendent of the largest high school district in Arizona, was not even at FWISD when the board laid the groundwork for the current trans-inclusive policy.
Not everyone is clapping for Scribner, of course. On Monday, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called for the superintendent to resign from his post.
But Scribner, who approved the new guidelines back in April, is holding his ground. On Tuesday, he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he would not resign and, at the board meeting that same day, he directly refuted Patrick’s concerns.
Those who support restrictions on transgender bathroom usage often claim to be concerned about the safety of women and children. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, for example, likes to call his state’s hotly-contested anti-transgender law a “commonsense” privacy measure.Lt. Gov. Patrick is no exception to this trend. In his statement calling for Scribner’s resignation, Patrick tried to make the debate about “safety” rather than discrimination.
“Campus safety should be of paramount concern for anyone in his position,” Patrick wrote. “Every parent, especially those of young girls, should be outraged.”
But there is no evidence to suggest that transgender-inclusive policies pose any threat. There are no instances of a transgender person attacking a non-transgender person in a bathroom and existing laws can be used to penalize anyone who harasses or assaults someone in a restroom.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, Scribner handily brushed Patrick’s “safety” argument aside, noting that he “respectfully disagree[s] with the lieutenant governor.
“This is not about compromising the safety, wellbeing, or needs of any child, whether they be transgendered or not,” he said. “The guidelines do not say—nor would we ever— indiscriminately send boys into girls’ restrooms or girls into boys’ restrooms.”
Indeed the language in the policy—referring to “gender identity” that must be “consistently” and “uniformly” asserted by the student—is far from indiscriminate. Gender identity is not a convenient excuse to enter a restroom; it is officially recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA) as a deeply-held “sense of oneself” (PDF).
Not only is the new FWISD policy carefully worded, it also includes a provision allowing any student—transgender or not—to access a single-stall or private restroom if they are uncomfortable sharing space with other students, as the Star-Telegram editorial board noted in their endorsement.
With this concession in place, it is hard to imagine a possible objection to the policy. But even so, Scribner displayed an immense amount of respect and patience on Tuesday for parents who might believe the myths around transgender bathroom use.
“Now, I understand this is a tough issue and there are strong and legitimate feelings on both sides,” he noted. “But these complicated issues are not handled well by press conferences and social media posts.”
At the end of his remarks, the superintendent invited any parent who takes issue with the new policy to speak with him personally so that he can “address their concerns.” But as the father of a girl in his own school district, he also made it clear that he will not abide accusations that he has no regard for student safety.
“I am interested only in protecting, educating, and serving our students,” he said. “And it is disingenuous to characterize this as anything but that.”