Other Voices

Dan Patrick is blind to child abuse crisis

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks at the Republican Party of Texas State Convention in Dallas on Thursday.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks at the Republican Party of Texas State Convention in Dallas on Thursday. rmallison@star-telegram.com

Last year, 171 Texas children died of abuse and neglect.

Unfortunately, none of them were in a public bathroom.

They were the most helpless and fragile victims. Their deaths were preceded in the five years before by another 800 small caskets, the tragic markers of a state’s failure to protect child victims of horrendous abuse.

If they were only in a public restroom, perhaps Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick might have taken up their cause, drawn a line in the sand and rallied Lone Star pride to say “no more”.

But no. Patrick has declared it is bathroom use for transgender people that is “a come-and-take-it” issue, a priority of the highest order that caused him to invoke Texas heroes of independence.

He has held or issued half a dozen press conferences and media releases, saying that he is all about protecting children.

Patrick is opposing Fort Worth ISD superintendent Kent Scribner, who is actually trying to protect children, those who are vulnerable and fragile. Scribner clarified school policies that allow transgender students to use the restroom that matches their gender identity and to protect them from bullying, harassment and even physical harm.

For this, Patrick has called on Scribner, repeatedly, in front of every camera he can find, to resign. This is where Patrick says he’s all about protecting the children, unless they’re the ones he’s vilifying.

Last December, a federal judge in heart-wrenching detail declared Texas had failed abused and neglected children by drugging them instead of addressing their trauma, by placing them in harmful settings and then ignoring their cries of sexual abuse, and by leaving them ignored by overwhelmed caseworkers, sometimes for years.

After that court ruling, Patrick held no press conferences. There’s no public statement on his website. He waved no banner for their well-being.

While Patrick has no authority over schools, he is a powerful force over the Department of Family and Protective Services and its Child Protective Services division.

This year 4-year-old Leiliana Wright of Grand Prairie was tied by her wrists, choked, left in a closet and slammed into a wall until she was fatally injured. Her abuse had been reported to CPS months before.

Yet, the lieutenant governor was silent.

Last year, two-year-old Adrian Langlais of Fort Worth was brutally beaten to death. Again, a few months earlier, CPS had been sent pictures of bruises all over his body.

The lieutenant governor chose not to weigh in.

Texas has more than 108,000 confirmed cases of abused and neglected children. Dan Patrick hasn’t mentioned that figure. He’s more obsessed with the figures that move in and out of bathrooms without anybody noticing.

Nobody has been injured in the bathroom wars, which isn’t much more than a political grandstanding farce.

Of course, children really could be hurt if you count the potential loss of billions of federal education dollars. Those could disappear if Texas willingly discriminates against transgender children.

But Patrick would rather place his energy on political farce instead of the real danger to children in this state. And ironically, he appears more than willing to flush education money down the toilet to get there.

Chuck Smith is CEO of Equality Texas, an Austin-based LGBT rights organization.