ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
In Texas, Republican leaders are denouncing today's directive from President Obama on transgender students. Here's the state's Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
DAN PATRICK: In the middle of the night in secret, without Congress, without people, without any input from education community, he is foisting this divisive and harmful policy.
SIEGEL: Such sentiments were easy to find at the Texas Republican Convention. NPR's Wade Goodwyn spoke to attendees at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.
WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: They come in three-piece suits and nice dresses, T-shirts and flip-flops. The Texas Republican Party on exhibit in Dallas is a cornucopia of age, style, hairdos and relative commitment to the sartorial wonders of red, white and blue. But they have one thing in common, nobody was happy about President Obama's transgender bathroom decree for the nation's public schools.
TAD GREEN: It's a safety issue at the very core.
GOODWYN: Tad Green owns his own real estate company in Fort Worth. He's married with three daughters. For Green, accommodating a small number of transgender children is an invitation to trouble, simple as that. He's got no problem providing for the disabled, but for Green, this is going too far.
GREEN: This is a choice. And it's ridiculous, in my opinion, to put the other 99.9 percent at risk, and even put that little 0.1 percent at risk, all to accommodate something that shouldn't be an issue, in my opinion, at all.
GOODWYN: If safety worries are the overriding concern, there's also widespread anger at the president acting unilaterally again, like Jennifer Stein, an attorney from Houston.
JENNIFER STEIN: I think first and foremost that our president has again demonstrated he wants to be an authoritarian person. He wants to control everything and issue edicts from the federal government, which is not appropriate and it's not how our government was founded.
GOODWYN: For Stein and other Republicans here, it's not that they have no sympathy for transgendered students, but...
STEIN: While I appreciate the fact that kids that are struggling with their identity - certainly are going to have a lifelong struggle, unfortunately, if that's something that they feel -but I don't think that we should hold hostage every other child, which is certainly the huge, huge, huge majority, and put them in an uncomfortable position and make them feel uncomfortable going to the bathroom every time.
GOODWYN: For quite a few Texas Republicans, the issue is a moral one, period.
SARAH TAYLOR: What happened to God? You know, what part of the Bible do they not believe in?
GOODWYN: Sarah Taylor is from Athens in East Texas.
TAYLOR: There's got to be something in the Bible you stand for. And, I'm sorry, I don't stand for gays in the pulpit. I don't stand for transgenders going into these different bathrooms.
GOODWYN: For some, like salesman James Bargrave from the little town of Canton, southeast of Dallas, the entire proposition leaves them shaking their heads.
JAMES BARGRAVE: It's pathetic. It's just - I. Yeah, (laughter). It's - it's absolutely ridiculous. I'm not very good at interviewing because I don't have any words for it. I'm speechless. It's sad.
GOODWYN: The bathroom brouhaha has already exposed profound political divisions here in north Texas after the Fort Worth school superintendent Kent Scribner announced their public schools would accommodate their transgender students. That brought an angry attack from Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who called Scribner a dictator and demanded he resign or be removed. The superintendent and several other Fort Worth officials instructed the lieutenant governor to butt out of Fort Worth's business. Although all of the Republicans we spoke with at the Texas convention decried President Obama's actions, they also universally applauded the Texas lieutenant governor interceding against the Fort Worth superintendent. Which politician you believe should take a hike seemed to depend on one's political perspective. Here's Houston lawyer Patricia Stein again.
STEIN: It's a hundred percent Democrats trying to stimulate their base, exactly how Obama converted from being not pro-gay marriage to pro-gay marriage when he needed more votes. It's very obvious.
GOODWYN: Judging by the Texas Republicans attending their convention in Dallas, the Democrats aren't the only base that's being stimulated. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.