While Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick work themselves into a froth over the Fort Worth ISD school board’s new policies (and President Obama’s newly announced framework for respecting the rights of transgender students in schools), they are ignoring a decades-old crisis along our borders.
Unlike the perceived threat of men posing as women in order to prey on innocent women in girls – a threat that exists solely in the minds of conservative lawmakers and their supporters – a lack of access to basic services such as running water and sewage poses a real public health risk in communities along Texas’ border: the colonias.
Unless you are from a community near the colonias or are a land rights history buff, it is likely that you’ve never heard of them before. Colonias in Texas are a direct result of exploitation – plots of land in unregulated areas were subdivided and sold to families who dreamed of a home and land of their own. But the land they were sold often came without pipes connecting the property to water, natural gas, or a sewage system.
The residents of these communities have had to make their own solutions, buying bottled water, using propane when natural gas is unavailable, relying on septic systems for sewage. But the issue of access to these basic building blocks of infrastructure persists.
Legislators representing these communities have tried to secure more funding for social services, to work with private companies to connect these communities to water and gas services, and to ensure that when the existing solutions fail – such as septic systems that are overwhelmed and out of date – residents of the colonias gain access to existing programs focused on addressing these issues. But it still isn’t enough.
In 2016, no one in Texas should have to live without access to water and sewage. We should all be able to turn on a tap or flush a toilet in our own homes. And our state leaders have the power and the ability to make closing these gaps a statewide priority.
Instead, Dan Patrick and Greg Abbott have chosen to focus on policing the gender identity and bathroom preferences of Texas schoolchildren. I know which bathroom crisis is more concerning to me – and it isn’t the one making headlines these days.