Texas AG Probably Had Real Good Reason To Demand List Of Trans Folks
Back in June, employees at the Texas Department of Public Safety got a simple request from the office of Attorney General Ken Paxton: Could y'all put together a list of every Texan who's changed their gender on their driver's license in the last two years? And on any other government ID y'all's office has? We need that right quick, now.
OK, fine, Texans don't use y'all in official communications, you got me. As the Washington Post reports (free gift linky), the head of the DPS driver's license office emailed this to others in the office, according to documents the Post obtained via a public records request:
"Need total number of changes from male to female and female to male for the last 24 months, broken down by month. [...] We won’t need DL/ID numbers at first but may need to have them later if we are required to manually look up documents."
DPS spokeperson Travis Considine told the Post by email that DPS had received a "verbal request" from the AG's office, but when asked who exactly had made that request, replied, "I cannot say." He said that the DPS ultimately "advised the AG’s office the data requested neither exists nor could be accurately produced. Thus, no data of any kind was provided."
Well then, no foul! Paxton's office simply wanted to know how many Texans changed their sex in official state documents, and lord knows Texas officials have never ever done anything fishy by diving into driver's license data!
That's as long as you ignore that time in 2019 when then-Secretary of State David Whitley used a very sloppy search of driver's license data to falsely claim that 95,000 noncitizens in Texas had illegally registered to vote. In reality, all the data showed was that when someone applied, they'd been legal residents — but the license data was never updated for the tens of thousands of people who went on to become naturalized citizens and then began voting legally because they were Americans. At the time, Paxton and Gov. Greg Abbott trumpeted the bullshit claim and launched an investigation, which was eventually dropped after a bunch of lawsuits. Abbott ended up blaming the DPS for generating the data at all.
Texas Brown People Registered To Vote Again
Texas Jackwad Lied About 'Illegal' Voters, Part 43
Texas Gov Knows Who F*cked Up His 'Illegals Voting' Scam, And It Was ... NOT THE DEMS????
Oddly, the WaPo story doesn't mention that episode, even though it seems like pretty important context to us. Beware Texas officials who want to take a magnifying glass to driver's license data, for fuckery may be afoot, Watson.
Come, Watson! The game is rigged! Image generated using Stable Diffusion
Or perhaps, given Texas Republican leaders' many overt efforts to use the power of the state to make life miserable for trans people, the Post decided that was plenty of context already. The state has banned trans students from joining sports teams that match their gender, and Abbott and Paxton infamously sicced the state's Family and Protective Services Department on parents of trans kids, because maybe gender affirming medical care is really "child abuse." It's all unspeakably cruel, although at least it's been largely put on hold by multiple lawsuits. Meanwhile, Republicans in the Texas Lege, that laboratory for bad government as St. Molly Ivins put it, keeps churning out bills to restrict care for trans kids, too, with even more on tap for the coming session.
Sigh, Yes, Even More!
Texas AG And Gov Just Made It Illegal To Provide Medical Care To Trans Kids, All By Their Lonesomes
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The Post story notes that the records it got ahold of don't say why Paxton's office wanted all that data in the first place. Not surprisingly, trans folks and advocates for trans rights suspect the motives weren't benign, because you know how paranoid liberals are all the time:
“This is another brick building toward targeting these individuals,” said Ian Pittman, an Austin attorney who represents Texas parents of transgender children investigated by the state. “They’ve already targeted children and parents. The next step would be targeting adults. And what better way than seeing what adults had had their sex changed on their driver’s licenses?” [...]
“It’s very specifically targeted, and the one person I don’t want knowing about my gender status is Ken Paxton,” said Salkeld Garcia, a software engineer who worries state officials might try to switch the gender listed on her driver’s license back to male.
“I don’t want a cop pulling me over and knowing I’m trans. That is why I changed my gender marker extremely quickly” after transitioning, she said.
According to the emails, DPS staff came up with a list of "16,466 gender changes between June 1, 2020 and June 30, 2022," and the emails frequently refer to the request from the AG's office. DPS workers tried to narrow down which of the gender changes were simply correcting errors, and which were done in response to people having their gender officially changed in court. In late July, a DPS staffer wrote that "It will be very difficult to determine which records had a valid update without a manual review of all supporting documents," and not long after that, the department basically said the hell with it:
On Aug. 4, the division chief emailed staff members, “We have expended enough effort on this attempt to provide data. After this run, have them package the data that they have with the high level explanations and close it out.” On Aug. 18, a senior manager emailed to say a data engineer had “provided the data request by the AG’s office (attached).”
Yep, it was literally close enough for government work.
The story also notes that — get ready for a huge surprise! — Paxton's office "bypassed the normal channels" for seeking information from state agencies and instead "went straight to the driver license division staff," according to "a state employee" who knew about the request.
On top of that, the Post points out that when it requested records from the AG's office regarding the driver's license records, the office said no such records existed. One official even got a little shirty while replying to the request:
“Why would the Office of the Attorney General have gathered this information?” Assistant Attorney General June Harden wrote in an email to The Post, later adding, “Why do you believe this is the case?”
She added that if the office did have anything like that, it would probably be exempt from public records requests, because "confidentiality" and "attorney-client privilege."
Once the Post shared copies of the documents from the DPS that clearly referenced the request from Paxton's office, another assistant AG, Lauren Downey, pointed out that none of those emails had come from the AG's office, so see, the AG's office really did have no records, ha-ha-Herman, Charlie Brown.
Lesson learned: Never write anything down — as the Post notes, when Abbott ordered investigations of trans kids' parents, "agency staff members were told not to communicate in writing about it, including emails and texts, according to public records." Hooray for government transparency!
The good news is that apparently nothing came of this particular effort to trawl for trans Texans' data, so really there's nothing to worry about. Now Sherlock Paxton will no doubt move on to other investigations, like matching the gender on Texas kids' birth certificates to Amazon purchases made by their parents, to see if any little girls got suspicious train sets or little boys got dresses for Christmas.
[WaPo (gift link)]
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