Until late last month, I'd never heard of Harrold, Texas. Maybe you hadn't either.
The tiny town near the Oklahoma border burst into the headlines recently when it joined Texas and 10 other states in challenging the Obama administration's directive that public school bathrooms, locker rooms and showers must accommodate transgender students.
My GetReligion colleague Jim Davis made brief mention of Harrold when he critiqued initial media coverage of the lawsuit:
The early reports -- which included brief mentions of Harrold with a quote or two from the town's superintendent -- made me curious. I wanted to know more about the little community and its role in the bigger fight.
Apparently, I wasn't alone.
The Associated Press sent a reporter to Harrold and got firsthand color such as this:
Kindergarteners and high school students in Harrold share 10 bathrooms in a single brick schoolhouse that is shorter than the football field, where the Harrold Hornets play six-man football because there are not enough players for 11. A few times a day, a train rumbles past the schoolhouse. Superintendent David Thweatt says "hobos" sometimes jump off and wander toward campus. Once, he said, a drifter holed up in a school bus and left a smell that took days to air out.
But overall, the AP story was too brief to provide much real insight -- including insights into faith angles in this story.
On the other hand, Monday's Dallas Morning News devoted in-depth attention to the town -- with prominent play at the top of the front page:
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There's a certain "big-city reporter goes to the zoo" aspect to many major media accounts of life in small towns. I've written my share of these kind of stories (complete with a trip to the local cafe to seek quotes), so I'm not criticizing so much as stating a fact.
With that caveat in mind, though, the Morning News does a pretty nice job of painting the scene in this town that it describes as "a wide spot in the road with deep convictions about guns and transgender policies":
HARROLD, Texas -- Along a patch of Texas prairie dotted with oil derricks, horses and windmills, the tiny Harrold school district stands as the face of the nation's cultural war over transgender students' access to bathrooms.
The superintendent supports his district's lawsuit against the federal government. So does Harrold's de facto mayor. And the outspoken local water board member, too.
They're all the same guy: David Thweatt, the 55-year-old educator at the core of this rural community that was once a feisty frontier town built along a railroad stop.
Now about the only thing of significance in the area is the two-story school and nearly a dozen houses scattered around it, most of which belong to district employees.
After decades of decline -- families, businesses and even churches moving away -- the school remains the final spark of life in Harrold. There are barely 100 students.
But Harrold is still fighting to remain relevant. And, in some ways, David Thweatt is Harrold.
After making clear that no one in Harrold would talk -- besides the superintendent, that is -- I like that the Dallas newspaper includes other voices from nearby towns:
Thweatt may be the only one speaking publicly in Harrold right now, but he's not alone. Up the road in Vernon, many readily agree with the superintendent's stance, even if they're not all sure whether a lawsuit was necessary to settle the issue.
"I don't want any guys in the girls' restrooms, especially if I had children in school," said Corina Adame, manager of the popular Lupe's Cocina y Cantina.
Recently, some retirees in Vernon became upset when a man was seen going into a women's restroom at a local fast-food restaurant. The manager had to come out and explain that he was an inspector doing a job.
"You don't do things like that around here," said Damon Wood, who grew up in Vernon. "You have respect and manners. I hope they win."
So what's missing from the Morning News story?
Well, this is GetReligion, so the answer probably won't take you too many guesses.
Except for that passing reference up high to "even churches moving away," the newspaper makes no attempt to delve into whether religion might be a factor in the town's approach to transgender bathrooms.
The Wichita Falls Times Record News recently described Harrold's superintendent as "the son of a preacher-turned-educator," which hints at a possible faith angle in the educator's point of view. The Morning News notes that this is "a part of the country where rattlesnakes, cougars and other wild animals roam freely." But the paper ignores religion and its prominence (or not) in this fight.
Is this a case of a story haunted by a holy ghost? That certainly seems like a strong possibility.