Top Republicans in America's largest conservative state are ready to take on the issue of transgender rights and public restrooms, as thousands of party activists gather in Dallas for the Texas GOP convention.
An Obama administration directive issued late Thursday amid a court fight between the federal government and North Carolina says public schools must permit transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick spoke to NBC 5 soon after the directive was first reported, saying, "This will be the beginning of the end of the public school system as we know it."
Patrick compared the guidance from leaders at the departments of Education and Justice to a recent guideline from the Fort Worth school district superintendent meant to accommodate transgender students.
"President Obama, in the dark of the night – without consulting Congress, without consulting educators, without consulting parents – decides to issue an executive order, like this superintendent, forcing transgender policies on schools and on parents who clearly don't want it," Patrick told NBC 5.
Earlier Thursday, Patrick called on the Fort Worth superintendent to resign, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton suggested the school district's policies may violate Texas' education code.
Supporters say forcing transgender students to use restrooms that align with the gender assigned on their birth certificate is sex discrimination, a violation of Title IX that could put billions in federal education dollars sent to Texas in jeopardy.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott spoke to the party convention Thursday and announced he's been talking to his North Carolina counterpart, Pat McCrory, about how to battle the U.S. Justice Department, which is suing North Carolina over its new law requiring transgender people to use public bathrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificates.
Abbott also suggested he'd like to see a similar law come to Texas soon.
"Obama is turning bathrooms into courtroom issues," Abbott told thousands of delegates at Dallas' Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. "I want you to know, I am working with the governor of North Carolina, and we are going to fight back."
He added: "Our country is in crisis, and Texas must lead the way forward."
Abbott's office said it expects to announce its next steps as soon as Friday. Abbott is a former Texas Supreme Court justice and before becoming governor last year used his power as state attorney general to sue the Obama administration around 30 times.
Texas Republicans have used the issue to reinvigorate their conservative base, even though legislative action isn't likely until state lawmakers reconvene in January. A campaign sticker imploring men to be kept out of women's bathrooms was affixed inside at least one women's restroom inside the convention hall.
Paxton, who appeared in an appeals court Thursday a few blocks away on felony securities fraud charges, also released a statement this week applauding North Carolina's countersuit against the Justice Department, which considers the state's law discriminatory.
"My office stands with Governor McCrory and the people of North Carolina regarding this unconstitutional form of federal overreach," it read.
The effort to put a Texas stamp on a national issue comes as supporters of Sen. Ted Cruz's defunct presidential campaign have vowed to head to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and win positions on committees shaping the party's platform.
Cruz backers want to fight for conservative values -- including in public restrooms. As Cruz campaign adviser Ken Cuccinelli put it, "Boys should only be allowed to go in the boys' bathroom, and girls should only be allowed to go in the girls' bathroom."
Texas' delegation will be chosen this weekend at the convention. Cruz supporters far outnumber those backing Republican presidential front runner Donald Trump, meaning that, potentially, all 155 delegates to the national convention from Texas will be loyal to Cruz -- and poised to back conservative national platform positions on social issues that Trump may not agree with.
Still, Sandy Galvan, a San Antonio business owner and Trump supporter, said she didn't feel outnumbered in Dallas.
"We have a lot of respect for Senator Cruz but he didn't win," Galvan said. "It's time to get behind a candidate who can."
Abbott endorsed Cruz but says he will ultimately vote for any Republican presidential nominee. He called for unity to defeat Hillary Clinton in Thursday's speech, but didn't mention Trump by name.
"Ted may have come up short, but that does not end the war," Abbott said, sparking a standing ovation that lasted longer than the governor's salutes to a new state law allowing license holders to carry handguns holstered on their hips or otherwise in plain sight -- something a number of convention attendees did.
"America does not have the luxury to get this election wrong," Abbott said. "Republicans must unite to prevent Hillary from continuing the Obama agenda of ignoring our Constitution."
NBC 5's Julie Fine is tweeting from the 2016 Texas State Republican Convention in Dallas:
NBC 5's Frank Heinz and Will Weissert, of The Associated Press, contributed to this report.