Home News Around the Region: Wisconsin sues feds over transgender inclusive schools

Around the Region: Wisconsin sues feds over transgender inclusive schools

Around the Region: Wisconsin sues feds over transgender inclusive schools


Wisconsin is the only state in the region that is among the dozen nationally that have sued the federal government over guidance issued to public schools about gender inclusion. While North Dakota hasn’t joined the Wisconsin suit, the state’s governor announced last week that the state will be filing its own.

Wisconsin has filed a lawsuit against the federal government over efforts to make schools safer for transgender and gender nonconforming students, the Capital Times reports:

The state of Wisconsin will join several other states and school boards in suing the Obama administration over its guidance regarding the treatment of transgender students in public schools, Attorney General Brad Schimel said Wednesday.
A letter issued by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education earlier this month directed schools to allow transgender students to use facilities that correspond with their gender identity. While its main focus was on restrooms, the letter also addressed education records, privacy rights, school activities and athletics.
“President Obama’s attempts to re-write the laws of our country without congressional consent and approval are not going to be tolerated by the State of Wisconsin,” Schimel said in a statement. “After discussing with Governor Walker, I have decided to join my colleagues from across the country in challenging the Obama Administration’s latest power grab, which will have a significant impact on Wisconsin, particularly at the University of Wisconsin and Department of Public Instruction.”

Reactions against Walker’s lawsuit was swift. WISN notes the reaction from LGBTQ leaders at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee:

A University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) official is reacting to news that Wisconsin is among 10 states suing the White House over federal guidelines about which bathroom transgender students can use at school.

Dr. Cary Costello is director of LGBT studies at UWM. He’s also transgender and opposed to Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel’s lawsuit against the Obama administration.
“I find it extremely disappointing,” Costello said.
He believes Schimel sent a clear message with the lawsuit, “a message that says civil rights protections are wrong and dangerous, and somehow treating people with respect and equality is an affront.”

Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat who is gay, released a statement about the lawsuit:

“Schimel’s decision should come as no surprise to those familiar with Scott Walker’s backwards approach to governing the state. While Governor Walker and Schimel may couch this decision in protecting Wisconsin’s interests, nothing could be farther from the truth. It’s a poor and pitiful attempt to catch a dying wave of shameful political attacks on transgender youth, in an effort to advance an antiquated ideology.
“Instead, we should be looking to support policies in our schools that make students safer, not eliminate protections for some of our most vulnerable students. Many of our country’s leading education groups including the National PTA and the National Education Association have embraced these federal guidelines, signaling they would provide students with safe and welcoming schools. I couldn’t agree more. We cannot lose sight of the fact that these are students who want nothing more than to live authentic lives free of discrimination.”

Walker has been telling the media why he decided to sue. In Green Bay, he said Obama “has no right” to tell schools to accommodate transgender students, WRN reports:

Governor Scott Walker, weighing in on the decision to sue the federal government over school restroom rules, says it’s not an issue Wisconsinites care about. Wisconsin and several other states are challenging the authority of President Obama’s administration. Walker says local school boards should decide the transgender student issue.
“The president has no right being involved in a decision that should be left up to local school boards,” Walker said in Green Bay on Thursday. “School districts should be making the decisions about what they do with kindergarten students and bathrooms, not the president of the United States.”

WAOW caught up with Walker late last week:

Walker told WAOW television Thursday he believes the real issue is the overreach of the federal government. “The federal government does not belong in telling school districts what they should do inside of their schools and so this is not about the transgender issue, it’s about the proper role of the federal government and they really don’t have any business here.”

Window and door manufacturer, Jeld-Wen, has become gender inclusive after a complaint was filed in Wisconsin, the Herald News reports:

A Jeld-Wen attorney has said the company supports a transgender person’s right to use the restroom of their choice as the manufacturer fights a union grievance challenging this position.
The grievance was filed in Wisconsin.
In a pair of emails leaked Monday to local media, Associate General Counsel Eric Martin said Jeld-Wen, which has production sites in Klamath Falls and across Oregon, believes forcing a transgender employee to use a restroom that does not correspond with their gender identity is a violation of federal law and company policy.
“External genitalia are but one component of sex and are not always determinative,” said Martin.
“Let me be perfectly clear,” he continued. “Transgender men are men. They live and work as men. Transgender women are women. They live and work as women.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a complaint against a Wisconsin school that accepts government funding but bars LGBTQ students, the Christian Post reports:

An atheist group has filed a complaint against a Wisconsin-based Christian school for its decision to punish students who openly express transgender or homosexual behaviors.
St. John’s Lutheran School of Baraboo, which receives federal funding for certain student aid programs, informed parents earlier this year that they reserve the right to punish homosexuality and transgender activity.
Patrick Elliot of the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, the largest atheist organization in the United States, filed a complaint earlier this month against the school before the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
“St. John’s Lutheran School has implemented policies that discriminate against students on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” argued Elliot. “As these students are unable to attend the school, they are unable to participate in free and reduced price lunch programs.”

North Dakota
North Dakota will also sue the federal government, but is’t joining Wisconsin’s suit, WDAY reports:

Stenehjem isn’t joining the existing lawsuit against the government, he’s writing up his own, but says it will mirror what other states are doing.
That statement welcomed from the North Dakota School Board Association.
“This will give courts the opportunity to really consider the legitimacy of the Obama Administration’s directive,” says Jon Martinson, who is a part of the School Board Association.
The School board association says Obama’s proposal isn’t specific enough on who is a transgender child.
“A simple declaration that now on Wednesday, I’m a female, I’m declaring myself a female, although genetically and biologically I’m a male, and I want to be able to use now the women’s bathroom and the women’s locker room, is not going to fly,” said Martinson.

WOWT shared the story of transgender teen, Nikkie Johnson:

A Lewis Central high school student is sharing her journey to self-discovery as a transgender woman.

“I’m starting to look like how I envisioned myself for years,” said Nikkie Johnson, 16.
It wasn’t until Nikkie was 15, known to everyone in her world as “Nicholas” that she decided it was time to be herself. The then freshman at Lewis Central didn’t know if she’d be accepted as a transgender woman.
“I was so scared. I didn’t know how my family would take it, I didn’t know how my friends would take it I didn’t know if I would be accepted anywhere, really,” said Nikkie.
In hindsight, parents Julie and Jim say there were plenty of what experts call “possible indicators.” As young as two and three years old, Nikkie was drawn to dolls and playing dress up.

Iowa is not joining a handful of states that are suing the federal government over a recent directive aimed at creating safe schools for transgender students, the Des Moines Register reports:

Iowa is not joining 11 states in a federal lawsuit to stop the Obama administration’s directive for transgender access to school facilities, but Gov. Terry Branstad isn’t ruling out anything, a spokesman says.
“Local school districts across Iowa understand the importance of working with students and their families to make sure that everyone is treated with dignity and respect, (and feels) welcome and safe,” said Branstad aide Ben Hammes. “Governor Branstad believes that the Obama administration’s threat to withhold federal funding from local school districts is simply federal overreach. Our office was not asked to join the lawsuit, and we will evaluate our options moving forward on this issue.”

Iowa’s Rep. David Young, a Republican who changed his vote on a pro-LGBTQ bill allegedly after pressure from fellow Republicans, is being asked tough questions by Iowa media outlets, including the Des Moines Register:

So why did Rep. Young change his vote?
“The congressman’s recorded vote today was both consistent with his position and previous recorded votes on this issue,” Young’s spokeswoman, Meg Baglien, said last week, neatly sidestepping the issue.
Baglien didn’t respond to calls and emails this week asking whether she or the congressman would be willing to elaborate on what transpired.
If Young was truly opposed to the measure, he should have no problem defending his position, which matches that of Iowa’s other Republican House members, Reps. Steve King and Rod Blum, both of whom voted against the amendment from the outset.
As it stands now, however, it appears that Young voted his conscience in initially supporting the amendment, only to be beaten into submission by party leaders who opposed the measure. If so, he caved to pressure from individuals who don’t represent Iowa and who were willing to run roughshod over the House rules in order to get their way.
Iowans will respect a congressman who doesn’t always vote their way as long as that congressman has done his homework and is doing what he believes is in the best interests of Iowa and the nation. But they won’t tolerate a congressman who allows himself to become a tool of either special interests or the party leadership. That’s true of both conservatives and progressives.
It could be that Young, still in his first term representing Iowa’s 3rd District, voted the way he did because he needs the support of party leaders if he’s to be re-elected in the fall. But for Iowans, the question is no longer whether Young can get re-elected; it’s whether he deserves to be re-elected.

South Dakota
Anti-LGBTQ religious leader Franklin Graham was in Pierre last week where he called gay and lesbian rights “wicked,” the Sioux City Journal reports:

The son of the Rev. Billy Graham is urging Christians in South Dakota to run for public office and to vote for candidates who stand for biblical truth and principles.
Franklin Graham spoke to a crowd Tuesday from the state Capitol’s steps in Pierre. He says America is being stripped of its biblical heritage.
South Dakota was the 25th stop on the Decision America Tour, a series of prayer rallies scheduled in all 50 states.Franklin Graham also reminded listeners of the importance of local offices such as county commissions and school boards in calling for Christians to become political candidates.
He told attendees that gay and lesbian people can force their “wicked agenda” on Christians because Christians sit back on the sidelines.

National religious right groups are targeting Sioux Falls over a proposed nondiscrimination ordinance, the Argus Leader reports:

A religious-freedom group is pressuring Sioux Falls officials not to add gender identity and sexual orientation to the list of classes protected by municipal rules.
The City Council will decide next month whether Sioux Falls business owners and landlords should be barred from overlooking potential employees and tenants if they’re gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. The city attorney’s office is asking for the update to the human relations ordinance to adhere with new Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines that say the policies of local housing authorities – in this case the city of Sioux Falls – must be “substantially equivalent” to HUD regulations.
But the push for a more comprehensive anti-discrimination policy hasn’t come without resistance. With the ordinance change originally slated for passage May 3, the council deferred to the incoming council to take action and scheduled a vote for June 14. Last week, all eight council members and Mayor Mike Huether received letters from the Liberty Counsel, an international nonprofit that specializes in legal, media and policy, including religious and constitutional matters.
“The ordinance contains a number of serious infirmities, which require that it be rejected,” the organization writes in the letter’s introduction.

Sioux Falls then withdrew the nondiscrimination ordinance, but wouldn’t say why, KELO reports:

The City of Sioux Falls is withdrawing its proposal to add gender identity and sexual orientation to the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance. The City’s Heather Hitterdal would not comment on the reasons why or on whether this is just a temporary retreat or a permanent decision.
The City Attorney’s Office had reccomended that City Council make the changes to avoid the potential of losing federal funding. Mayor Mike Huether had told KELO Radio that the City Attorney said the changes were needed to stay in accordance with state and federal law.
City Human Resources Director Bill O’Toole has said that the Feds are requiring anyone who is federal contractor or subcontractor to treat applicants and employees without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity.
For many weeks, City Council seemed reluctant to move forward on making the proposed changes. The old council deferred action until the four new councilors from the April election could take their seats.