The following was published on June 1, 2016, by the Wichita Eagle:
Kansas is joining a legal challenge to the Obama administration’s directive to local schools on the rights of transgender students.
The announcement Wednesday came a day after an appeals court in Virginia declined to hear a school district’s appeal of a case involving a transgender student who sued after it banned him from using the boys bathroom. That case now will move forward in federal court.
At issue is whether Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in federally funded schools, applies to a student’s gender identity.
The decision in Virginia means “our only option is to pursue a more direct challenge,” said Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt.
“The bottom line is that Kansas will challenge the Obama administration’s attempt to unilaterally rewrite Title IX in an unprecedented way that further expands federal power,” Schmidt said in a statement. “In our federal system of government, not every decision needs to be handed down from Washington, and this is a matter best left to state or local authorities.”
Kansas senators also voted 30-8 Wednesday to approve a resolution “supporting student privacy and safety” in the wake of the federal directive, which says transgender students should be allowed to use the restrooms that correspond to their gender identity.
“Children and young adults have a reasonable expectation that public schools, college and universities in this state will not allow their students to be viewed in various forms of undress by members of the opposite sex while using student restrooms,” a part of the resolution reads.
“Education policy decisions should be made by local school leaders and communities, not the federal government,” it continues.
The resolution encourages school districts to “disregard the Obama administration Title IX guidelines.”
Senate President Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said parents in her district have raised concerns over the new guidelines.
“We need to send a message that says we disapprove of the federal overreach,” she said.
Senate Democrats blasted the proposal and questioned why it was brought up on the last day of the regular session.
Sen. Tom Hawk, D-Manhattan, a former junior high counselor, said he regretted not doing enough to protect students “from the abuse and harassment from classmates who thought they might be gay.”
“I still search my soul and wonder if I could have helped more,” Hawk said. “Today, I get a second chance to stand up for these young people. … For those who are just perceived as different, (the resolution) will perpetuate pain and injustice.”
Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, called the resolution a “dubious waste of time” considering the state’s struggles with school finance.
“There’s some compelling concern not so much for how public restrooms are segregated, but whether or not the doors will be open to those schools,” Haley said.
“This is something that’s a piece of paper to take home and say, ‘Look, I’m protecting our children. See this paper?’ ” Haley said, waving the resolution in his hand. “But that’s not true. You’re just fostering a level of paranoia that is unnecessary.”
Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, said the Senate “needs to do better” with other issues looming.
“We have a yawning budget deficit,” Holland said. “And on the very last day of the regular session, our sitting president brings forward a resolution where we debate about where transgender kids will go pee.”
Wagle said a big part of the problem is that the guidelines put funding at risk.
“This puts the issue back to local control, which is where it was before the mandate came down from the Obama administration,” Wagle said.
Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, said the resolution is about protecting student safety.
“It is happening in our schools. There are many, many women whose safety and privacy are being threatened,” Pilcher-Cook said. “It is asking for the protection, safety and privacy of all students.”
Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-Leavenworth, put the issue of transgender restroom use in more existential terms.
“This is about the political assault that we are under,” Fitzgerald said. “This is about Saul Alinsky’s plan to take down Western civilization, and it’s moving faster and faster.”
“Insanity is a detachment from reality. You don’t address insanity by entertaining it and make-believing it is reality,” he said. “I’m not surprised that those who are confused about their sex have a high rate of suicide.”
Proponents of transgender rights spoke in the Kansas Capitol rotunda Wednesday morning.
Gary Martens, an Equality Kansas activist from Salina, said legislators were trying to gain votes in the upcoming election by “pointing at shiny objects and trying to distract people.”
“They’ve had the whole session to do something and yet they’ve not made a move,” Martens said.
Stephanie Mott, president of the volunteer-run Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project, said the moves would be harmful to transgender people growing up.
“Every time that the government does anything that invalidates transgendered youth identities, it makes it more likely that those youth will experience harassment and violence,” Mott said. “It’s disgusting.”
Paid for by Senate Democratic Committee, Will Lawrence, Treasurer