We all agree that LGBTQ kids deserve school lunch. So why is Utah fighting over it, asks Robert Gehrke.

Last month, the four members of the Utah House delegation surprised a lot of people, including me, by voting for a bill that would recognize same-sex marriages in federal law.

The vote came after Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in the recent case that overturned Roe v. Wade, to suggest that other rights, including same-sex marriage, might also have been wrongly decided by the court and ordered a review.

“I don’t think the federal government should infringe on an individual’s decision about who they want to marry,” Rep. John Curtis said in a statement after the vote.

When even someone as staunchly conservative and politically opportunistic as Burgess Owens has gone, it shows how far the problem has gone.

And then they remind us how far we have to go.

A few days after the vote, Attorney General Sean Reyes added the State of Utah still lawsuit filed by Republican attorneys general the Biden administration’s challenging guidance that states that receive federal school lunch funding must all ensure that LGBTQ students have the same access to food as their classmates.

First, a little background: In May, the Biden administration issued a notice to schools saying that, based on a Supreme Court ruling, they should ensure there is a complaint process for students or parents who feel they they had been denied access to school lunch programs on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The guide was based on a Supreme Court ruling, Bostock v. Clayton County, which held that provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sex protect LGBTQ workers. The administration interpreted the same logic to apply to similar language prohibiting discrimination based on sex in Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

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Essentially, schools were advised to add six words to their policies that already prohibited discrimination based on race, religion, gender, and many other factors, simply to clarify that LGBTQ students are not discriminated against, and if they feel they are. , your parents have a way to file complaints.

It is not explicitly stated, but widely presumed, that failure to comply could jeopardize some of Utah’s millions of dollars in school lunch funding.

On Monday night, Utah Governor Spencer Cox, who has more than once put LGBTQ children ahead of politics, released a letter he sent to the Biden Administration asking them to retract the new guidance. “Deeply sensitive and contentious policy areas are best left to the states,” the governor wrote, “where different populations will come to different conclusions and solutions.”

Except that this is not a “deeply sensitive and contentious” area of ​​public policy and there really shouldn’t be “different conclusions and solutions.”

In Utah schools, Madisyn and Mykenscie should get the same lunch as Jaxzin and Gobert (seemed like a good name at the time). We are not going to take food away from anyone, whether they like boys or girls. No matter.

Except he does it with Reyes. Because Reyes and his Republican counterparts like Cox believe states should be the ones to decide whether they can deny kids a lunch because they are gay, lesbian or transgender. And they are willing to go to court to fight for that right.

“The Biden administration is illegally expanding Title IX to include discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in an effort to force the policy on Utah schools,” Reyes’ office said in a statement sent to me. “The federal government should not hold food for school-age children hostage to force policy change.”

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That, however, is the way this has always worked. When young Sean was in school, districts couldn’t deny lunch to a child whose parents are from the Philippines and Hawaii without jeopardizing his federal funding.

And I understand that “career” is in the statute. So is “sex” and the court has ruled that it includes sexual and gender identity in a similar context. It is not unreasonable to interpret it similarly here. If your state’s policy is to insist that there is a right to deprive children of a school lunch for any reason, don’t count on federal taxpayer dollars to support your bigotry and discrimination.

Sure, you can fight for it, and Reyes has chosen to do that. Or Utah can do the simple, the right thing, and exercise its “state rights” and adopt a policy that covers LGBTQ children. Cox, if he wanted, could probably do it through an executive order or, if that’s too much leadership, at least ask the State Board of Education to adopt a state policy related to lunches. It shouldn’t be necessary for the federal government to tell us that we have to do it.

Naturally, there is a subtext to this. The states’ lawsuit has many of the dog whistles you’d expect: references to the law’s possible expansion to address gender-neutral bathrooms or school sports. In that sense, it gives ambitious Republican politicians like Reyes a chance to stand out by once again attacking vulnerable children.

However, even if you have strong feelings about the bathroom debate or the sports debate, that shouldn’t matter either. Fight those problems separately. It is about whether schools should have the right to deprive children of lunch because they are gay or transgender.

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“It is so disturbing when we know that children trust [school lunches]” said Marina Lowe, director of policy for Equality Utah. “At the end of the day, I think we can all agree that we want kids to be safe at school and have a safe learning environment…regardless of these questions about whether kids should play in teams. The children have to be in school. It is required by law.”

This is not a fight worth fighting—certainly not one that warrants state backing—and it is the latest example of Reyes’ willingness to damage the state’s image for his own political gain.

If Utah schools fail to ensure that gay and transgender students are treated the same as their classmates, the solution is not for ambitious politicians to exploit the problem for points.

The solution is to fix the policy because giving all children a chance to thrive is the right thing to do.

Addition • This column has been updated to include Governor Spencer Cox’s letter to the White House.