Politics & Government

Kansas legislators asked to sign letter against U.S. transgender bathroom guidance

House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell
House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell Wichita

The Kansas House probably won’t consider a resolution next week objecting to federal guidance on transgender restroom use in schools, but House Speaker Ray Merrick is asking legislators to sign a letter to the Justice and Education departments opposing it, a spokeswoman for the speaker said Wednesday.

Merrick, R-Stilwell, has circulated the letter to all House members asking them to join him in opposing a recent federal guidance letter advising public schools to allow transgender students to use bathroom and locker-room facilities corresponding to their gender identities.

His letter criticizes the guidance as a new interpretation of Title IX, a violation of states’ rights and “blatant federal overreach.”

The letter encourages Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt to challenge the federal guidance by “all legal means.”

We will not stand by while Kansas children are used as pawns in a social engineering experiment.

Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick

“We will not stand by while Kansas children are used as pawns in a social engineering experiment,” Merrick wrote.

The federal letter said forcing transgender students to use facilities corresponding to their sex at birth would violate Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits gender discrimination in public schools. School districts must comply with Title IX or risk losing federal funding.

Eleven states – including Texas and Oklahoma – said Wednesday that they are suing the Obama administration over the directive.

Merrick’s letter questioning the directive will be sent to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Education Secretary John King on June 2, the day after the Legislature’s annual “sine die” meeting, which marks the ceremonial end of the legislative year, said Merrick spokeswoman Rachel Whitten.

Conservatives push for stronger wording

Some conservative Republicans had expressed a desire to consider a resolution at sine die expressing the House’s opposition to the federal guidance, but Merrick has decided not to do that, Whitten said. As speaker, Merrick controls the House agenda.

Rep. John Whitmer, R-Wichita, one of the legislators working on the resolution, said they still plan to have a final draft of the resolution ready to present at sine die on Wednesday.

He said he thinks Merrick could change his mind about the resolution if enough legislators sign on to ensure passage.

Merrick’s letter is fine and he’ll sign it, Whitmer said, but the proposed resolution will be more strongly worded and, as a formal action, would send a stronger message to the federal agencies.

A turnoff for national employers?

Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, said he opposes Merrick’s letter and will not sign it, although he acknowledged that the speaker and supporting lawmakers have the right to petition the federal government.

He said he would oppose any effort to pass a formal resolution, which he said would be “an expression of hostility by the state of Kansas toward transgender individuals. We know what the consequence of that is.”

We would find ourselves with the same brand of shame (as North Carolina) If we want Kansas to be open for business, resolutions like this discourage national employers from coming to our state.

Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita

Carmichael cited North Carolina, which faces lost business and boycotts by entertainers upset that the state has passed a law requiring transgender people to use restrooms corresponding to their sex at birth.

“We would find ourselves with the same brand of shame” as North Carolina, Carmichael said. “If we want Kansas to be open for business, resolutions like this discourage national employers from coming to our state.”

Accusations of blackmail vs. bullying

In his letter, Merrick questions whether the federal government has the authority to intervene on school restroom use. He wrote that instead of settling the matter, the guidance letter “caused even more confusion surrounding this extremely sensitive and controversial issue.”

By threatening federal funds if school districts fail to comply with this edict, you are blackmailing states in a manner never authorized or intended under the U.S. Constitution.

Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick

“You direct Kansas public schools and all others around the nation to forsake fairness, compassion, and privacy for a vast majority of students in favor of social experimentation that carries huge safety risks,” Merrick wrote. “Further, by threatening federal funds if school districts fail to comply with this edict, you are blackmailing states in a manner never authorized or intended under the U.S. Constitution.”

Thomas Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said the House speaker and those who agree with him should “quit picking on little kids” in their opposition to LGBT rights.

Witt, who was beaten and stabbed in a school restroom as a gay high school student, said it would threaten transgender students’ safety to force them to use restrooms with students who might violently object to their gender identity.

Honestly, the best way to protect children is to quit singling them out as different.

Thomas Witt, executive director, Equality Kansas

“I know what happens in middle school bathrooms and Ray Merrick knows what happens in middle school bathrooms,” Witt said. “Honestly, the best way to protect children is to quit singling them out as different.”

Contributing: Associated Press

Dion Lefler: 316-268-6527, @DionKansas

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