RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Governor Glenn Youngkin is among those accusing President Joe Biden’s Administration of holding money for school meals hostage to leverage protections for LGBTQ+ students.
It’s now the subject of a multi-state lawsuit that Virginia has joined.
The fight comes after the U.S. Department of Agriculture expanded its interpretation of the anti-discrimination law Title IX in May by including sexual orientation and gender identity. USDA said those who receive federal dollars for food and nutrition services would need to update policies and signage, as well as investigate discrimination allegations, in line with the new guidance.
In the past, USDA has reportedly urged voluntary cooperation while promising to refer violations to the Department of Justice. On Thursday, the agency didn’t respond to questions about enforcement, including if the Administration plans to withhold money and in what circumstances.
Attorney General Jason Miyares added Virginia to a lawsuit alongside 21 other Republican-led states to stop the changes, which they claimed would cause “regulatory chaos.” In a press release, the attorneys general said the changes were unlawful because they were pushed through without public input and based on a flawed interpretation of a Supreme Court decision.
Miyares declined an interview request on Thursday but his spokesperson, Victoria LaCivita, responded in a statement.
“The federal government is telling states that they must either pay for gender-neutral bathrooms and allow biological males to play women’s sports, or they will not receive nutrition assistance for needy children,” LaCivita said. “These are not decisions that should be — nor can be — made by the heavy hand of the federal government, and leveraging food for children in this political fight is beyond the pale.”
Governor Youngkin and 14 other governors doubled down in a letter to President Biden on Wednesday.
“Your Administration would take lunch money away from our kids and grandkids in pursuit of a radical agenda that has no basis in science and is not supported by the vast majority of the American people,” the letter read.
Youngkin also declined an interview request on Thursday.
U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat, said he was “shocked” by Miyares’ decision to sign onto the lawsuit.
Asked if he thinks schools that refuse to adopt trans-friendly bathroom and athletic participation policies will be at risk of losing nutrition funding, Kaine said, “It doesn’t have anything to do with athletes. It doesn’t have anything to do with other aspects of education.”
“I think what schools are being asked to do is to certify that they’re not going to discriminate against kids in the provision of school nutrition services and, of course, they shouldn’t,” Kaine continued.
Anthony Belotti, a college student who identifies as transgender, helped craft Virginia’s model policies for the treatment of transgender students in schools.
While he raised concerns about potentially tying LGBTQ protections to meal assistance for low-income students, Belotti agrees with the Biden Administration’s push to include sexual orientation and gender identity under Title IX.
“Expanding anti-discrimination policies will see trans youth being treated the way that they should be, like everyone else,” Belotti said. “Accepting trans youth is something that’s really, really small that can make a huge impact on that person’s life trajectory.”
Belotti said additional protections could be a “matter of life and death” for a population with high suicide rates.
“They’re playing with people’s lives and that’s not fair. Trans people deserve to be more than political pawns,” Belotti said, when asked what his message would be to Youngkin and Miyares.
In addition to updated guidance from the USDA, the letter Youngkin signed onto referenced a proposed rule change from the U.S. Department of Education, asserting it would “put girls and women of all ages at risk.”
“The DOEd rule would force any institution that receives federal financial aid to allow biological males to access women’s and girls’ locker rooms, bathrooms, and dorms, depriving them of privacy and safety at school. The rule ensures that a far-left ideology on gender will be taught in schools nationwide,” the letter read. “And finally, while DOEd states that it will engage in separate rulemaking to address Title IX’s application to athletics, the policy change the Administration has already put forward leaves us with no doubt the department intends to eliminate fairness in girls sports too.”
In a press release last month, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona celebrated the proposed changes.
“Over the last 50 years, Title IX has paved the way for millions of girls and women to access equal opportunity in our nation’s schools and has been instrumental in combating sexual assault and sexual violence in educational settings,” Cardona said in the release.
“As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of this landmark law, our proposed changes will allow us to continue that progress and ensure all our nation’s students – no matter where they live, who they are, or whom they love – can learn, grow, and thrive in school. We welcome public comment on these critical regulations so we can further the Biden-Harris Administration’s mission of creating educational environments free from sex discrimination and sexual violence,” the release read.