The legislatures of Kansas and Oklahoma have passed child welfare bills widely described as anti-LGBTQ.

In both states, Republican-majority state lawmakers pushed through measures which would grant legal protections to faith-based adoption agencies who cite religious beliefs for not putting children in LGBTQ homes.

According to NBC News, “Supporters of such measures argued that the core issue is protecting a group’s right to live out its religious faith, while critics saw them as attacks on LGBTQ rights. Both Oklahoma and Kansas have GOP-controlled legislatures and governors, but in Kansas, the proposal split Republicans.” The laws are similar to existing statues in at least five other American states: Texas, Alabama, South Dakota, Virginia, and Michigan.

The Oklahoma House voted 56 to 21 last Thursday to speed the bill through the State House. Later in the same day, Kansas legislators voted for their version of the bill, which passed 63 to 58. By Friday morning the state’s Senate had passed the bill 24 to 15.

Advocates for child welfare and faith-leaders have widely opposed these motions.

In a statement, Human Rights Campaign vice president JoDee Winterhof said “This insidious bill will make it harder for kids to find qualified loving homes and it could be used to discriminate against LGBTQ Kansans.”

Winterhof argued that business leaders, “child welfare advocates, faith leaders and ordinary Kansans have all spoken out against this bill because they understand that needless, discriminatory bills only serve to harm Kansans and the reputation of the Sunflower State.”

The discriminatory aspects of these bills focus on penalizing interfaith couples, single parents, married couples where one person is pre-divorced, persons rejected from other adoption agencies—and, of course, LGBTQ individuals and partners.

Critics have demanded that Oklahoma’s Governor, Mary Fallin, and Kansas’ Governor, Jeff Colyer, veto these bills. Fallin has not reported whether or not she will sign it. Colyer gave the Kansas legislation his public support; he was joined in his advocacy by the head of Kansas’ Department of Children and Families.

LGBTQ youth tend to be over-represented within the foster care, due to widespread rejection by their families.

Transgender actress and activist Laverne Cox used her platform to praise Planned Parenthood for providing health care to transgender people around the country at its annual gala. The actress was honored by Planned Parenthood of New York City at Tuesday night's gala.

"So often when we talk about women's health care, we leave out transgender women," Cox told the crowd. She said she felt that the struggle for safe and affordable women's health care was strongly linked to the struggle of transgender people for the same thing.

In 2014, Cox became the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award.

Outgoing Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards also was honored Tuesday. She stepped down this week as head of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America after 12 years.

Richards told the crowd that when she began in the job, Planned Parenthood had 3 million supporters, and the organization now has 12 million. "For comparison, that's now more than twice the size of the National Rifle Association," she said, to cheers in the room.

Also at the event were actresses Uma Thurman, Sarah Jessica Parker, Chloe Sevigny, and Molly Ringwald, among others.

"The Education Department has told BuzzFeed News it won’t investigate or take action on any complaints filed by transgender students who are banned from restrooms that match their gender identity, charting new ground in the Trump administration’s year-long broadside against LGBT rights,” Buzzfeed News stated.

After same-sex marriage was legalized in the US in 2015, the issue of transgender bathroom usage became a major talking point in the country. Transgender students wanted the right to use the school restroom of their choice, and they wanted to be physically protected from bullies when doing so. However, opponents felt that it was unsafe to allow a different sex into a restroom, and some states attempted to pass rules that forced people to use the restroom and locker room of the sex that they were born.

Since Trump took office, it seemed as if the administration would side with conservatives, but it had not taken a clear stance until now.

Betsy Devos. Photo courtesy of CNN.

Summary: The Department of Education has decided to not investigate bathroom complaints filed by transgender students. 

The Department of Education’s stand on transgender bathroom issues is to not investigate or enforce any action, according to Buzzfeed News. This stance was not made as a formal announcement, but it is their interpretation of the law.

“The Education Department has told BuzzFeed News it won’t investigate or take action on any complaints filed by transgender students who are banned from restrooms that match their gender identity, charting new ground in the Trump administration’s year-long broadside against LGBT rights,” Buzzfeed News stated.

After same-sex marriage was legalized in the US in 2015, the issue of transgender bathroom usage became a major talking point in the country. Transgender students wanted the right to use the school restroom of their choice, and they wanted to be physically protected from bullies when doing so. However, opponents felt that it was unsafe to allow a different sex into a restroom, and some states attempted to pass rules that forced people to use the restroom and locker room of the sex that they were born.

Since Trump took office, it seemed as if the administration would side with conservatives, but it had not taken a clear stance until now.

“When the Education Department and Justice Department withdrew Obama-era guidance on transgender restroom access in February 2017, Trump’s officials said in a memo and court filings that they would “consider the legal issues involved.” Then last June, the Education Department issued another memo saying it was “permissible” for its civil rights division to dismiss a trans student’s restroom case. However, in those statements, officials never cemented their intent to reject all restroom complaints issued by trans students,” Buzzfeed News wrote.

The Department of Education, which is led by Betsy Devos, said that transgender students are not covered by Title IX, a federal civil rights law that was passed in 1972. Title IX states that discrimination based on sex is not permitted, and the DOE said that sex does not include gender identity.

"Where students, including transgender students, are penalized or harassed for failing to conform to sex-based stereotypes, that is sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX,” DOE spokesperson Liz Hill said. “In the case of bathrooms, however, long-standing regulations provide that separating facilities on the basis of sex is not a form of discrimination prohibited by Title IX.”

After the DOE decided to not hear cases involving transgender students, transgender activists expressed their disappointment to Buzzfeed.

“That interpretation represents an appalling abdication of federal enforcement responsibility, inconsistent with the law and with courts’ interpretation of the law, and totally lacking in human compassion for children in school, whom the Department is charged to protect,” Catherine Lhamon said.

Lhamon led the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights during President Barack Obama’s administration.

The law "ensures that LGBTQ youth will not be tortured by mental health professionals."

 

On Friday, lawmakers in Hawaii cleared the way for SB 270, a ban on licensed therapists performing conversion therapy on minors, to be sent on to Democratic Governor David Ige, who is expected to sign it into law.

The State Senate passed SB 270 in March with just one nay vote. It cleared the House of Representatives earlier this month, but the addition of several amendments meant the measure was sent to conference committee. On Friday, it cleared committee and now heads to Ige’s desk.

“This has been a priority of the caucus for years,” said Michael Golojuch, chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii’s LGBT Caucus. SB 270 “ensures that LGBTQ youth will not be tortured by mental health professionals.”Praising the Senate for passing the bill, HRC’s JoDee Winterhof called conversion therapy “nothing short of child abuse with life-threatening consequences for countless LGBTQ youth."

Lt. Gov. Doug Chin, now running for Congress, said he supported the bill “based upon my firmly held belief that no one should ever be made to feel there is something ‘wrong’ with them because of who they love or how they identify.”

As attorney general, Chin defended Hawaii’s marriage equality but he but came under criticism for a 1995 speech at the Oahu Church of Christ, in which a 20-something Chin told families supportive of LGBT youth, “The Bible is right, your family is wrong! Is there any shame in that? What’s so bad about that? God is right, your family is wrong.”

Chin, now 51, has apologized for the sermong, saying he had “grown up a lot since then.”

But State Representative Kaniela Ing claims he’s just lying for political gain. Ing points to a history of Chin “preaching anti-gay and anti-choice sermons.”

“To see him fighting for this conservative, anti-gay, anti-women values for his whole life, then all of a sudden change his mind, is disingenuous.” He claims Oahu Church of Christ held a pray-the-gay-away conference as recently as 2016. “So it’s very frustrating to me to see him flip-flop now that he is running for Congress. If Chin truly had a change of heart, he would apologize for his years of denouncing LGBTQ people and denounce the destructive teachings of his Church.”

Hawaii is the 12th state to ban conversion therapy for minors, with Maryland passing its law earlier this month. A measure to prohibit it for adults, as well, is working it through the California Legislature.

According to the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, some 20,000 LGBTQ minors be subjected to conversion therapy by a licensed healthcare professional in states without such protections.

 A transgender teacher in Kansas has been named "National Educator of the Year" by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.

Wichita North High School music teacher Stephanie Byers came out as a transgender woman in 2014, The Wichita Eagle reported.

Byers said she decided to come out as a transgender woman just five years shy of possible retirement, despite her fears about what it could mean for her and those around her.

 

"There was an urgency to it, and I could no longer put it off," Byers said. "But there's still the fear, because you never know."

Byers said she didn't transition to be a pioneer or an advocate, but that she's become both.

The 55-year-old has in recent years met with school leaders, participated on panels about LGBTQ issues, talked with parents about gender identity, chaperoned a local "Day of Advocacy" and spoken at the state Capitol.

Byers said she's received "absolutely amazing" support from Wichita district officials and from North High Principal Sherman Padgett.

"People that I have never spoken to in this building came up and wrapped their arms around me to tell me how much they care for me and love me and were proud of me," Byers said. "It was very, very affirming."

Padgett said he nominated Byers for the award because she's "just an all-around great teacher and a great person."

"It would be great if we could get to the point where we can normalize the LGBTQ community," said Padgett. "She chose to live her true identity, and when that just becomes normal, that's when kids will realize they belong here just as much as everyone else

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