When Did Equality Become a Political Ideology?

Wyoming’s communities deserve better.

Every child in Wyoming deserves to be safe.

Every child has a constitutional right to an equitable, high-quality education.

Every child deserves to learn, grow, and thrive in safe classrooms, schools, and communities.

No one should be discriminated against. Period. It’s the ideal under which we live in the Equality State.

But that doesn’t seem to be a priority for Brian Schroeder, Wyoming’s superintendent of public instruction.

Last week, Schroeder condemned the USDA’s recent announcement that it would include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity as a violation to Title IX. Initially enacted in 1972, Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance.

He implied that the federal government is forcing a political ideology on Wyomingites with its revised interpretation of Title IX and that if we don’t comply, our free and reduced-cost lunch program for students in need is in jeopardy.

But it’s important to note that the federal government did not change Title IX or create new law with the USDA’s announcement. For years, federal courts have found that discrimination on the basis of sex in education includes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The USDA said its interpretation is “consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, in which the Court held that the prohibition on sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 extends to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

In any instance in which a state, district, or school violates federal Title IX legislation, federal funds for Wyoming schools are jeopardized. Wyoming schools have a legal and moral obligation to comply with Title IX legislation, both to ensure Wyoming students enjoy the same commonsense protections as other students across the nation and to protect the integrity of Wyoming’s influx of much-needed federal funds.

Schroeder’s statements follow a barrage of activity in Wyoming related to LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit people and their protections under the law.

These remarks are especially disheartening during Pride month – our time to celebrate the culture and diversity of the LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit community across the state.

In May, Fremont County School District #1 voted to remove language specifying five protected classes — gender identity, sexual orientation, veteran status, marital status, and pregnancy — from the district’s non-discrimination/harassment policy. Now, only age, race, color, religion, national origin, sex, and disability remain as explicitly protected classes. Community members spoke out against this change in droves. A protest ensued shortly after the board’s vote to amend their policies, and parents of LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit students pointed to the removal as an act of betrayal and hostility toward LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit youth.

We know our Wyoming communities. We know that here in the Equality State, Wyomingites want to live and let live without fear, judgment, or discrimination. We value our freedoms, and we take great strides not to tread on the freedom of our neighbors. Wyomingites are not hateful, or bigoted, nor are we controlling. So, we simply cannot allow a small, loud faction to pit neighbor against neighbor in a needless, manufactured clash of division and political stunting.

Our LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit students’ lives are at risk. According to a survey by The Trevor Project, an organization that provides crisis support for LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit youth, nearly half of LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit youth have seriously considered suicide. According to the survey, 45% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. Additionally, nearly one in five transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide.

More than half of our LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit students do not feel safe at school. The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network’s 2019 School Climate Survey revealed that 59.1% of LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, 42.5% because of their gender expression, and 37.4% because of their gender.

In his response to recent Title IX updates, Superintendent Schroeder said, “I only hope that ‘We the People’ have the stomach to stand up to it, because it won't stop until the people say ‘enough.’” We agree. 'We the People' must stand up and say 'enough.' Enough discrimination. Enough politicking at the cost of our kids’ wellbeing, safety, and lives. We, the People, won’t stand for discriminating against our kids. We won’t stand for anything less than safe, welcoming public schools that encourage all students to learn, grow, and thrive. We, the People, won’t sacrifice our constitutional right to high-quality, equitable education for all Wyoming students. We, the People, will protect our students and our future.

Our respect and support for Wyoming students remains relentless. 

This blog was written by the Wyoming Education Association, Wyoming Equality, the Equality State Policy Center, and the ACLU of Wyoming.