On Tuesday, July 26, more than 20 Republican Attorneys General filed a lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The suit is in response to the inclusion of a clause the federal school lunch program that requires any state receiving federal Food and Nutrition Services to update its nondiscrimination policy to protect LGBTQ+ kids. Here’s what you need to know.
The USDA oversees the federal school lunch program, which offers free lunches to approximately 30 million children across the United States. The program is run through schools, which gives kids access to free or reduced-price school breakfast and lunches. The program also addresses the rising costs of supply chain issues and inflation by making it easier for schools to buy food by increasing reimbursement rates.
What does the nondiscrimination clause in the USDA’s school lunch program mean?
In May, the USDA expanded its definition of Title IX in the Food and Nutrition Act. Now, if a school discriminates against a student based on their gender identity or sexual orientation, “state and local agencies, program operators and sponsors that receive funds from FNS must investigate allegations of discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.”
This change states that any school lunch administrator receiving federal funding for school lunch programs must “investigate allegations of discrimination on gender identity or sexual orientation.” The change also required all organizations to update their discrimination signage and policies to prohibit LGBTQ+ discrimination.
“This action is...in line with the USDA’s efforts to promote nutrition security...[and] consistent access to safe, healthy, affordable food essential to optimal health and well-being. Nutrition security places an emphasis on advancing equity to ensure all Americans have access to nutritious foods that promote health and well-being regardless of race, ethnicity, identity or background,” the USDA said in its May statement.
More than 22 Attorneys General are suing the USDA over this nondiscrimination policy.
Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery is leading the lawsuit, claiming that the change in the nondiscrimination policy that the USDA is requiring schools and states to follow “misconstrue the law.”
“This case is, yet again, about a federal agency trying to change law, which is Congress’ exclusive prerogative,” Slatery said in a statement, according to NBC News. “The USDA simply does not have that authority. We have successfully challenged the Biden Administration’s other attempts to rewrite law and we will challenge this as well.”
The Attorneys General involved in the lawsuit against the USDA filed on Tuesday are from Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Why are the 22 Attorneys General suing over the nondiscrimination policy?
The suing Attorney Generals say that the USDA’s inclusion of gender identity and sexual orientation in the Title IX clause is unlawful. They state that there wasn’t an opportunity to have it debated, contended, or let others weigh in, which they say is required by the Administrative Procedures Act.
“They also argue that the USDA is misinterpreting the Supreme Court case Bostock v. Clayton County, which extended sexual discrimination in the workplace to include discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation,” Texas Tribune explains. Bostock v. Clayton County is the landmark Supreme Court case that decided that The Civil Rights Act protects employees against discrimination due to their sexual identity or identity as transgender.
All of this is happening as an alarming number of bills targeting the rights of LGBTQ+ Americans become law, many that directly attack kids’ safety.
As of June 2022, at least 25 anti-trans bills have been signed into law in the United States at the state level. Trans kids are being banned from sports and LGBTQ+ history has been banned from being taught in schools. In some states, doctors are threatened with jail time if they offer gender-affirming care to trans kids. Parents are being investigated by states like Texas as child abusers for supporting their transgender kids, and in some places, social transition has been banned from schools.