By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Wyoming could potentially lose tens of millions of dollars in federal education money if it does not comply with gender identity policies.
The federal government last month tied about $90 million per year in Wyoming education funding to gender identity-friendly policies in schools, which, according to a federal judge, would include non-binary bathroom use.
The United States Department of Agriculture announced May 5 it is reinterpreting Title IX – a nondiscrimination amendment to federal law originally crafted to ensure women’s equal opportunity in sports – to include nondiscrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.
All state and local agencies, program operators and sponsors receiving funds from the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) must update their non-discrimination policies and signage “to include prohibitions against discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation,” according to the statement.
The Wyoming Department of Education in fiscal year 2022 received about $87.5 million in FNS grants, for various school food programs and trainings, according to the U.S. Treasury.
In 2021, the figure was even higher, with FNS granting $97.9 million to the Wyoming Department of Education.
State funding to operate Wyoming K-12 schools is about $1.8 billion per two-year budget cycle, not including building costs.
The state’s department of education nondiscrimination policy at present does not include the two new descriptors. It does include specific protections for individuals’ race, color, national origin, sex, age, and disability, and defers to Title IX, among other federal statutes.
The USDA wrote in its announcement that its new interpretation of the law was prompted by two actions: President Joe Biden’s January 2021 executive order to prevent and combat discrimination “on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation” – and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the 2020 case Bostock v. Clayton County.
In Bostock, the court held that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 extends to sexual orientation and gender identity protections. Bostock has been cited in other cases underpinning bathroom access rights among transgender students.
In a separate case, U.S. Appeals Court Judge Beverly Martin ruled in 2020 that for a Florida teen identifying as a male, access to the boys bathroom is a right under Title IX of U.S. civil rights laws.
Both Wyoming Department of Education leadership and lawmakers on the Wyoming legislative Education Committee were unavailable for comment Wednesday. They were attending a meeting of the committee in Casper.
The USDA did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.