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GOP senator willing to delay school meal funding over LGBTQ+ rights

Funding for school meal & nutrition programs is set to expire July 30, a delay could lead to a hunger crisis for millions of schoolchildren

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Photo of a typical school lunch via the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

A bipartisan piece of legislation for school meal programs is at risk after one U.S. senator has signaled he may delay its passage over LGBTQ-related guidance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Keep Kids Fed Act, released Tuesday by Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Reps. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), has already garnered support from both sides of the aisle as it seeks to provide roughly $3 billion in continued funding for pandemic-era universal school nutrition programs.

“My agreement with Senator Boozman, Representative Scott and Representative Foxx will help keep kids fed and is fully paid for,” Senator Debbie Stabenow, chair of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, said in a statement. “With 90% of our schools still facing challenges as they return to normal operations, this will give our schools and summer meal programs much-needed support to deal with ongoing food service issues.”

The legislation would provide additional federal funding to programs established during the COVID-19 outbreak designed to waive financial requirements for all students and allow them to access free school meals throughout the year.

However, guidance issued in May by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that prohibits school nutrition programs receiving federal dollars from discriminating against the LGBTQ community has sparked reservations in Congress that could endanger the funding’s ability to pass before its deadline.

On Wednesday, one day after the bipartisan deal was announced, Senator Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) signaled that he would consider objecting to the bill for fear that the USDA guidance would ultimately exclude schools in his state from being eligible to receive the funding.

“This administration is holding women’s sports as ransom for the radical woke agenda,” Marshal said at a press conference on Thursday. “Now, they’re going to do the same thing with school lunches. They want kids to go hungry at school that don’t fall in line with letting boys play girls sports.”

Further indicating his opposition to the USDA guidance that could persuade him to object to the meal funding, Marshall attempted to turn the tables on the Biden administration for not allowing meal programs in schools to act on their discriminatory beliefs. 

“In these trying times where families are faced with rising inflation, the Biden administration is considering taking food out of the mouths of hungry children over their woke agenda,” Marshall said.

But while the press conference was centered around the 50th anniversary of the landmark anti-sex-discrimination Title IX legislation and the issue of transgender athletes in school sports, the USDA guidance only pertains to discrimination within school nutrition programs funded with federal dollars. Under the language of the guidance, equal access and non-discrimination would be required toward only those involved with the meal programs, like LGBTQ students. 

Other programs under a school district’s jurisdiction like sports programs, that may attempt to limit participation by transgender athletes, would not have any relevance to nor would affect the school’s ability to receive federal meal funding like that in the Keep Kids Fed Act.

Current pandemic-era funding for school meal and nutrition programs is set to expire on July 30. Although the funding has bipartisan support, the looming deadline to pass more funding increases the chances that a delay could lead to a hunger crisis for millions of schoolchildren around the nation.

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Politics

Documents show plans for ‘Christian nationalism’ if Trump wins a second term

Close allies of the former president propose an extreme right-wing agenda

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Former President Donald Trump (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

New documents show that close allies of former President Donald Trump who would likely serve in senior White House roles if he is reelected would make Christian nationalism a guiding principle of governance and public policy in a second term.

Politico reported on Tuesday that it had reviewed a list of priorities for a second Trump administration that was prepared by a right-wing think tank called the Center for Renewing America and included “Christian nationalism.”

In a statement to Politico, a spokesperson at the organization disputed the accuracy of the reporting.

CRA is led by Russell Vought, who was director of the Office of Management and Budget in the first Trump administration and is considered a top candidate for the chief-of-staff job if he returns to the White House.

The bulleted list also featured examples of ways in which Trump would consolidate and exercise the powers of the presidency in a maximalist fashion, including by using the military to quash protests and by refusing to spend congressionally appropriated funds on any projects that he does not agree with.

Sources at CRA who were familiar with the plans told Politico that Vought speaks with Trump at least once per month and plans to leverage his relationship with the former president to elevate Christian nationalism in a second term.

Politico noted that Vought is close with William Wolfe, who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense at the Pentagon and as director of legislative affairs at the State Department during the Trump administration — and has advocated for ending abortion, reducing access to contraceptives and overturning the right to same-sex marriage.

In a post on X last week, Wolfe circulated the false allegation that the shooter who injured two people at a Texas megachurch was transgender, writing “The “T” in LGBT stands for “Terrorist.”

The former Trump official is an advisor on Project 2025, the 887-page governing agenda for the next Republican administration that was created by the Heritage Foundation, another conservative think tank.

Like the CRA document, Project 2025 outlines plans to advance Christian nationalism in American government. Specific policies include the replacement of secular public education with teaching based on the Bible, outlawing all pornography and eroding protections for LGBTQ Americans.

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Congress

House members raise objections to anti-LGBTQ guest chaplain

26 Democratic members signed the letter

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Anti-LGBTQ+ Christian nationalist minister Jack Hibbs (left) with right-wing pundit Charlie Kirk. (Screenshot/YouTube Charlie Kirk podcast)

A group of 26 House Democrats sent a letter on Thursday to Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and Rev. Dr. Margaret Grun Kibben, the House chaplain, raising objections to Johnson’s sponsorship of anti-LGBTQ pastor Jack Gibbs as the lower chamber’s guest chaplain.

“Hibbs is a radical Christian Nationalist who helped fuel the January 6th insurrection and has a long record of spewing hateful vitriol toward non-Christians, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ community,” the lawmakers wrote.

The letter asks Johnson and Kibben for an explanation of “the process by which Pastor Hibbs was recommended, vetted, and approved,” along with answers to other questions raised by the members.

A nationally syndicated TV and radio host, Hibbs is the senior and founding pastor of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in Chino, California, a city located in the western end of San Bernadino County. On its website, the church claims that more than 10,000 adult congregants attend its Sunday service each week.

Among the letter’s signatories were the out chair and three vice chairs of the Congressional Equality Caucus, U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan (Wis.), Robert Garcia (Calif.), Mark Takano (Calif.), and Becca Balint (Vt.).

The members argued portions of the opening prayer delivered by Hibbs on the House floor on Jan. 30, 2024 that concerned “holy fear” and a call for “repentance” for “national sins” were references to his anti-LGBTQ theology that also maligns Jews, Muslims, and those who do not share his Christian nationalist worldview.

The letter chronicles evidence of Hibbs’ extreme statements and positions, among them:

  • Last year, Hibbs launched a campaign that would require schools to forcibly out transgender students, and a month later published a video on his YouTube channel in which he called transgender people a “sexually perverted cult” in “violation of the word and will of God” who are enacting Satan’s “anti-God, anti-Christian plan.”
  • Hibbs characterized same-sex marriage as the crucifixion of God’s word, during remarks to his congregation following the U.S. Supreme Court’s recognition of the nationwide constitutional right to marriage equality in 2015.
  • During public remarks in 2021 and 2022, Hibbs argued that homosexuality and the acceptance of LGBTQ people is evidence that “humanity is living in the ‘last days.'” He has supported conversion therapy and rallied opposition to a California law targeting anti-LGBTQ bullying in schools.
  • Preaching that God was backing the Trump administration, Hibbs attended the rally on the Ellipse that preceded the violent siege of the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6 and subsequently defended the rioters during a radio interview.

The lawmakers also cited procedural objections to Johnson’s selection of Hibbs as a guest chaplain, writing: “Hibbs is not from the district of Speaker Johnson (i.e. the sponsoring member), Speaker Johnson did not deliver a welcoming speech, the prayer was not delivered on the last legislative day of the week, and Hibbs was Speaker Johnson’s second sponsored Guest Chaplain in the span of just a couple months, even though Members are limited to one request per Congress.”

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LGBTQ groups drop opposition to Kids Online Safety Act

The bill is now backed by more than 60 senators

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U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Following changes spearheaded by one of the bill’s sponsors, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a coalition of seven LGBTQ advocacy groups dropped their opposition to the Kids Online Safety Act.

“We would like to thank you for hearing our concerns about the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) and updating the legislation to address potential adverse consequences for LGBTQ+ youth,” the organizations said in a letter to Blumenthal’s office on Thursday.

GLAAD, GLSEN, Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG National, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Center for Transgender Equality and the Trevor Project were the signatories.

KOSA would be the strongest piece of big tech regulation passed in decades, imposing a duty of care for social media companies to prevent their products from harming children along with guardrails around their use of features that could worsen depression, bullying, sexual exploitation, eating disorders and other harms.

Prior to the latest iteration, however, advocates warned the duty of care, coupled with the deputization of enforcement powers to state attorneys general, might facilitate abuses like the suppression of affirming online content sought by LGBTQ youth.

However, “under the new bill text, the duty of care is clarified to focus specifically on the product design features and components that are used to keep kids hooked on their platforms, often to the detriment of the mental health and wellbeing of kids,” a spokesperson for Blumenthal’s office told the Washington Blade.

This applies to “the business model and practices of social media companies, rather than the content that is hosted on their platforms,” they said, covering “features like personalized recommendation systems, nudges, and appearance altering filters” that have been shown to harm young people.

Additionally, enforcement is now under the purview of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, a change that the spokesperson said will ensure “that there is a uniform standard in the enforcement of the provision, rather than differing interpretations for each state.”

The LGBTQ groups wrote that these changes to KOSA collectively “mitigate the risk of it being misused to suppress LGBTQ+ resources or stifle young people’s access to online communities,” and therefore “if this draft of the bill moves forward, our organizations will not oppose its passage.”

The legislation appears poised to do exactly that. Blumenthal’s office issued a press release on Thursday announcing the new bill had earned the support of an additional 12 U.S. senators: Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Angus King (I-Maine), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.).

With more than 60 cosponsors, KOSA is on track to pass in the Senate but faces an uncertain future in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Bipartisan momentum to pass the bill, along with other proposed regulations aimed at dominant tech platform companies, reached a fever pitch during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s blockbuster hearing on Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis on Jan. 31.

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