Republicans may oppose school lunch bill over LGBTQ+ anti-discrimination clause


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Republicans are coming out against a bill that would extend school meal waivers because the U.S. Department of Agriculture won’t allow schools to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The bill, called the Keep Kids Fed Act, would increase the reimbursement rates for school food programs and provide free meals to students who are eligible for reduced-price meals, continuing a pandemic-era program that is set to end at the end of the month. It was introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers including Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia), Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina), Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), and Sen. John Boozman (R-Arkansas).

Given the time sensitivity of the matter, the Senate is hoping to pass the bill on an expedited schedule. Just one senator could hold up the bill for days. It seems there may be such a senator: Roger Marshall of Kansas, who told Politico that he is “contemplating” objecting to the measure, preventing it from moving quickly to the House. His opposition to the bill is not feeding children; it is feeding gender nonconforming children.

Marshall was one of five senators who sent a letter to the USDA last week asking the agency to rescind a memo that prohibits “sexual orientation and gender identity” discrimination by entities that receive funds from Food and Nutrition Service programs. This rule could potentially lead to the denial of federal funding for school lunches to schools that have anti-transgender policies like prohibitions on students using the bathrooms that align with their gender identity.

[Marshall] claimed the administration was trying “to use the school lunch issue to gain leverage over [schools’ broader LGBTQ policies].”

“I’m just afraid that schools in Kansas won’t have school lunches because of this administration’s radical view on transgender issues,” Marshall said. “And I’m afraid that they’re going to raid the school lunch program over that issue.”

Republican attorneys general in 26 states, led by Tennessee AG Herbert Slatery, likewise called on the administration to rescind the rule:

But by vastly expanding the concept of “discrimination on the basis of sex” to include gender identity and sexual orientation, the Guidance does much more than offer direction. It imposes new—and unlawful—regulatory measures on state agencies and operators receiving federal financial assistance from the USDA. And the inevitable result is regulatory chaos that would threaten the effective provision of essential nutritional services to some of our most vulnerable citizens.

The USDA, however, says that it will not withhold school lunch funding over gender discrimination not implicated by the nutritional program. “Rather, individuals could only file complaints if they’ve been discriminated against by the specific school lunch program based on gender identity,” Politico explains. In other words, a vote against the Keep Kids Fed Act would actually be a vote to keep food from LGBTQ+ students.