Dave Yost among several other attorneys general opposing federal LGBTQ+ inclusive school lunch guidance
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost joined a coalition of 26 state attorneys general opposing new federal guidance on sex discrimination that he said could result in some kids going hungry.
The U.S Department of Agriculture announced in May that K-12 schools or organizations such as food pantries that receive federal money for food assistance can't discriminate based on orientation or sexual identity – or they risk losing their funding.
The department used a U.S. Supreme Court decision that prohibits sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
Last week, Yost signed a letter along with several other state attorney general’s asking the federal government to withdraw the policy.
Yost said at issue is a significantly broader interpretation of sex discrimination than originally defined in Title IX — which prohibits discrimination based on sex in education institutions that receive federal funds.
"Using hungry children as a human shield in a policy dispute violates basic decency," Yost said in a statement. "Aren’t there any parents in the Biden Administration that can see past the edges of their ideology?"
Ruth Colker, a professor of constitutional law at Ohio State University, said she finds the attorney general's letter troubling.
“We're having these really extreme anti-LGBTQ+ initiatives during Pride Month,” Colker said. “ It fits into this larger narrative of the dangerous times that we live in and how certain kinds of extreme conservative arguments are being used in ways that are inconsistent with what I would consider the sanctity of life.”
The USDA administers funds for essential food programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program commonly known as food stamps and the National School Lunch Programs.
The school lunch program provides free or reduced lunch to eligible students in participating public and private schools. In Ohio, more than 3,000 sites participate in the program, according to the Ohio Department of Education.
In a statement sent by Yost's office, it said the new USDA policy will be “resulting in regulatory chaos that threatens essential nutritional services to some of the most vulnerable Americans.”
But according to data, LGBTQ+ people have historically experienced economic and social disparities that include higher rates of food insecurity than non-LGBTQ+ households, although circumstances can vary.
A survey released by the U.S. Census Bureau showed about 13% of LGBTQ+ adults lived in a food insecure household, compared to 7% of non-LGBTQ+ adults during the peak of COVID.
Colker said a religious institution could claim the guidance conflicts with its religious principles.
“But that doesn't mean that the regulation is wrong or the executive order is wrong. It just means that some exceptions will likely be carved out.” Colker said.
She also added she doesn’t see how the state can have standing to litigate the issue, though, unless it can prove the guidance caused harm or injury. It’s more likely a religious institution that could be reached under Title IX can sue and claim religious principles.
Food reporter Alejandro Figueroa is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Support for WYSO's reporting on food and food insecurity in the Miami Valley comes from the CareSource Foundation.