As Kansas Defies Transgender Directive, School Funding and Civil Rights in Question

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) --  After the Kansas Board of Education and state legislature announced yesterday that the state will continue to apply its own gender policies on school bathroom use, instead of following the Obama administration's directive to allow students to use bathrooms associated with their chosen gender identity, questions remain about school funding and student rights, advocates say.

The Kansas Board of Education said it made the unanimous decision to preserve local authorities' flexibility.

"The recent directive from the civil rights offices of the United States Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice regarding the treatment of transgender students removes the local control needed to effectively address this sensitive issue," The Kansas Board of Education said in a statement. "We must continue to provide our schools the flexibility needed to work with their students, families and communities to effectively address the needs of the students they serve."

The board's decision defies the Obama administration directive, which spurred eleven states to file a lawsuit alleging that the federal government has "conspired to turn workplaces and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights."

It also comes at a time when Kansas schools are facing a Supreme Court-ordered shutdown if the legislature can't bridge the funding gap between schools in rich and poor districts. Gov. Sam Brownback called a special session to solve the problem before the June 30 deadline. The special session to prevent a shutdown of Kansas schools is scheduled to begin on June 23, according to the Kansas City Star.

Legislators are eager to get the budget passed, but a partisan struggle may be inevitable. A report that Kansas state Rep. John Whitmer, a Republican, had a bathroom bill in his pocket ready to introduce if Democrats tried to add anything to the school finance bill caused a stir. "If the Dems start trying to muck us up, then I’ll do the same," he told The Kansas City Star.

"I'm extremely frustrated," said Stephanie Mott, executive director of the Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project, about Rep. Whitmer's comments. "You're taking young people trying to live authentically and putting them out there like a bargaining chip," she said in a conversation with ABC News. "When they do things like this it puts trans students in danger."

Many view the timing of Rep. Whitmer's bill, so soon after the LGBT community suffered the tragic events of the Orlando shooting, as insensitive. "Anytime anything happens like that -- all these things increase the risk factors of violence and suicide," said Mott.

While Mott's organization held a vigil for the Orlando shooting victims, they have no current plans for a formal protest against the school board's decision or Rep. Whitmer's bill.

Transgender community advocates also believe restricting bathroom use to one's sex at birth is a civil rights issue.

"It's a dangerous repetition of lessons we learned in the 1950's," said self-described "trans advocate" Hannah Simpson, 31, a mentor for several young transgender students. "The government can't legislate emotion, but it's charged to protect the civil rights of minorities," she said, "not repeat mistakes that led to that civil rights catastrophe."

Simpson has protested various "bathroom bills" through social media using the hashtag "#safe2peehere," in which she posts photographs of people casually toting catheter bags, a tongue-in-cheek reaction to the difficulty of finding a comfortable restroom. "Doing your business shouldn't be anyone else's business," she tells the young transgender students she mentors.


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Celebrities, politicians post tributes to comedian, activist Dick Gregory

Celebrities, politicians post tributes to comedian, activist Dick GregoryBrent N. Clarke/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The death of comedian and activist Dick Gregory at age 84 on Saturday prompted a flood of tributes on Twitter from celebrities, activists and others.

Jane Sanders recalled how her husband -- Bernie Sanders, Democratic senator from Vermont and former presidential candidate -- once spent a night in jail with Gregory after protesting segregation in Chicago.

RIP Dick Gregory, a good & brave man. He & @SenSanders spent the night in jail together for protesting Chicago segregated schools in the 60s https://t.co/pYpMU34eOx

— Jane O'Meara Sanders (@janeosanders) August 20, 2017

Democratic National Committee vice chairman Keith Ellison posted a photo of himself with Gregory. "Thank you for giving yourself to all of us," he wrote.

Dick Gregory, may God Bless you and Keep you. Thank you for giving yourself to all of us. pic.twitter.com/Z1dLIvYuBn

— Rep. Keith Ellison (@keithellison) August 20, 2017

Activist and writer Shaun King posted pictures of Gregory as a young man. "Rest in power, good sir," King wrote.

Because many of you probably only knew Dick Gregory as an older man, I wanted to show you these young images.

Rest in power good sir. pic.twitter.com/ZayInokcaJ

— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) August 20, 2017

Singer John Legend called Gregory a "groundbreaker in comedy and a voice for justice."

Dick Gregory lived an amazing, revolutionary life. A groundbreaker in comedy and a voice for justice. RIP

— John Legend (@johnlegend) August 20, 2017

Some people posted excerpts from Gregory's memoir, "Callous on My Soul," such as when he wrote about a waitress in the South telling him that they "don't serve colored people."

White lady: We don't serve colored people here.

Dick Gregory: I don't eat colored people. Bring me a whole fried chicken.

RIP Mr. Gregory😰 pic.twitter.com/t8dnuRJhBC

— Eugene Gu, MD (@eugenegu) August 20, 2017

Here is a sample of some other tweets paying tribute to Gregory and lamenting his passing.

Comedian Dick Gregory always told it like it is. Our laughter was fuel to fight for justice in an unjust world. RIP 1932-2017 pic.twitter.com/wpbdEkvny1

— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) August 20, 2017

Marching w/ King. Sitting w/ Ali. Paving the way for our comedic greats. All while fighting for us.

Rest well Dick Gregory. #blkcreatives pic.twitter.com/GsfRTjHSuy

— #blkcreatives netwrk (@blkcreatives) August 20, 2017

He taught us how to laugh. He taught us how to fight.He taught us how to live.Dick Gregory was committed to justice.I miss him already. #RIP pic.twitter.com/3CfpM2O17D

— Rev Jesse Jackson Sr (@RevJJackson) August 20, 2017

Rest In Peace to civil rights icon Dick Gregory. An inspiration. A hero. 🙏 pic.twitter.com/kIzeYMNjor

— Ricky Davila (@TheRickyDavila) August 20, 2017


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