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Top Kansas Lawmaker Leads Protest On Federal LGBT Directive

Stephen Koranda
Kansas Public Radio

A top Kansas legislator circulated a letter Wednesday protesting the federal government's recent directive on accommodating transgender students in public schools and promising that lawmakers will "use every possible avenue" to resist it.

Speaker Ray Merrick invited fellow House members in an email to sign on to the letter. It questions whether President Barack Obama's administration has the legal authority to direct schools to allow transgender students to use restrooms and other facilities associated with their gender identities instead of their birth genders. He circulated his letter on the same day that 11 other states, led by Texas, filed a federal lawsuit challenging the directive.

Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, plans to send the letter June 2, the day after the Legislature plans to have a ceremony adjourning its annual session, spokeswoman Rachel Whitten said. As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 20 GOP representatives had signed on.

"This is notification that we will use every possible avenue to protect Kansas children and their parents from blatant federal overreach," Merrick's letter said. "We will not stand by while Kansas children are used as pawns in a social engineering experiment."

The letter is addressed to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and U.S. Education Secretary John King, responding to guidance their agencies issued earlier this month.

Tom Witt, executive director of the LGBT-rights group Equality Kansas, called the letter "disrespectful" and said he wishes Merrick recognized the need to protect transgender youth from harassment.

"Isn't it just easier to treat all kids the same rather than to figure out ways you can single kids out for bullying?" Witt said.

The letter said the lawmakers who sign it also encourage state Attorney General Derek Schmidt, another Republican "in using all legal means to defend the state."

Two separate but identical bills were introduced in March in the House and Senate to block schools and colleges from allowing transgender students from using facilities associated with their gender identities. But neither received even a committee hearing.

Critics of the Obama administration's directive contend it endangers students' safety and improperly bypasses Congress. Supporters argue the directive combats discrimination.

Kansas isn't involved in the Texas lawsuit, but Schmidt said in a statement that it will work closely with the other states. Kansas already is involved in another case before a federal appeals court in which a transgender Virginia teenager sued to be allowed to use the boys' restroom at his school.

Some conservative Republican lawmakers have talked about expressing their opposition to the federal directive through a nonbinding legislative resolution. But Merrick's spokeswoman said he views the letter as a better alternative because lawmakers are scheduled to be in session again only briefly June 1 for the adjournment ceremony.

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