SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem on Thursday threatened to sue the Biden administration over a Department of Agriculture school meal program that defines discrimination as based on sexual orientation and gender identity, while the department said it is working to get voluntary compliance before referring violations to the Department of Justice.
The Republican governor earlier this year pushed the state to become one of more than a dozen states to ban transgender athletes from girls' school sports leagues. At the time, some opponents to the proposal argued that South Dakota's law, which is set to take effect July 1, could imperil federal funding for the state's public schools.
Noem on Thursday claimed that the USDA was poised to withhold funds for school meal programs and issued a combative statement: “President Biden is holding lunch money for poor Americans hostage in pursuit of his radical agenda.”
The USDA announced earlier this month it would include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity as a violation to Title IX, a sweeping 1972 law that guarantees equity between the sexes in “any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." But it was not clear whether the federal government would hold back funding for school meal programs as part of its enforcement.
The USDA responded to a question about whether it would withhold the funding by issuing a statement that said it is “rooting our discrimination in any form” and it will handle any discrimination of LGBTQ people as sex discrimination.
“Program operators who fail to comply will be in violation of civil rights laws and in breach of the agreements they signed in order to receive federal funds,” the department said. “At that time, USDA will interpret the prohibition through traditional compliance and discrimination complaint mechanisms, which could include up to referring the case to the U.S. Department of Justice.”
Noem's spokesman Ian Fury said the state would not file litigation at least until the USDA's final rule is published.
Meanwhile, other states that have passed laws banning transgender athletes have been challenged in court. Lawsuits have been filed against bans in Utah, Idaho, West Virginia and Indiana.
Stephen Groves, The Associated Press