In 2015, then Assembly Member Vicki Dooling (R-Henderson) introduced a bill to restrict transgender students’ access to school restrooms. Three years later that bill, along with the underlying issues fueling that bill, has reemerged as a last-minute Republican attack on Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak (D). What’s the backstory behind this attack, and what does it say about the state of our politics in 2018?
2015: How one bill posed a threat, only to result in furthering transgender equality in public education
In 2015, various right-wing groups saw the new Republican majorities in the Nevada Legislature as their opportunity to reshape public policy more to their liking. In addition to promoting bills to mandate voter ID, roll back early voting, restrict abortion access, allow guns at all public spaces, and endorse the Bundys’ “range war” against the federal government’s authority over public lands, Assembly Member Vicki Dooling introduced AB 375 to force transgender students to use the restroom that corresponds to the sex they were assigned at birth rather than the gender they identify as now.
Despite Assembly Republican leaders agreeing to allow a floor vote, five Republicans voted with all seventeen Democrats to defeat the bill. And near the end of that session, the Legislature instead passed Governor Brian Sandoval’s SB 504 to establish the “Safe and Respectful Learning” anti-bullying and comprehensive mental health program in Nevada public schools. Then in 2017, the Democratic-run Legislature passed SB 225 with bipartisan supermajorities to strengthen Sandoval’s 2015 anti-bullying law and ensure Nevada public schools fully integrate transgender students.
Up north, Washoe County School District (WCSD) has already established policies to respect transgender students civil rights. And down south, the Clark County School District (CCSD) Board of Trustees have taken two votes this year to move forward in establishing similar policies to protect transgender students in schools and ensure they’re treated equally alongside all other students.
2018: Laxalt and allies revive transphobic “culture war” in last-ditch effort to defeat Sisolak
While Sandoval has come around to fully support LGBTQ+ civil rights during his time as Nevada’s Governor, Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R) has most certainly not. During his campaign for Attorney General in 2014, he mocked the fight for marriage equality as a “political issue” he wasn’t interested in while his allies tried to explain away his past writings that condemned federal legislation to lift the military’s ban on LGBTQ+ Americans serving openly in the armed forces.
Fast forward to 2018. While Steve Sisolak has promised to defend LGBTQ+ Nevadans and other historically marginalized communities from the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back civil rights, Laxalt has largely stood with Trump and endorsed “religious freedom” exemptions to weaken civil rights laws.
In other #nvgov ad news, a new group called "Nevada Parents for Safe Schools" (not registered with the state) is running anti-transgender FB ads saying @SteveSisolak "supports letting high school boys shower with your daughter" #nvgov pic.twitter.com/A8PRPaDeIz
— Riley Snyder (@RileySnyder) October 15, 2018
And now, just days before Las Vegas PRIDE and in-person early voting begin, a new dark money group has begun running this ad attacking Sisolak for “support[ing] letting high school boys shower with your daughter”. Never mind that 2015’s SB 504, 2017’s SB 225, and the WCSD and CCSD transgender civil rights policies have anything to do with that. Again, it’s about ensuring transgender students are fully integrated into schools, thereby protecting students from the very real threat of bullying that can escalate into something far more dangerous.
Might there be a common denominator here? And if so, who?
This group, “Nevada Parents for Safe Schools”, does not identify who runs it and/or who funds it. However, there is one person who’s continually been commenting on its posts and defending its content on social media. Interestingly enough, this one person happens to be the same religious right lobbyist who wasted no time in moving from California to Nevada to further her career here.
Shortly upon moving to Reno from Northern California, Karen England worked with Dooling to write and introduce AB 375 in 2015. Despite her failure to pass that legislation through a Republican controlled Legislature, England continued to build her brand here in establishing the Nevada Family Alliance. She’s continuing to fight against integrating transgender students in public schools, and her organization lists several other religious right causes, including “religious freedom” (as in, “license to discriminate” against LGBTQ+ Americans).
Regardless of how deeply involved Karen England is in this Facebook attack ad against Sisolak, it’s another sign of the cruel reality of American politics in 2018. While Sisolak was quick to condemn the ad, Laxalt has thus far remained silent. Meanwhile, Laxalt continues to campaign on the kind of “economic anxiety” that earned him President Donald Trump‘s endorsement. As this 2018 campaign nears its conclusion, thousands of Nevada students are now being attacked on the campaign trail. This not only raises questions of how a Governor Adam Laxalt would enforce the state’s civil rights laws, but what his allies behind this attack really think of this state’s voters.