Capitol Punishments: WILL’s war on trans and non-binary kids

The right-wing lawsuit factory is shocked, shocked, that anyone would threaten the same people it’s been relentlessly targeting.
Illustration: Ghosts and ghouls are shown swarming about the Wisconsin Capitol. Illustration by Maggie Denman.
Illustration: Ghosts and ghouls are shown swarming about the Wisconsin Capitol. Illustration by Maggie Denman.

The right-wing lawsuit factory is shocked, shocked, that anyone would threaten the same people it’s been relentlessly targeting.

Each week in Wisconsin politics brings an abundance of bad policies, bad takes, and bad actors. In our recurring feature, Capitol Punishments, we bring you the week’s highlights (or low-lights) from the state Legislature and beyond.

On Wednesday, the start of Pride Month, the City of Kiel Police Department stated in a press release that it had received a threat: If a Title IX investigation into the harassment of a non-binary student isn’t discontinued by June 3, “multiple locations in the City of Kiel will be targeted,” including all schools, public and private, roads, utility stations, city buildings, stores, the wastewater treatment plant, and the police department itself. 

The city, just a bit to the northwest of Sheboygan, has been living under threats of violence and bombing for weeks after the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) made public what had been a private Title IX investigation into three eighth-grade boys’ harassment of a non-binary student. 

Kiel’s Memorial Day parade was canceled, high school graduation postponed, and school canceled for the rest of the school year. The FBI arrested a California man for threatening to murder a Kiel Area School District staff member. Not a vague threat against all staff—they singled out and threatened an individual person. 

Let’s call this what it is: terrorism. A small Wisconsin community is being terrorized by right-wing Americans. Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty can tweet a statement denouncing the threats and claim they are “antithetical to the spirit of our efforts” but that does not negate their direct responsibility for what is happening in Kiel. 

We don’t know much about the lead-up to the investigation because, again, it was supposed to be private. All we know is that three eighth grade boys are accused of using the wrong pronouns for a non-binary student. The boys’ parents contacted WILL and WILL took to the right-wing media, appearing on Laura Ingraham’s show on Fox News and appearing on Newsmax, and writing an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

And they are shocked—SHOCKED—that that media spree resulted in right-wing terrorists targeting Kiel.

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WILL argues that these students have a First Amendment right to intentionally call their non-binary classmate by the wrong pronouns. Let’s do a little thought experiment and set aside the fact that this child is non-binary. Let’s say there’s a middle school boy that a group of boys call “she” or a girl that those boys call “he.” Does that sound like free speech? Or bullying? 

Title IX was probably invoked because the child is non-binary and you’re not allowed to bully a child and make their life miserable because you disagree with their gender identity, something that is actually none of your business and has no impact on your own life. 

And again, it was a private investigation and it hasn’t even concluded yet. No findings, no punishment.

This is WILL once again putting a polite “conservative law firm” facade on its increasingly overt embrace of hate-group politics

“What if it was an accident?” What if we just live in the real world for a minute, where if the three boys accidentally called a student by the wrong pronoun one or two times, they would just be corrected and everyone would move on. You think a school would undergo a Title IX investigation without cause? You really think schools have nothing else to do?

The same day the Kiel Police Department released details of the threats against the community, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that a Milwaukee Public School counselor is under investigation for saying at an April 23 rally on the Capitol steps: “Not a single one of my students, under my fucking watch, will ever, ever transition socially and sure as hell not medically. Absolutely not. Fuck transgenderism. Fuck it.”

Shocking no one, she lawyered up and hired WILL to represent her.

If that’s what she’s happy to say in front of a crowd on the steps of our state Capitol, what has she been saying to kids during private counseling sessions? And after all the panic about how Critical Race Theory, teaching U.S. history, or even providing children’s books with brown children in them is “teaching hate,” how can people justify defending people who are actually teaching hatred of LGBTQ children? And if you hate them so much that you cannot respect their identities (which, again, have zero impact on you) then you shouldn’t work in education. 

There’s a lot of anger and frustration out there, but for conservatives to channel that into attacking LGBTQ children for existing and their families for supporting and loving them is heinous. These children and their families are also traumatized from the pandemic and are just trying to live their lives. All they are asking for is to be treated with respect and have their basic human dignity recognized. Why is that too much to ask?

Who has power and what are they doing with it?

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