Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Ordinances in Kenosha, WI: Could You Be Breaking Them?

In the 2017/2018 school year, a biological female student in a Kenosha high school began identifying as a boy. She wanted to use the boys’ restrooms, locker rooms, etc. Kenosha Unified School District’s policy then was that students used the restroom and locker room facilities that corresponded to their biological sex. This student sued the School District. Eventually, in 2020 the District decided to settle the matter out of court and agreed to 2 actions: 1) pay the girl and her attorneys $800,000 and 2) change the District’s policy so that students can use the restrooms, locker rooms, etc., of the gender they “identify” with. 

Kenosha joined many school districts around the state with this SOGI (Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity) policy. A number of local municipalities in Wisconsin have also passed SOGI ordinances related to housing, employment, and public accommodations. 

These ordinances claim to protect people of different gender identities from discrimination. But what do they say? And what are your chances of accidentally breaking one?

What Are SOGI Ordinances?

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Ordinances redefine terms such as “sex” or “gender” to cater to the transgender, gender-fluid, and “queer” communities. Their goal is to ensure that people who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community can be surrounded by comforting and safe environments.

So far, so good – right?

The problem starts with the way these principles are enforced. Ideals such as tolerance and acceptance are hard to define and almost impossible to translate into legislation. As a result, many of these regulations grant special privileges and rights and perceive discrimination behind reasonable, everyday actions.

Enforcing Inclusion: How SOGI Ordinances Are Playing Out in Kenosha

The first SOGI rules in Kenosha came from its School Board. In 2020, the Kenosha School District sought to ensure that students identified as “transgender” had equal access to single-sex spaces, such as restrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams–based not on their biological sex, but on the gender they “identify” with.

By that time, many school districts around Kenosha had already begun addressing this issue. One solution a number of districts have arrived at is to make single-occupancy restrooms available to all students and increased funding for non-physical sports teams.

However, SOGI ordinances went a step further. First, they enshrined the right of each student to request, via a simple letter, to be treated as a member of the opposite gender without any parental involvement.

Second, once a student identified as a specific gender, it became mandatory to automatically treat them as belonging to that gender, with no exceptions. This includes:

What Can You Do About SOGI Policies/Ordinances?

The SOGI policies enacted in Kenosha School District are a classic example of what happens when authorities try to reshape society in a vacuum. The best way to ensure everyone’s rights are respected without imposing beliefs or harming the privacy of others is to place these decisions in the hands of those directly affected by them.

Currently, the City of Kenosha and Kenosha County do not have SOGI ordinances. But that doesn’t mean they have not considered them or that they will not do so in the future. 

The upcoming local elections on April 5th, for example, provide a suitable medium to take back this power. By making your voice heard in the County Board, City Council and School Board, you can bring back sanity to these top-down ordinances.

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Mask Mandates and Business Closures in Kenosha: When is Public Health Going Too Far?

After two years since the COVID-19 crisis began, Kenosha residents continue experiencing a tug of war between public health and personal freedoms. Most of the world is progressively opening up, but there is still a lot of wiggle room involved: how fast should we return to complete normalcy? And, should another spike of cases happen, what should we allow the government to do?

Below is a quick round-up of the latest developments in Public Health around Kenosha.

Mask Mandates at School Overturned, but Still “Recommended”

In late February, the Kenosha Unified School Board finally decided, through a unanimous vote, to end its mask mandate across all local schools. Starting March 28th, the use of masks will be optional and voluntary for parents, students, and teachers alike.

This decision was made after all seven board members reached out to parents and stakeholders and eagerly sought the opinions of those directly affected by mandatory mask-wearing. You can read more about the efforts of organized parents here.

In the end, they decided to open the way for personal choices and responsibility: masks are still “recommended and encouraged” but will no longer be mandatory when attending school.

Kenosha County Public Health will Rationalize Its Contact-Tracing Efforts

Beginning in March, Public Health officials in Kenosha County will stop contacting and ordering the isolation of healthy, low-risk citizens who test positive for COVID-19. Lengthy contact tracing interviews will be discarded, and the office will focus on helping people who are genuinely at high risk of complications.

This measure comes in the wake of new recommendations issued by the Association of State and Territorial Health Offices. It is also in keeping with the desires of many Kenosha residents, who resented the invasive contact tracing process.

But the track record of local public health officials is such that it’s highly likely they will find some reason to reinstate the contact-tracing and isolation policy and will offer Kenosha citizens a flimsy rationalization for their actions.

Courts Curb the Power of Health Officials in Wisconsin

In nearby Walworth County, Wisconsin, the County Board has chosen to overrule Governor Evers’ orders to increase health officials’ power. Now, public health measures cannot be used to control the movement of the population or order business closures.

Residents of Walworth County were spurred into action after Gov. Evers’s public health mandates “gave police powers to health officials.” Local citizens saw the governor’s move as an additional power grab.

The decision to force students to wear masks or determine who can shut down a business – and under what grounds – are major ones. They can shape the lives of citizens radically, and therefore, they should be left to the citizens being affected. 

Local elections are where concerned residents get to say what they want and to ensure their priorities and values are respected. Have you registered for April 5th yet?

Image Credit: Photo by Tai S Captures on Unsplash


Healing After the Kenosha Riots, 18 Months Later

The usually friendly community of Kenosha jumped into nationwide headlines in August 2020, following a string of violent race riots that brought the city to a halt for over a week. These events became one of the biggest highlights of 2020’s Black Lives Matter across the United States.

In Kenosha, however, many residents are still struggling to rebuild and recover what was lost during those chaotic days.

The Gunpowder and the Spark

On August 23rd, 2020, members of the Kenosha Police Department shot Jacob Blake while attempting to arrest him for domestic violence. He was 29 years old and had a warrant for his arrest due to third-degree sexual assault and criminal trespass. After the incident, Blake was taken to the hospital. He survived but was left partially paralyzed.

Although Blake had violently resisted arrest, this incident happened on the heels of other highly-publicized incidents where police shot people of African American descent. As a result, many citizens of Kenosha chose to protest peacefully, while others took the opportunity to set off more violent forms of unrest.

The Riots

Between August 23 and September 1, repeated demonstrations led to nightly clashes with the police. Most residents likely remember those days very well. It’s not every year a small, middle-income city such as Kenosha has to call the National Guard.

The Aftermath

The “Kenosha unrest” left two people dead, plus three others (including a firefighter) seriously injured. According to the Kenosha Area Business Alliance, property damages amounted to $50 Million.

What did this represent for Kenosha families? In many cases, lasting physical imprints remained, and livelihoods were lost. According to Evita Duffy from The Federalist, 40 local family-owned businesses were “closed for good” due to the riots. 

Many of these businesses were already struggling due to COVID-19 lockdowns–but after the climate of fear spread around the city, they found it even harder to recover clients.

Apologies are Still pending; Healing is “in Process.”

Many citizens of Kenosha are still dealing with lingering symptoms of PTSD. In addition, others resent the lack of concern that the state and federal governments showed for the city. 

Both Governor Evers and President (then candidate) Joe Biden made incendiary comments about Kenosha’s police officers and emboldened the rioters. Biden and other Democrats were attempting to ride the wave of radical social change that their voters demanded and sacrificed a small town in the process. 

It may have felt as if only Kenosha people cared about Kenosha for some residents. This is a slightly bitter but essential reminder to hold in the wake of the upcoming April 5th local elections.

Image Credit: Photo by Alex Mccarthy on Unsplash