As we continue to watch the succession of legislation proposed by the Kentucky General Assembly, I find myself thinking about this greeting from Senate President Robert Stivers on the Legislative Research Commission’s website:
“The legislature is the people’s branch of government. Members of the Kentucky Senate welcome questions and feedback from people throughout the state. Your participation helps us find solutions that work best for Kentucky families.” (emphasis added)
And this greeting from Speaker of the House David Osborne:
“On behalf of the Kentucky House of Representatives, I thank you for your interest in the work of the General Assembly. Keeping a strong connection between citizens and lawmakers helps set the best course for Kentucky’s future.” (emphasis added)
Despite these platitudes suggesting that elected leaders rely on — or even consider — their supposed relationship with the people of the Commonwealth, the majority party consistently prioritizes national culture war distractions and shameful political gambits over the real and pressing issues facing Kentuckians.
After attacks on reproductive freedom, barring transgender youth from playing sports, and blocking transgender youth from receiving essential medical car in recent years, the 2024 legislative session is just more of the same. This year’s target is literally ripped from the headlines: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).
In just the first few days of session, SB 6 — the “Divisive Concepts” bill — was filed. The low bill number indicates a high priority for Senate leadership, and the bill sets its sights on our colleges and trade schools, creating a definition for “divisive concepts” and chilling campus activities that create a sense of safety and help create healthy environments for students.
If SB 6 was not extreme enough, the House recently filed HB 9. This bill defines so-called “discriminatory concepts” as subjects of “inquiry” as opposed to historical fact. It seeks to close DEI offices/departments, end DEI training, and end many scholarship opportunities for historically marginalized groups.
Shockingly, HB 9 also allows for the Attorney General to bring civil actions against colleges or universities found in violation of its ludicrous provisions. It requires universities to submit annual “governmentally mandated discrimination” reports to the legislature and publication on their website. While HB 9 claims that none of its provisions should be “construed to affect First Amendment rights or academic freedom,” it is a blatant and thinly veiled attempt to silence discussions of race, gender, and sexuality on campuses. If HB 9 is passed into law, it will suppress free speech and deny people the right to an accurate, complete, and inclusive learning environment.
Not content with attacking expression of free thought and an honest depiction of history in post-secondary institutions, another anti-DEI bill, SB 93, would remove any training or efforts focused on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging from our primary schools, and remove any language related to a trauma-informed approach in Kentucky K-12 schools.
It is laughable at best, and cruel at worst, that our legislators are spending precious time and taxpayer money on these issues while our Commonwealth sits consistently near the bottom when it comes to child welfare, literacy rates, and student performance in the United States.
In addition, an incredible number of Kentucky students are being cared for by grandparents or other family members in the face of the mass incarceration crisis and the opioid epidemic. Kentucky kids have been displaced from their homes by natural disasters, all while trying to regain ground lost during the COVID pandemic. Study after study has found kids’ mental health is in crisis. At such a time as this, one wonders why lawmakers would strip public school teachers and school counselors of their ability to address extraordinary student needs through trauma-informed approaches. Why, when so many of our students are feeling isolated, would we tinker eliminate with any efforts to promote inclusion and belonging in our classrooms?
The provisions in SB 6, SB 93, and HB 9 are not new or unique to Kentucky. We've seen them filed in dozens of states as part of an anti-Black, anti-brown, and anti-LGBTQ+ backlash to DEI efforts that blossomed during the racial reckoning of 2020. Dismissing inequities, or legislating Kentuckians’ ability to even discuss our differences, does not erase racism or, bigotry, or any otherand will only exacerbate the problems our society state, and society face.
The General Assembly’s message to Black, brown, differently-abled, and LGBTQ+ Kentuckians is this: we’re moving on, and we’re going to keep ignoring your concerns.
Kentucky legislators: is that your motivation behind these proposed policies? To indicate you don’t care about your constitutents? To leave them behind?
What, exactly, are you afraid of?
Once again, the only “divisive” or “discriminatory” concepts in the Commonwealth are those being promoted by the Kentucky General Assembly.