West Allis — Over the past decades, Robert Braun has protested outside abortion clinics, tried shutting down adult novelties store and, most recently, challenged Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele when same-sex marriage licenses were first handed out.
Braun, a supporter of the so-called conservative Christian movement, finds himself and his band of like-minded activists on the firing lines of issues in the Milwaukee/Waukesha area that grates against the beliefs of his group.
As the new year gets underway, Braun, a West Allis resident, says he is ready and willing to take on a recent controversial topic amid the contemporary cultural conversation — restroom accommodations for transgender persons.
“I intend to do something about it,” Braun said. “I’m not going to just sit by quietly.”
Braun’s speaking out against accommodations for transgender persons comes on the heels of a discussion at a West Allis-West Milwaukee School Board meeting last month. Administrators and board members explored the issue in depth during a committee-level discussion.
As with all public school systems across the U.S., West Allis-West Milwaukee is grappling with policies pertaining to transgender students’ rights. The issue has been especially controversial as use of bathrooms and locker rooms has entered the discussion.
Early in the school year, Braun said he attended a West Allis-West Milwaukee School Board meeting and sounded off on the issue as he went before elected officials.
At the moment, Braun said he is exploring his options related to so-called bathroom bill legislation. He said he is attempting to coalesce a group of like-minded activists who will attempt to preserve past practices.
Braun concedes he is slowing down — but not stopping — in his activism efforts.
“I’m still involved in a lot of different areas,” he said. “But it’s personally tough to take on a lot of these things. I’m limited in what I can do.”
Braun grabbed headlines in June 2014 when he filed a small-claims lawsuit against Abele as the county executive made accommodations for same-sex marriages in response to a ruling the state’s ban against same-sex marriages was unconstitutional.
Braun’s lawsuit, which was eventually dismissed, took aim at Abele for ordering the Milwaukee County courthouse remain open for additional hours to accommodate an influx of LGBT couples who sought marriage licenses.
As for transgender persons’ rights, particularly with regard to restroom usage, a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court is waiting in the wings.
The heart of the controversy is rooted in anti-discrimination language, which lays out a number of provisions, including calls on districts not to display bias against such characteristics as race, religious affiliation and sex.
The nation’s top court will rule on whether the term “sex” encompasses gender identity, in addition to the traditional definition of biological gender. If so, districts might have to give transgender students the opportunity to use restrooms and locker rooms, if requested, based on their desired gender.
During the recent West Allis-West Milwaukee School Board meeting, Superintendent Marty Lexmond said the district this year is hosting a small number of students whose current gender identities differ from their biological ones.
Lexmond said the district is attempting to serve the transgender students in as practical a manner as possible without causing any disruption to the entire student body.
During the recent robust discussion on the topic, several West Allis-West Milwaukee board members weighed in on the topic and noted the delicate balancing act at play.
“I’m a little uncomfortable about this, and I have to upfront and honest with you about it,” board member Sue Sujecki said at the meeting. “I know things have evolved. I want to be sensitive to the transgender students … but at the same time, we have to be considerate of everyone.”