Crusade Against Transgender Iowans Targets Classrooms

In a continued crusade against the rights of transgender Iowans, a bill to discourage education about gender identity was heard in an education subcommittee yesterday.

Senate File 167 states that curriculum for kindergarteners can’t include any instruction relating to gender identity.

For grades one through six, parents or guardians have to give their written consent for a student to learn about gender identity in school, and if they don’t, the student can opt out of that instruction.

In the Tuesday morning subcommittee, the majority of speakers were opposed to the bill on anti-discrimination grounds, the erasure of trans and non-binary Iowans from education and on the idea that if the legislature starts adding hurdles to some educational topics, there’s no telling what else they might restrict in the future. 

People especially had problems with the bill singling out trans and non-binary people.

“There’s no other topic specifically prohibited under the Iowa educational standards in the way this one would be,” said Keenan Crow, the director of policy and advocacy for One Iowa Action. “There is no other topic I’m aware of which uses this two-stage opt-in mechanism that this one sets up. This and only this information is treated as if it is somehow harmful, obscene or shameful.”

In schools with bans on sexual orientation education, Crow explained, students report a more hostile environment from students and school staff, and less protection from harassment. 

“We know the impact of what these kinds of bills are because we’ve studied them,” Crow said.

On the contrary, schools with inclusive curricula have the exact opposite effect.

“Trans and non-binary youth that have schools with inclusive curricula report 25 percent less risk of suicide,” said Damian Thompson, the director of public policy and communications at Iowa Safe Schools. He said those students also report less bullying. 

Research done by GLSEN, an organization started to help LGBTQ students, proves that.

“When LGBTQ students see themselves reflected in the curriculum they are more engaged in their learning, resulting in increased educational success. Teaching about LGBTQ topics may also help to dispel myths and stereotypes held by the general student body, resulting in a safer and more accepting school climate,” the GLSEN report states. 

There was also concern that this type of legislation could open the door to additional discrimination. 

“If we were to start down this path and prohibit instruction related to gender identity, arguably, we could also prevent instruction related to race (and) physical disability,” said Melissa Peterson, government relations specialist for the Iowa State Education Association.

The bill’s supporters—Chuck Hurley, Daniel Sunne and Danny Carroll—came exclusively from the Family Leader Foundation, an Iowa-based, conservative political group dedicated to “strengthening families, by inspiring Christ-like leadership in the home, the church, and the government.” The group is loosely affiliated with the conservative Focus on the Family organization.  

It was heavily involved in the movement to remove the Iowa Supreme Court Justices who legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa.

They argued that gender identity education is “indoctrination” and that parents should have a say in what their children are taught. Sens. Jim Carlin and Ken Rozenboom echoed that sentiment.

Margaret Buckton, a lobbyist for Rural School Advocates of Iowa and the Urban Education Network of Iowa, pointed out that parents do have that opportunity.

“We have an open and public process for communities and parents to have input when curriculum is being adopted,” she said. “There’s information in student handbooks for how to talk to parents, to principals, to the school board about any of the curriculum that you might have questions about.”

Phil Jeneary, the government relations director of the Iowa Association of School Boards, said, “Most schools, if not all, already have a process for curriculum in this area that notifies the parents of when it’s going to be taught. If there are issues, parents should be talking with the teachers, with the administration on what can be done.”

Despite that, Rozenboom’s comments stemmed from his belief that the bill’s opponents want to hide gender identity education from parents. He also accused schools of getting between parents and students.

Carlin also said his concerns are about keeping parents in the dark, and he incorrectly compared teaching children about gender identity to sexualizing them.

“What this is about is restoring parental involvement in very serious conversations,” he said.

Carlin also missed the point others made about how denying LGBTQ children recognition is what increases the risk of suicide. He suggested that teaching children about gender identity could put them on that path, and it’s wrong to exclude parents.

Both Carlin and Rozenboom signed the subcommittee report.

“To your point, Sen. Carlin, transgender youth are at a higher suicide risk and sometimes that is due to the parents’ inability to understand what is going on in their life,” Sen. Claire Celsi said. “And sometimes the school counselor and educators and folks in their school are the people that are helping them.”

Celsi also said that sometimes parents don’t support their children the way they should, or children don’t feel comfortable trusting them with things like their gender identity, and teachers often fill that gap as mentors and authority figures. 

She did not sign the report.

“I’ve read my email, a lot of it’s from educators saying bills like this are extremely harmful,” Celsi said. “You know, [they’re] the ones who pick up the pieces at school when things go wrong at home.”

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