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Iowa Senate advances another bill that bans teaching about gender identity

The entrance to the Senate chamber
Madeleine Charis King
IPR file photo
A bill advancing in the Iowa Senate would require parents to give consent for a school to use a gender affirming name for a transgender student, while a House bill would stop a school from disciplining a teacher who uses a name different from what a student prefers.

An education proposal from Gov. Kim Reynolds is advancing in the Iowa Senate that includes plans to restrict teaching about gender identity and moves to limit access to some books in school libraries.

The wide-ranging bill (SSB 1145) bans discussion of gender identity and sexual activity in kindergarten through third grade. Similar proposals in the House and Senate would ban the topic through sixth or eighth grade.

“I would venture a guess that currently a lot of these subjects aren’t being discussed in lower elementary, and I don’t think they should be discussed,” said Sen. Lynn Evans, R-Aurelia, who supports the bill.

Opponents of the measure told members of a Senate subcommittee Thursday that early discussions about gender identity are important to prevent bullying. Des Moines middle school student Noa McIver said he’s against the bill because it stops children from being able to explore their own identities.

“It’s important to let kids decide when and how they come out,” McIver said, speaking from handwritten notes. “Don’t erase me or my experience by banning language or books. Don’t erase my queer friends or my queer heroes. We deserve the right to be who we are when we are ready — at school, at home and everywhere in between.”

Reynolds’ proposal includes language also put forward in a separate House bill that requires a parent to give written permission before a school can agree to use a transgender student’s preferred name — which the bill calls a “nickname” — or pronouns.

The governor’s bill goes farther by requiring any teacher or school worker to immediately notify a parent if a child expresses a gender different from their sex at birth, unless they believe doing so would likely make the student vulnerable to abuse.

Pete McRoberts of the ACLU of Iowa questioned how teachers would know when to report a student to their family.

“How does that apply to a girl who wants to play football in a school with no girls' football team? How does that apply to things like clothes they wear?” McRoberts asked. “This is broad enough that a teacher is required to notify anything different than a standard that isn’t even in here.”

Molly Severn, the governor’s legislative liaison, said the bill is meant to give a parent more control over their child’s education and to make it easier to know what’s happening at school.

Under the bill, school districts would be required to post online a list of all the materials teachers plan to use in their classes as well as a list of every book available to students in the library and in classrooms.

The bill also picks up on the topic of book challenges in schools. It would create a website that would serve as a clearinghouse to show all books that have been removed from Iowa schools. In addition, if a book is removed from one school, all other students across the state would need a parent’s permission in order to check it out from their local school library.

Opponents said that gives one group of parents power to decide what other peoples’ kids should read.

But Pam Gronau of Urbandale feels the bill doesn’t go far enough. Gronau is a member of the organization Moms for Liberty which has promoted efforts by conservative parents to challenge books they consider obscene. She said lawmakers should act more forcefully to restrict access to books with sexually graphic content.

“Books containing sexualized content should have to be marked and require parental consent before the book can be checked out,” Gronau said.

Republican members of the subcommittee said they plan to make changes to the governor’s proposal. Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, said she has concerns about the reporting process around students expressing a different gender identity and the details around curriculum transparency, but she supports the main idea behind the bill which she said is to empower parents.

“The underlying principle here is that we as the State of Iowa want parents to know that they are the ones ultimately responsible for the care and education of their children and that as a government of the state we are going to support them in that endeavor and nothing more,” Sinclair said.

The three GOP members of the five-person subcommittee agreed to move the bill to the full Senate Education Committee.

Bill prevents discipline for using the wrong name for trans students

LGBTQ students, parents and activists told a House subcommittee Thursday that a bill advancing in the Iowa legislature would protect teachers who disrespect transgender students in their classrooms.

The bill (HF 367) prohibits schools from disciplining teachers who call a student by something other than their preferred name or pronouns if they use the student’s legal name.

Lindsey Ellickson of Cedar Rapids told lawmakers that her child enjoyed school until fifth grade when they came out as transgender. After that, Ellickson said, going to school made them miserable.

“I saw what happened from my kid being consistently misgendered and deadnamed by teachers,” Ellickson said. “I saw the self-harm it caused. We are in therapy. My kid does not like school. They wake up, they don’t want to go to school. A lot of times it is unfortunately because of how they’ve been treated by teachers.”

Andy Sutton of Ankeny said the proposal also runs counter to both House and Senate proposals that say parents must give consent for transgender students to change their name and pronouns at school. She said this bill effectively gives teachers permission to go against a parent’s wishes.

“This bill implies that you only want to honor some parents’ rights, not all,” Sutton said. “This legislation not only ignores the notion of all parents’ rights, it continues the marginalization of trans youth.”

Rep. Heath Stone, R-Forest City, said the bill is meant to defend teachers who hold different views on gender identity.

“There are teachers that are parents as well and I need to take their feelings into account,” Stone said. “All I’m trying to do is just say if a teacher does not address a child in the way they want to be named and they use their legal name the school can’t fire them, can’t demote them, can’t take any financial penalties.”

Rep. Tom Moore, R-Griswold, the other Republican on the three-person panel said he has “a lot of problems” with the bill but agreed to sign on to “continue conversation” at the committee level.

The bill was passed on to the full House Education Committee.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa