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Iowa House bill bans lessons on gender identity and sexuality in school

Two bills passed in the Iowa House limit school curriculum by banning instruction of gender identity and sexual orientation, and effectively prohibiting books with graphic sexual content.
John Pemble
IPR file
Two bills passed in the Iowa House limit school curriculum by banning instruction of gender identity and sexual orientation, and effectively prohibiting books with graphic sexual content.

Gender identity and sexual orientation would be banned topics in Iowa schools under a bill passed out of the House of Representatives Wednesday.

The proposal (HF 348) covers kindergarten through sixth grade and says discussion related to gender identity and sexual orientation cannot be part of any “program, curriculum, test, survey, questionnaire, promotion or instruction,” in Iowa schools.

Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Hull, said those conversations should start with parents, not teachers.

“If (students) have questions and these types of topics come up they should be directed to go home and talk to their parents about it,” Wheeler said. “That is the appropriate avenue to have a conversation with these kids at such a young age. The parents have a vital interest in these conversations.”

A similar curriculum ban is part of a bill from Gov. Kim Reynolds in the Iowa Senate, although her proposal targets gender identity and sexual activity, not sexual orientation.

Democrats opposed the bill saying it demeans teachers and stigmatizes LGBTQ students and their families. Rep. Ruth Ann Gaines, D-Des Moines, said if teachers cannot discuss LGBTQ issues they cannot create a welcoming learning environment for all children.

“When you say we can’t teach kids about the LGBTQ community, that all we are there to do is to teach academics, that’s blind,” said Gaines, who taught for decades in Des Moines schools. “In order to teach academics you have to be able to talk about where those kids are, and every child is at a different point.”

The bill passed by a vote of 62 - 35 with only Republicans voting in favor of it.

Redefining ‘age appropriate’ books

School library books and curriculum must be age appropriate under another bill passed out of the Iowa House Wednesday. The bill defines age appropriate to mean that a book cannot be obscene, or show or describe sexual acts.

Conservative parents groups such as Moms for Liberty have been lobbying for limits on graphic content in school curriculum and library books.

Rep. Brooke Boden, R-Indianola, said the House proposal gives school administrators new “guardrails” to follow.

“Parents may still read the books of their choice to their own children,” said Boden, who sponsored the bill after chairing two House Government Oversight Committee hearings about book challenges. “We’re simply setting age appropriate guidelines for K-12 settings, making sure that we’re protecting our children.”

Democrats point out that schools already allow parents to opt their kids out of reading certain books. They said that’s the right process to follow so that parents can judge for themselves what is appropriate without deciding what other people’s kids can read.

Rep. Sue Cahill, a Democrat from Marshalltown, said schools should judge books as a whole not on graphic passages removed from their context.

“There may be some passages that taken out of context may seem inappropriate, but we look at the literary value of books — how it represents students in our school system,” said Cahill, adding that the bill is broad enough to ban some literary classics.

It passed 60 - 37 with three Republicans joining Democrats voting against it.

A related bill from Gov. Kim Reynolds in the Iowa Senate (SF 496) would require school boards to formally approve all new library books, making sure they contain no “obscene material or sexually explicit material.”

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa