Metro Weekly

Trump’s USDA tries to reverse 4-H organization’s pro-LGBTQ policy

Human Rights Campaign issues FOIA looking into what motivated push to rescind transgender protections

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue – Photo: Lance Cheung, via Wikimedia.

The Trump administration has been pressuring the national 4-H youth organization to rescind a policy allowing LGBTQ participants — setting in motion a series of events that led to the firing of Iowa’s 4-H state director, according to the Des Moines Register.

The international 4-H organization, which has more than 6 million members, partners with more than 100 public universities to allow youth to participate in hands-on project in areas like health, science, agriculture, and citizenship. In 2016, as part of an effort to modernize the group and increase membership, LBGTQ-identifying and gender-nonconforming children were told they could become 4-H members if they desired, and that their sexual orientation or gender identity would be respected.

To assist in this effort, leaders of 4-H groups were asked to look at the Obama administration’s guidance on how transgender students are to be treated according to their gender identity and tailor it to 4-H. Several 4-H state leaders drafted a “best practices” document for dealing with transgender and gender-nonconforming children, in particular, that was revised multiple times before being finalized.

The resulting guidance for 4-H was posted to the website of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the federal department that oversees and administers 4-H, as well as some state 4-H chapter websites.

But the inclusion of provisions treating transgender children based on gender identity rather than biological sex sparked a backlash from evangelical groups and conservative parents.

Due to that outcry, Heidi Green, then-chief of staff for U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, asked that it be rescinded just days after the guidance’s publication. A NIFA communications manager then warned 4-H organizations in Iowa and New York to remove the LGBTQ-friendly guidance from their websites.

In keeping with the Trump administration’s view of gender as fixed and immutable, and its continued efforts to rescind some of the federal protections granted to transgender individuals under the Obama administration, the USDA and NIFA sought to bring all 4-H programs in compliance. Most notably, in Iowa, 4-H director John-Paul Chaisson-Cárdenas, who had advocated in favor of being more inclusive of LGBTQ children, was eventually fired for resisting efforts to rescind the guidance.

In response to the Trump administration’s machinations, the Human Rights Campaign sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the U.S. Department of Agriculture inquiring into Perdue and his subordinates’ attempts to reverse the policy. HRC believes that the decision, like several others rescinding LGBTQ protections may have been motivated by pressure from conservative political groups.

The FOIA request demands “any and all records, including but not limited to letters, memos, emails, text messages, phone records, budget requests or estimates, and other documents related to the Trump administration pushing the national 4-H youth organization to withdraw a policy welcoming LGBTQ members.”

“For over a century, the national 4-H youth program has taught tens of millions of children the importance of character and community,” JoDee Winterhof, HRC’s senior vice president for policy and political affairs, said in a statement. “This latest action by the Trump-Pence Administration is an unnecessary and cruel attack on LGBTQ youth that seeks to destroy community rather than create it.

“It is unconscionable that the anti-LGBTQ discrimination under this president has now inexplicably expanded into the Department of Agriculture,” Winterhof added. “We are determined to get answers on how this came about and demand that Congress protect LGBTQ youth from this callous attack.”

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