Metro Weekly

Iowa bills would bar schools from teaching gender identity or portraying it in a positive light

Schools would have to seek parental consent, and teach about "de-transitioning" when broaching issues of gender in class

gender identity
Republican lawmakers are seeking to ban schools from teaching about gender identity — Photo: Iowa State Capitol by Cburnett, via Wikimedia

A pair of Iowa bills would bar schools from teaching gender identity unless parents consent beforehand, and would force any instruction mentioning gender identity or gender dysphoria to also include instruction about the negative effects of gender dysphoria, transitioning and gender-affirming care.

Senate File 167 would prohibit teachers in school from teaching or acknowledging the concept of gender identity — that a person’s identity may differ from the sex they were assigned at birth — even in health or science class, without obtaining express permission from a child’s parents.

Gender identity could not be acknowledged or talked about in a kindergarten classroom, and could only mention the concept in limited circumstances during grades 1-6.

Under the bill, a teacher could not provide “instruction” relating to gender identity without obtaining prior written consent of a student’s parent or guardian. If a parent or guardian withholds consent, a student may opt out of instruction to gender identity.

The bill refers to “instruction” on gender identity as it pertains to school-approved curriculum on health, science, or human growth and development.

But some LGBTQ advocates fear that, if passed, administrators would embrace an overly broad interpretation of the bill, even in instances where gender identity was not taught as part of the curriculum.

In those cases, the law would effectively serve as a gag order: teachers could potentially be disciplined or fired simply for acknowledging the concept of gender identity exists in an offhand manner, as when trying to respond to or side-step a student’s query on transgenderism; affirming the gender identity of a transgender child by calling them by a name or pronouns that don’t match their assigned sex at birth; or even intervening to stop bullying of a transgender student at the hands of others.

SF 167 is being backed by a cadre of Republican lawmakers: Jim Carlin (R-Sioux City), Jason Schultz (R-Schleswig), Jeff Taylor (R-Sioux Center), Craig Johnson (R-Independence), Mike Klimesh (R-Spillville), Amy Sinclair (R-Allerton), Ken Rozenboom (R-Oskaloosa), and Tom Shipley (R-Corning).

If parents do consent to allowing their child to receive instruction relating to gender identity, a House bill introduced by State Rep. Jeff Shipley (R-Fairfield) would ensure that teachers could not portray gender identity or transgenderism in a positive light.

Under Shipley’s bill, HF 236, if a school district offers curriculum that provides information relating to gender identity, teachers must include educational materials and references speaking to the discomfort of gender dysphoria, the existence of “transition regret” and “detransition,” and the potential harm and adverse outcomes facing those who undergo “social and medical gender interventions,” which could include, but are not limited to surgery, hormone, and puberty blockers.

Those bills aren’t the only ones targeting the LGBTQ community, and specifically transgender individuals. A House bill sponsored by Dean Fisher (R-Montour), Skyler Wheeler (R-Orange City), Mark Cisneros (R-Muscatine), and Sandy Salmon (R-Janesville) seeks to remove gender identity from the list of protected classes under Iowa’s civil rights laws.

See also: Iowa Republicans want to prevent teachers from discussing Pete Buttigieg’s sexuality without parental consent

If passed, the bill would prevent transgender people who claim they’ve been discriminated against in employment, housing, eduction, or credit; denied wages; or barred from accessing public accommodations from filing a complaint with the state’s civil rights commission or seeking any remedy for injuries they’ve suffered.

A similar bill, backed by the anti-LGBTQ organization Family Leader, failed last year after a Republican committee chair quashed the bill.

At the time, Fisher, the bill’s chief patron, raised several objections to recognizing the gender identity of transgender Iowans, expressing concerns over trans females potentially being housed in women’s prisons, transgender athletes participating in women’s sports, and still-lingering anger over an Iowa Supreme Court ruling from 2019 finding that the state couldn’t prevent Medicaid from paying for gender confirmation surgeries because doing so would be considered a form of discrimination under the state’s civil rights law.

Republican lawmakers later amended the civil rights law to state that government entities are not required to cover the costs of gender confirmation surgery. But Fisher thinks the inclusion of gender identity as a protected trait in law just opens up a whole host of potential problems where transgender rights will come into conflict with traditional notions of gender or sex-segregated spaces. 

“I think we’ve just got to nip this in the bud,” Fisher told the Storm Lake Pilot Tribune last year. 

Other anti-LGBTQ bills being pushed in the Iowa Legislature this year would explicitly bar transgender athletes from competing according to their gender identity; bar trans-identifying children from obtaining gender-affirming medical care, even if their parents consent; carve-out a host of religious exemptions to allow anti-LGBTQ discrimination in marriage, foster care, or public services; and even out transgender students to their parents if they seek to be referred to by a name or pronouns that conflict with their assigned sex at birth.

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