Metro Weekly

Iowa Now Has Its Very Own “Don’t Say Gay” Law

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed a "parental rights" law restricting LGBTQ content in schools and outing trans students to their parents.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds – Photo: Office of the Governor.

Iowa has joined the ranks of Republican-led states adopting a “Don’t Say Gay” measure that censors discussions of LGBTQ content in schools, outs transgender students prematurely, and makes it easier to ban books from school library shelves.

The law, billed as a “parental rights” measure, was signed into law by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds last Friday.

The new law seeks to codify a “fundamental, constitutionally protected right” of parents to make decisions about their children’s medical care, extracurricular activities, and “moral and religious upbringing.”

However, parents of transgender youth are barred from making decisions about their medical care under a ban on gender-affirming care signed into law by Reynolds earlier this year.

Under the bill, teachers are barred from broaching any LGBTQ-related topics, even in passing, before seventh grade, according to The Des Moines Register. It also turns teachers into reporters, forcing them to prematurely “out” students who are using or asking to be referred to by gender-affirming pronouns to their parents.

Going forward, schools must obtain parental consent before students can participate in any school climate surveys asking about their mental, emotional, or physical health, as well as questions about political affiliation, sexual behavior, drug or alcohol use, religious beliefs, or family income.

Information about HIV and HPV transmission will also be removed from school curricula.

The law also contains provisions to make the process of challenging books with alleged “sexually explicit” content and having them removed from school libraries.

But some critics fear that any LGBTQ-themed title or work by an LGBTQ author will be cast as “sexually explicit” — regardless of what the text actually says — under a broad interpretation of the law.

While Reynolds praised the law in a statement, she avoided mentioning the bill’s impact or its intent in prohibiting discussions of LGBTQ content. 

“This legislative session, we secured transformational education reform that puts parents in the driver’s seat, eliminates burdensome regulations on public schools, provides flexibility to raise teacher salaries and empowers teachers to prepare our kids for their future,” Reynolds said in the statement. “Education is the great equalizer and everyone involved — parents, educators, our children — deserves an environment where they can thrive.”

LGBTQ advocacy groups have condemned the law, saying it will harm more LGBTQ children than it helps.

“While we are not surprised that the Governor signed her signature bill containing multiple provisions intended to directly discriminate against LGBTQ students, we are still extremely disappointed,” Courtney Reyes, the executive director of the LGBTQ organization One Iowa, said in a statement.

Reyes slammed Reynolds for signing the law, as well two bills — a ban on gender-affirming care and a bill restricting which restrooms and facilities transgender students may access in schools — she previously signed into law earlier this year  “behind closed doors.”

“Like many other centerpieces of the Governor’s agenda, this legislation will harm an already vulnerable group of children and will benefit no one,” added Reyes. “The Governor constantly cites the film Field Of Dreams, but maybe she needs to rewatch it. The people banning books in that movie are the villains, not the heroes.”

The education advocacy group GLSEN, which seeks to combat anti-LGBTQ bullying and harassment in schools and create more inclusive environments for LGBTQ students, also criticized the law.

“It’s disturbing to see more and more extreme ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans’ bills become law in states like Iowa, a state that was once a beacon for inclusion and the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in the Midwest,” GLSEN Executive Director Melanie Willingham-Jaggers said in a statement. 

“This legislation was created to silence LGBTQ+ students and remove spaces for them to be their authentic selves,” Willingham-Jaggers said. “GLSEN’s recent School Climate Survey showed that students are experiencing increasingly hostile school environments as support declines. These ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans’ bills have a catastrophic effect on queer youth and silence supportive educators who are often a lifeline for them.

“Iowa legislators claim that this bill is meant to ‘protect children’ despite the fact that just weeks ago, Governor Reynolds signed a bill to roll back labor protections for children, allowing them to work longer hours and take jobs that had previously been prohibited,” Willingham-Jaggers added. “Let’s be clear: These extremist leaders don’t care about protecting our youth. As these vicious attacks target vulnerable communities across the country, we must work together to rise up and support LGBTQ+ youth.”

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