House votes to bar sexual orientation, gender identity teaching in Iowa elementary schools

Iowa schools would be barred from teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through sixth grade under a bill passed by the Iowa House Wednesday.

The legislation is one of many bills Iowa Republican lawmakers have introduced this year that focus on LGBTQ Iowans, particularly transgender children. Earlier in the day, the House passed a bill banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth under 18, sending it to the governor for her signature.

LGBTQ rights groups have condemned the bills. About 200 people rallied at the Iowa Capitol in opposition Wednesday to protest it and several other bills, the latest in a series of protests, including a student-led school walkout last week.

The Iowa House voted 62-35 Wednesday to pass House File 348, with one Republican, Rep. Michael Bergan, R-Dorchester, joining every Democrat in opposition.

Republicans said the legislation is about getting back to academics and leaving conversations about sexual orientation and gender identity to parents.

"Parents are in charge of the moral upbringing of their children. Parents deserve the first say on when and how certain social topics are introduced to their children," said Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Hull. "And parents should be able to send their children to school and trust they are being educated, not indoctrinated."

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Democrats said the bill would make some students feel unwelcome in class, lead to bullying and prevent teachers from helping students understand different perspectives.

"When we seek to deny all kinds of instruction, the conversation ends," said Rep. Heather Matson, D-Ankeny. "And when you end conversation, you create stigma. When you create stigma, you create an unsafe environment. That’s what we’re talking about today."

Wheeler said, "parents should parent and teachers should teach."

"Children go to school to learn how to read, to write, to do math and the history of our great nation," he said. "They do not go to school to learn about woke, radical gender ideology."

U.S. Rep. Skyler Wheeler (R-Orange City)
U.S. Rep. Skyler Wheeler (R-Orange City)

Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, a retired public school teacher, said there is no "woke agenda" in Iowa schools. But, she said, the bill makes it harder for teachers to create a welcoming classroom environment for all their students.

"When I taught, the first thing I did was worry about the climate of the classroom," she said. "I wanted all my students to feel accepted for who they are, where they come from, what their background is, because once those kids felt accepted by the rest of the class, by the teacher, they learn better."

The House bill is not the only legislation this year seeking to restrict what students can be taught about gender identity.

Gov. Kim Reynolds introduced a separate education-related bill, Senate File 496, that would ban instruction about gender identity and sexual activity from kindergarten through fifth grade, or sixth grade if it's part of an elementary school.

Both Reynolds' bill and the House legislation go further than Florida's law, which critics call "Don't Say Gay," that bans instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity through third grade.

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What would the bill do?

The House bill would ban any public school district or charter school from providing "any program, curriculum, test, survey, questionnaire, promotion or instruction relating to gender identity or sexual orientation to students in kindergarten through grade six."

The bill does not apply to private schools.

The bill would also provide school districts, school board members and employees legal representation from the Iowa attorney general's office if they are sued as a result of following the law.

More:Transgender 'bathroom bill' passes Iowa Senate. What that means for kids

Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Iowa House votes to ban lessons on sexual orientation, gender identity