Iowa GOPers Propose 'Don't Say Gay,' Anti-Trans Bills

Skyler Wheeler and Pat Grassley
Skyler Wheeler and Pat Grassley

Republican legislators in Iowa have introduced their version of a “don’t say gay” bill, largely mimicking the one that became law in Florida last year, and a bill that would essentially out transgender and nonbinary students to their parents.

House File 8, introduced Wednesday, would prohibit instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. House File 9, introduced the same day, would bar schools from making accommodations for a student’s gender identity, if different from the one assigned at birth, without the written consent of a parent or guardian. It also says school staff must not encourage students to undergo gender-affirming care or pressure their parents into allowing them to receive it.

House File 9 is partly a reaction to policies like that in Iowa’s Linn-Mar Community School District, which allows students to set up a gender support plan without giving notice to their parents, the Iowa Capital Dispatch reports. Parents Defending Education, a right-wing group, has filed a lawsuit against the policy.

“We need to empower parents,” House Speaker Pat Grassley, a Republican who cosponsored both bills, told The Gazette. “In our opinion, that’s what the goal of these [bills] are, making sure conversations are happening with children and their parents, instead of happening in the school system. We feel confident standing in that position.”

Republican Rep. Skyler Wheeler, also a sponsor of both, made a similar comment. “Parents want to know what’s going on,” he told the Dispatch. “They need to know what is happening with their children. They need to be the first one to be helping their children through processes and things that they truly need help with.”

But it’s not as simple as that, LGBTQ+ advocates pointed out. “We absolutely encourage students to come out to their parents on their own time, on their own ground, their own rules, when they are most comfortable,” Damian Thompson, director of public policy for Iowa Safe Schools, told the Dispatch regarding House File 9. “Ultimately, unfortunately, there are parents that are just not affirming people. And that can really put a student in danger get if they are outed, not on their own terms.”

Of House File 8, Keenan Crow of One Iowa told the publication, “It’s taking all the tools that educators have to deal with bullying on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and throwing them up out the window. If we’re saying that you can’t have any materials or announcements regarding gender identity or sexual orientation, that the very antibullying policies that school districts are required to publicize and to create training materials around for students are not going to be able to be shared with the students.”

But Wheeler said the bill wouldn’t have such a deleterious effect. “If a kid has, you know, same-sex parents, nothing prevents them in this bill from mentioning that in class,” he said to the Dispatch. “It just simply says to the teacher, ‘Hey, we’re going to stick to what we’ve been teaching.’”

Sen. Liz Bennett, who is bisexual and was the first queer woman elected to the Iowa legislature, called both bills harmful. “This sends the message to these kids that people think that there is something so wrong” with being part of the LGBTQ+ community, Bennett, a Democrat, told The Gazette. “That’s incredibly harmful.”

“I think it’s really sad that at a time when Iowans are struggling to afford groceries, trying to find jobs, struggling to go the doctor, etc., that we’re seeing more extreme culture war legislation,” she added. “That should not be the priority here in Iowa.”