It was not a banner night in the Iowa House for Republicans debating LGBTQ issues and young people struggling with bullying. Up for debate was a high-profile piece of legislation on anti-bullying measures, which had previously passed the Senate 43-7 in a bipartisan fashion. However, the most unbelievable moment came earlier in the evening, during debate on an amendment aimed at adding restrictions to Iowa students wishing to attend the Governor’s annual conference on bullying and LGBTQ issues.
Republican State Representative Greg Heartsill of Marion County seemed unsure when pressed on what LGBTQ stands for, or was, at the very least, unwilling to even mention the words. The bizarre exchange occurred during debate (around 1:11:00 in the video) on an amendment to a larger appropriations bill that included, among other items, a provision for parents to opt their children into conferences or seminars regarding “human growth and development.”
Representative Chris Hall of Sioux City questioned Heartsill, prodding the legislator as to what the language was specifically aimed at. “Parents have been having a situation where their student have been exposed to certain material that they would find objectionable,” Heartsill explained.
Hall persisted with his questions to nail down what in particular Hearstill meant, resulting in the following exchange:
Hall: “Is there a particular conference that you’re referencing?”
Heartsill: “I think there was a conference here about a month ago where there was some obscene material that was presented to minor children, and not only were parents shocked at the material, but also administrators and teachers as well. ”
Hall: “What was the name of that conference?”
Heartsill: “Uh, the Governor’s conference on LGBTQ youth.”
Hall: “And what’s that acronym short for?”
Heartsill: “Pardon me?”
Hall: “Does that acronym stand for something?”
Heartsill: “Uh, I believe it does, but I think it varies from one, you know, one group to the next. I don’t know what all the… I don’t know… do you have the acronym?”
Hall: “I do and thank you for responding to my questions.”
Hall finished out his comments hitting the relevance of the language in the bill. “Some of this language is nothing but a potshot, in my opinion, at lesbian, gay, transgendered youth,” Hall said. “There are plenty of things within this bill we should be discussing, and plenty of things we shouldn’t. I am going to be opposing this amendment because this is absurd.”
The larger piece of legislation at hand that night was the anti-bullying package already passed by the Senate. However, it failed to clear the hurdle in the House with 50 House Republicans voting against the bill, dooming it to a 50-46 defeat. The legislation has been a key priority for Republican Governor Terry Branstad.
“The Iowa House had an opportunity to protect Iowa’s students from bullying and they failed,” said Nate Monson, the executive director of Iowa Safe Schools. “Politics should not be played with the lives of students. According to the most recent Iowa Youth Survey, over ½ of Iowa students have reported being victims of bullying. This form of peer abuse must be addressed and this amendment provided a prime opportunity to move our state forward in protecting youth.”
“This legislation has been vetted for three years,” Hall said in a statement after the night’s votes. “It is well past time to empower students, parents and teachers to change the culture of bullying within schools. Iowans expect more from House Republicans and they deserve to see it move forward this year.”
by Pat Rynard