Despite 20 minutes of parents, counselors, teachers, and one student explaining the ways House File 9 would hurt students, Republican Reps. Skyler Wheeler (R-Hull) and Brooke Boden (R-Indianola) passed it through the subcommittee.
HF 9 could forcibly out many LGBTQ students by requiring schools to tell parents or guardians if a student asks to go by a different name or pronouns while at school, regardless of the student’s wishes or their home situation.
Most of the people who spoke were opposed to the bill on the grounds it would potentially put children in danger, violate Title IX and Iowa code, violate confidentiality requirements and infringe on the rights of children to express themselves.
“Let me begin by saying that in a perfect world, this topic wouldn’t even be an issue. All kids would grow up in a safe and nurturing home with supportive and loving parents, they wouldn’t be afraid to talk with their parents about anything,” said Lisa Stowe, a parent of a trans daughter. “But this isn’t a perfect world, and some kids fear their parents.”
Multiple speakers talked about the statistics of transgender youth who only have support from school.
“The bill’s undermining accommodations that make a child feel safe at school forces schools to elevate the need of parents who are uncomfortable with gender identities that are different from their own above the actual safety concerns of another child,” said Laura Hessburg, director of public policy for the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
The Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth, found in 2022 that 51% of trans and nonbinary youth said school was a gender-affirming space. Only 32% said the same thing for their homes.
“This bill is a form of government overreach that will ultimately put students in direct danger,” said Damian Thompson, director of public policy and communication at Iowa Safe Schools.
“Transgender youth face a real risk of rejection by adults who are supposed to care for them, increases suicidality when they’re rejected by family, and substance abuse risk,” he continued. “Furthermore, up to 40% of all homeless youth are LGBTQ, partially due to forced outing policies in schools like these. Many of the students who we work with one on one have been kicked out of their homes to abusive and non affirming environments.”
Thompson said Iowa Safe Schools counsels students to come out to their parents, but emphasized that children are the best judge of their own risk at home.
To that end, a genderfluid sixth grader also spoke to the subcommittee about their experience in school and what their friends go through.
“I have many friends who trust the school counselors and are still struggling to come out to the teachers, and I don’t want them to feel even more uncomfortable,” they said. “And I have a lot of friends who have tried to commit suicide because of these laws.”
Beyond safety concerns, a few speakers brought up the difficult spot the law would put teachers and counselors in.
“Every session involves trying to convince, or trying to coach a child to have a tough conversation with their loved ones,” said Erin Cavazos, a counselor with Des Moines Public Schools.
“Sometimes they go well, sometimes we have to call in DHS, and other times are those punch-in-the-gut moments when you have to disclose something to an adult regardless of the child’s wishes,” she continued. “This bill would be forcing us to out kids and then not allow us to offer the supports and leave them unsupported and alone with life and death consequences.”
Dave Daughton with School Administrators of Iowa and Rural School Advocates of Iowa had concerns about federal and state law.
“We feel like this bill goes against Section 216.9 of the Iowa Code and Title IX of federal law, and that puts our schools and administrators in a position where they have to choose which law they want to break and they shouldn’t be put into that position,” he said.
Section 216.9 deals with unfair or discriminatory practices in education and lists sexual orientation and gender identity as protected.
Only a few spoke in support of the bill, most arguing that parents are the only people ultimately responsible for their children and so they should be informed and allowed to decide what’s best.
“I am in favor of this bill because simply put, they are our children,” said parent Pam Gronau. The schools do not know better than us in regards to what is best for our own children. Decisions as important as a minor wanting to change the gender in which they identify with has to be a discussion taking place between the parents and the child, not the school and the child.”
When it was time for closing comments, Wheeler said schools were trying to cut parents out of the conversation about gender identity entirely, specifically citing the Linn-Mar Community School District’s Gender Support Plans which sparked backlash from Gov. Kim Reynolds and Rep. Ashley Hinson, and led to a lawsuit that was ultimately denied by a federal judge.
“Because what I’ve heard today from those opposing the bill, this is your words, ‘parents are evil.’ That’s literally what you guys were saying. Parents are evil. Parents don’t know what’s best for their kids. That’s what was said to us today,” he said. “I cannot believe in the state of Iowa we have people that think that parents are going to abuse and hurt their kids because they find something out at school.”
“We’re going to pass this bill and it’s going to get to the governor’s desk,” he said.
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