The students and staff of the Linn-Mar School District are once again being used as a political punching bag by Republicans thanks to a local issue elevated to the national stage by Rep. Ashley Hinson.
Hinson, whose two sons attend school in the district, has actively used her office and power to shine a negative light on Linn-Mar after it enacted a policy last year—since outlawed by Iowa Republicans—that offered protections to trans and non-binary kids.
The Marion Republican hosted a private meeting in May 2022 with Gov. Kim Reynolds, select parents, and some members of the Linn-Mar School Board where Reynolds shared materials promoting private school vouchers.
Linn-Mar ended up becoming a national news story and Fox News alone produced more than 20 stories on it, one of which included a headline accusing the district of trying to “destabilize families.” Hinson provided Breitbart, an online far-right news outlet with millions of followers, “an exclusive” interview to sound the “alarm over radical Iowa school transgender policies.”
If that wasn’t enough, Hinson ran a TV campaign ad last year where she referred to Linn-Mar’s teachers and administrators as “government employees” who are “helping kids change gender” and keep it secret as part of a radical leftist plot. Hinson’s ad ran often in the Cedar Rapids media market, meaning the district’s incumbent member of Congress ran a full-advertising campaign that personally attacked its teachers to everyone who lived around it.
Hinson also used the district as an excuse earlier this year to reintroduce a culture war bill she previously sponsored.
Meanwhile, the kids who are caught in the middle of this have to deal with the fact that their own congressional representative is targeting and bullying them.
Clair Ammons, a trans woman who graduated from Linn-Mar High School in May 2022 in the thick of controversy, previously told Starting Line “it hurts” being at the center of negative attention.
“It hurts,” Clair said at the time. “It sucks seeing so many people so angry at you for existing with very little care for if anything they said was even accurate or truthful.”
Thanks to Hinson’s influence and outsized voice, Linn-Mar became a national topic with most of the ensuing coverage being overwhelmingly negative, which took a toll on the kids the policy was trying to protect. During this year’s legislative session, Iowa Republicans used the district as a driving force to enact private school vouchers, a ban on gender-affirming care for youth, and other anti-LGBTQ/anti-public education bills.
So even though Iowa Republicans have done a thorough job of making an example out of a local school system for trying to protect some of its most vulnerable students, Linn-Mar continues to be a campaign talking point for former Vice President Mike Pence as he attempts to secure the Republican presidential nomination (he’s polling at 1% by some estimates).
He and Hinson even held a rally at a Cedar Rapids Pizza Ranch earlier this year over the issue.
During the second GOP presidential primary debate on Wednesday, Pence, who has attacked Linn-Mar by name relentlessly on the campaign trail, continued the one-sided assault.
Citing a US Department of Homeland Security study, a Fox News moderator warned “that violence against LGBTQ+ people is on the rise and intensifying” at a rate nine times that of all citizens and asked Pence what he would do as president to protect LGBTQ+ people.
After giving a canned response about standing up for the “safety and civil liberties” of Americans—this ignores his nearly lifelong crusade to strip women of their rights—Pence pivoted to going after Linn-Mar yet again.
“When the Linn-Mar Community Schools in Iowa had a policy where you could—you had to have a permission slip from your parents to get a Tylenol, but you could get a gender transition plan without notifying your parents, I weighed in with a foundation,” Pence said. “That’s not bad policy, that’s crazy.
The former Vice President’s comments about Linn-Mar completely misconstrued the district’s former policy, which was in compliance with state law when it was enacted.
The policy codified then-existing practices that respect transgender and nonbinary students’ identities at school. It allowed students to create Gender Support Plans and go by their preferred name and pronouns and potentially to use the school facilities that match their identity.
For students in seventh grade and up, their privacy is prioritized, so a teen’s decision on their gender identity is their own and does not have to be forcibly shared with their family, who in some cases may not approve.
Republicans like Hinson and Pence have pushed back on this issue in particular, preferring a situation that could result in students being forcibly outed by their school to non-supportive parents.
Because of that, Iowa Republicans in the legislature with input from Gov. Kim Reynolds created and enacted SF 496 this year. It is a massive education bill that school districts are still working to implement that includes a forced outing provision so broad parents have to give permission for their kids to go by a nickname at school.
In response to the latest attack on their school, Dani Kallas, a senior at Linn-Mar High School and the president of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, told Starting Line why the district tried to codify protections for trans and non-binary kids.
“There is a reason plans like those were intended to be kept confidential,” they said. “If students didn’t feel comfortable telling their parents about their gender identity, there’s a pretty good chance that their personal safety is at risk if they do.
“So, while it isn’t ideal to keep something like that a secret, sometimes it’s best if the parents of those kids just take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask themselves why their child felt like they couldn’t talk to them. Only then, can they try to fix it. But they need to accept that the blame is on them for creating a hostile environment for their kids, not on the kids for being who they are,” Dani continued.
They also said Pence “needs to rethink his morals and look at some statistics.” Dani cited a 2022 study by the Trevor Project—a nationwide LGBTQ youth suicide prevention organization—that noted fewer than a third of trans youth felt safe in school and nearly a fifth attempted suicide.
“Now, the far-right likes to say that these numbers are because the LGBTQ+ community are LGBTQ+ and in being so they are inherently ‘abominations’ or ‘freaks;’ however, the same study showed that LGBTQ+ youth who felt highly supported by their families attempted suicide at nearly half the rate of their unsupported peers, and those who had a supportive school, such as Linn-Mar, had lower suicide rates,” they said.
“So if the right really wants to protect children, they should be advocating for support of the trans and queer community,” Dani continued.
Starting Line Reporter Nikoel Hytrek contributed to this story.
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