Permission to Teach



Should schools have to treat LGBT education different than a regular curriculum? A new bill proposed by the Government Oversight Committee in the Iowa House of Representatives might require special permission slips from parents in order to teach LGBT issues to their children. The bill would essentially require an opt in from parents for anything related to LGBT issues, whether it be a lesson, a field trip or a counseling service.

This bill might seem benign, however LGBT groups, supporters and community members consider the timing suspect.

“All of the legislation surrounding information slips, conferences and content stems from the LGBT conference last spring,” said Ruth Ann Gaines, a democrat on the Government Oversight Committee in the Iowa House of Representatives who opposes the bill. “I think it’s a definite reaction to the conference and its influence in the LGBTQ community.”

The bill was only proposed after last year’s controversial Iowa Governor’s Conference on LGBT Youth by the chair of the Government Oversight Committee, Bobby Kaufmann. Speakers and presenters at the conference were accused of “using vulgar language and making sexually graphic presentations to students,” according to the Des Moines Register. However, Gaines is only aware of one teacher who brought forth concerns, while others raised their voices to support the conference.

The worry is, as Rivka Schrodt, a local transgender woman, explains it, that legislators will use the language of the bill to target the LGBTQ community.

“They’re hiding behind the use of the term ‘human growth and development’ to make it sound like it’s not homophobic, transphobic, biphobic, panphobic, when in all actuality, that’s what it is,” said Schrodt. “It’s a horrible bill and it’s a waste of the legislators’ time.”

According to the Movement Advancement Project, an LGBT research group, there are 65,835 individuals in Iowa who identify as LGBT, which is 2.16 percent of the total population of Iowa. The fear is this bill would affect the LGBT population in Iowa and deprive non-LGBT students from learning about the community.

Iowa Safe Schools has already spoken out against the bill, and One Iowa, “the state’s leading lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organization” according to their website, wasn’t far behind.

“Often, anything that is LGBT is, by some people, considered sex education,” said Donna Red Wing, the executive director of One Iowa. “What it might be understood to mean is that any conversations around sexual orientation or gender identity might be construed as sex education, and therefore parents would have to opt in, or give children permission to receive any of that information.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, “three states require parental consent before a child can receive instruction.” HSB 647 would make Iowa the fourth state to require that parents opt in to sex education. For comparison, the District of Columbia and 35 other states have opt out policies, and 37 states and D.C. allow parental involvement in sex education.

“The first casualty of this is opt in requirements, and this does not only affect LGBT kids, if affects all kids,” said Red Wing. “It means that every kid, instead of having parents opt out of sex ed, they’re going to have to opt in, which means that most kids won’t get sex education, which is really frightening.”

Although attempts were made to contact the chair and the vice chair of the committee that proposed the bill, no contact was made. There were also efforts to contact supporters of the bill, most notably Bob Vander Plaats, head of The Family Leader, a Christian organization focused on family unity.

According to Plaats’ The Family Leader website, “The Family Leader affirms sexual relations within the bond of marriage, and opposes distortions of sexuality or special rights to those practicing distorted sexual behavior.”

The Iowa House of Representatives is hearing arguments from members of the Government Oversight Committee about HSB 647 Tuesday, April 5th.

“I do have great confidence in the Iowa senate, I think that they’ll see this bill for what it is, and it’s a measure to keep kids in the dark about sexual orientation, gender identity and sexuality,” said Red Wing. “They know that our kids need more age appropriate education, not less.”