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Iowa Republican; felony charges for teachers over ‘obscene’ books

Sen. Brad Zaun said he supported charging teachers who allow students to read “obscene” books, including LGBTQ+ themed books, with felonies



Iowa Republican state Sen. Brad Zaun (Screenshot via NBC News affiliate WHO 13 Des Moines)

JOHNSTON, Ia. — During a Johnston Community School District committee meeting last month, Republican Iowa state Sen. Brad Zaun said he supported charging teachers who allow students to read “obscene” books, including LGBTQ+ themed books, with felonies. 

At the initial reconsideration committee meeting on November 10, Zaun said he believed books about exploring identities and sexualities are inappropriate for students, reports the Iowa Starting Line. He added that he would work hard to create legislation to charge teachers with felonies if they allowed students to read such books.

“My warning to all the teachers and the administrators is you’re going to be in jail,” he said. “Because this is distributing pornography. And I will work my tail end off and it will become law.”

Zaun, who is president of the state Senate Judiciary Committee, added: “I would have to say I’m sick to my stomach that it’s going to take another meeting. In the meantime, this garbage curriculum or books are being taught to our kids. And I can assure you that I will be working on this legislation next year in regards to enhancing the penalties.”

According to the Starting Line, Republican Iowa state Sen. Jake Chapman, president of the Iowa Senate, made similar comments at the second meeting on November 18.

“I can tell you, if this material was in my school, I’d be going to law enforcement. I would be asking for a criminal investigation. I would be asking for every single teacher who disseminated that information to be held criminally responsible,” said Chapman. “If we need to, as the state of Iowa, provide deeper clarity when it comes to that and enhance those penalties, I will do that.”

The books in question during the meetings were “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexei and “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, according to the publication. 

Alexei’s novel deals with a Native teenage boy living in poverty but attending a wealthy, mostly white high school. 

Thomas’ book deals with a similar theme, as a teenage Black girl balances life living in a poor neighborhood but attending a private school. She witnesses a childhood friend killed by a police officer in the story. 

The young adult books received praise on Goodreads, both receiving over four-star ratings.

Iowa law states that serious literature, accredited schools and public libraries are exempted from obscenity laws.

According to the Starting Line, two parents complained about the mentions of sex, race and the way society responds to race. However, the committee recommended that the books stay on the shelves. 
The news comes as Republicans nationwide continue to push to ban books dealing with race, sexuality and gender identity. The Blade reported Wednesday that the American Library Association (ALA) has documented 155 separate incidents of efforts to remove or ban books that document LGBTQ+ or Black experiences.



Iowa senate passes “blank check to discriminate” opponents say

Critics charge businesses could use the law to circumvent civil rights laws by citing religious beliefs as justification to deny services



Iowa state capitol building in Des Moines. (Photo credit: State of Iowa)

DES MOINES, Iowa – The Iowa Senate passed legislation Tuesday that opponents say will be used as as a “blank check to discriminate” against LGBTQ+ Iowans and marginalized communities.

The legislation bars governments across Iowa from “substantially burdens” meaning that any action that directly or indirectly constrains, inhibits, curtails, or denies the exercise of religion by any person or compels any action contrary to a person’s exercise of religion and includes but is not limited to withholding of benefits; assessment of criminal, civil, or administrative penalties; or exclusion from governmental programs or access to governmental facilities.

The Des Moines Register noted that the legislation would say that state and local governments shall not “substantially burden” someone’s exercise of religion unless it is in furtherance of a compelling government interest and the least restrictive means of pursuing that interest.

A person, corporation, church, foundation or other entity whose exercise of religion has been burdened would have the power to go to court to seek damages or other means of redressing the harm against them.

The Republican majority-held Senate voted 31-16 along party lines with all Democrats in opposition to pass Senate File 2095, which its sponsor, state Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, told the Register: “I believe that it is time for Iowa to add a religious freedom restoration act to our code.”

The Register also reported that Republicans have consistently introduced similar religious freedom bills since taking control of the House, Senate and governor’s office in 2016, but Tuesday’s vote was the first time such a proposal has passed the Senate.

Opponents and critics charge that people or businesses could use the law to circumvent civil rights laws by citing religious beliefs as justification to deny services, housing, employment or other public accommodations to LGBTQ Iowans or other minority groups, the Register reported.

State Senator Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, the son of two married moms reflected:

“This legislation is not about restoring religious freedom at all. This legislation is about allowing some people to cite their religious beliefs to violate the basic civil rights protections that all Iowans benefit from. This bill is a direct assault on the basic idea of equal protection under the law,” said Wahls.

Sen. Jeff Taylor, R-Sioux Center, told the Register it seems like the bill’s opponents see it as “some kind of a plot by conservative Christians to discriminate against people.” But he said the legislation would benefit people of all faiths, not just conservative Christians.

“This is not religion specific,” he said. “This is going to benefit everybody.”

The Republican Party controls the offices of governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and both chambers of the state legislature. The Register noted that An identical version of the bill advanced through a committee in the Iowa House. It must still pass the full chamber before it could go to Gov. Kim Reynolds for her signature.

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Iowa bill would end all legal recognition of transgender people

The bill would end all legal recognition of trans people, mandating that “sex” refers to someone’s assigned sex at birth in all Iowa code



Iowa's Republican Governor Kim Reynolds. (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

By Erin Reed | DES MOINES, Iowa – Thursday afternoon, Gov. Kim Reynolds submitted House Study Bill 649, a bill with sweeping provisions targeting the transgender community. The bill would end all legal recognition of transgender people, mandating that “sex” refers to someone’s assigned sex at birth in all Iowa code.

It also would spell out new requirements for gender marker changes in official documents. Rather than allowing transgender or intersex people to change their gender markers on driver’s licenses and birth certificates, it would restrict those changes only to those who have a letter from a “doctor and surgeon” showing that the “sex designation has changed.” Even more troubling for transgender and intersex individuals: those who are approved for the change would be forced to list both gender markers on their driver’s license.

It is important to note that it is unclear if such changes would even be allowed with surgery. The bill also defines sex for all of Iowa code through reproductive capacity… i.e., a male is defined as “a person whose biological reproductive system is developed to fertilize the ova of a female.”

Then, the section on driver’s license and birth certificate changes goes on to state that for the purposes of changing one’s driver’s license, the new definition of “sex” that excludes transgender people must be used. If a surgeon and doctor sign a letter stating that the individual’s sex designation “has changed by way of surgery or other treatment,” then both the original sex and the new sex must be listed on the individual’s driver’s license.

See the provision here:

This would essentially mandate that all transgender and intersex individuals who get updated driver’s licenses have “M-F” or “F-M” listed in some fashion. It would make it immediately obvious to anyone that a person is transgender when presented with the driver’s license. This could make interactions in bars and restaurants, traffic stops, and credit card verification much more dangerous, exposing transgender individuals to potential anti-trans actions wherever they go. It also could be used to enforce future laws targeted at transgender people, forcing them to carry identification that outs themselves as transgender.

The bill comes a day after the massive defeat of a separate piece of anti-transgender legislation on Wednesday. In a packed hearing room, majority-Republican lawmakers voted against a bill that would remove transgender people from the state’s civil rights act and would declare them disabled. Over 300 people queued up outside against the bill, and only 3 people spoke in favor of it. With news of the victory widely reported by LGBTQ+ organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, some may see this move as retaliation for that bill’s defeat.

In a statement released by Iowa Safe Schools, Becky Taylor, Executive Director for Iowa Safe Schools said, “This bill is an affront to everything we’re about as Iowans. Gov. Reynolds has made it crystal clear that transgender Iowans are not welcome in their own state. Our organization would strongly suggest that the governor retake elementary civics class – ‘separate but equal’ is inherently unconstitutional. Our organization will fight tirelessly to ensure our students are afforded equal treatment under the law.”

This bill is significantly more dangerous than most anti-trans bills introduced in Iowa this year, primarily because it was introduced by the Governor, indicating that it may have stronger backing and is considered a policy priority.

If Iowa passes this bill, it could become the third state to target the driver’s licenses of transgender adults, and the first state that would require both markers on a single ID card for those who seek to update their licenses.

For those wishing to track the bill and hearings around it, Iowa Safe Schools and One Iowa are statewide organizations organizing opposition to the bills.


Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

Follow her on Twitter (Link)

Website here:


The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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Bill removing trans civil rights protections defeated in Iowa

Hundreds showed up protesting House Bill 2082 that would remove trans people from the state’s civil rights act & declare them to be disabled



LGBTQ+ activists reacting to the news of the defeat of HB2082, in the Iowa legislature Wednesday. (Photo by Greg Hauenstein)

By Erin Reed | DES MOINES, Iowa – Today, hundreds of people gathered at the Iowa Capitol to protest House Bill 2082, a bill that would remove transgender individuals from the state’s Civil Rights Act.

The bill also would classify transgender people as disabled. During a brief and intense hearing in the House Judiciary Subcommittee, only three supporters spoke in favor of the bill, significantly outnumbered by the hundreds in the committee room and the halls outside opposing it.

Following the hearing, the three-member committee, consisting of two Republicans and one Democrat, voted against passing the bill, effectively killing the legislation as cheers erupted in the hallway.

Outside, crowds gathered more than an hour before the hearing, according to Oliver Weilein, a concerned citizen who arrived to express solidarity with transgender people for the hearing. Oliver, who provided updates on Twitter and took photographs to document the size of the crowd, estimated there were over 300 people in the hallway alone based on his count. “When the meeting started, they had to close the door,” he said, “because it was really loud.”

You can see a picture of the crowd here, which wraps around the corner:

With hundreds outside, the bill’s sponsor, Representative Jeff Shipley, began with an incendiary tirade against transgender people, labeling transgender women as “creepy old men.”

He argued that removing transgender individuals from civil rights protections was retribution for protests against Chloe Cole speaking in Iowa City. He stated, “I seriously question if this pattern of conduct is conducive to the generous protections afforded under Iowa Code 216.” Cynthia Yockey, his primary witness, then claimed that allowing transgender women in bathrooms would lead to them spreading bodily fluids in stalls and sexually assaulting children.

This testimony was the highlight for those who spoke in favor of the bill, as only two others came forward to support it. The rest of the hearing, which was supposed to alternate between supporters and opponents of the bill, was overwhelmingly dominated by the latter.

At one point, the chair of the subcommittee, Republican Representative Charley Thomson, sought another supporter to speak, following a moment of confusion when it appeared someone in favor had just spoken. He then acknowledged, “Yes, you… we have no pros left.”

Among those speaking against the bill was Amie Wichtendahl, Iowa’s first elected transgender member of government, who serves on Hiawatha’s City Council and is also running for Iowa House District 80.

In her testimony, she asked, “Haven’t you already taken enough? Or do you need to sacrifice another pound of flesh on the altar of the culture war? You’ve denied us health care, banned our books, and harassed and forcibly outed queer kids. If the leadership in this body had any dignity whatsoever, it would immediately adjourn this subcommittee and issue an immediate apology for ever having entertained such an egregious violation of human rights.”

Many others against the bill would go on to testify. Charlie Wishman, representing the AFL-CIO on behalf of the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, spoke out against the bill, citing “employment concerns” and warning, “I guarantee you people will lose their jobs over this.” Elliot, a nonbinary individual, testified that they “would not be able to live their life” in a state that enacted this legislation. Additional opposition came from parents of transgender children, civil rights organizations, and even a combat veteran who stated he fought for the “freedom” for people to live without fear of discrimination.

Damian Thompson, representing Iowa Safe Schools, a major organizer of the response to the hearing, also testified, stating, “Iowa would be the first and only state to strip an entire class of their civil rights protections in this way.”

After approximately 45 minutes of testimony, Rep. Thomson moved to discussion and debate on the bill. Representative Sami Scheetz, the subcommittee’s sole Democratic member, emphasized the need for Iowa to be welcoming if it wants to “convince young people to stay here and raise families.”

Following Representative Scheetz, Republican Representative Willis expressed concerns about the bill’s wording and voiced his opposition. Lastly, the committee chair, Representative Thomson, noted potential legal issues and conflicts with federal law as a reason for concern, suggesting it could constitute a civil rights violation. The committee then voted 3-0 against the bill, effectively terminating it in the subcommittee amid cheers from outside.

When asked about the massive turnout against the legislation, Damian Thompson of Iowa Safe Schools states, “From what I can tell, opposition was overwhelming, before the hearing, during the hearing, and after the hearing.” He later adds, “This is the kind of response we need to see with every anti-LGBTQ legislation. We need the entire community united in opposition. What they are trying to do, we’ve seen it, they are trying to divide us. The LGB against the T, and it’s not going to work.”

Weilein, when asked about the turnout, had a similar message of optimism: “Every day is a new one, your very existence put into question, but at the same time, there’s a really wonderful community, especially in Iowa city and friends and neighbors who really come together,” adding that Iowa Trans Mutual Aid, a state mutual aid network for transgender people, was doing incredible work in the state.

He then expressed a message of hope, “In the midst of all of this, there’s this reaction that makes us hopeful, there’s this community here, no matter what the legislator says, and we’re gonna look out for each other.”


Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

Follow her on Twitter (Link)

Website here:


The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

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Iowa’s Supreme Court upholds anti-LGBTQ hate crime conviction

Robert Clark Geddes, 27, of Boone, Iowa, was arrested after leaving handwritten notes reading, “Burn that gay flag”



Iowa State Supreme Court building, Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo Credit: State of Iowa government)

DES MOINES, Iowa – The Iowa State Supreme Court on December 1, upheld the conviction of a man who left threatening notes on the homes of people displaying LGBTQ Pride flags during the June 2021 Pride month.

Robert Clark Geddes, 27, of 1814 Eighth Street in Boone, Iowa, was arrested after leaving handwritten notes reading, “Burn that gay flag,” at four different houses in this small hamlet of 12,000 located 49 miles northwest of Iowa’s capital city.

According to a local media outlet, the Perry News in its June 23, 2021 reporting, Boone City Council member Elijah Stines was one of the victims of the hate crimes.

“Let me be very clear,” Stines said on Facebook. “I will never back down from standing up for the lives of my LGBTQ friends, family, constituents and all members of our community. My house was one of five locations in my ward alone that I know of that received a similar cowardly note this weekend. To everyone in the Boone LGBTQ community: There are so many more people here who will stand with you and ensure your safety than would threaten it. Call on us any time!”

Investigators determined that the four notes were “linked together by consistent handwriting, matching paper tear marks and marker bleed through on each page,” according to court records.

The victims were “annoyed and alarmed” by the notes, and Geddes “had no legitimate purpose to be on the property other than commit a public offense,” according to court records.

Associate Judge Stephan A. Owen, for the Iowa District Court for Boone County, found Geddes guilty and sentenced him to up to two years of probation.

On September 14, 2023, he appealed his convictions for trespass as a hate crime, arguing that the evidence of guilt was insufficient and that the convictions violated his constitutional rights of free speech and due process.

In its Friday ruling the high court disagreed noting: “The individuals’ display of the LGBTQ+ flag or flag decal on their own properties was an exercise of First Amendment rights; the defendant’s surreptitious entry onto those properties to post his harassing notes was not.”

The Associated Press reported that as the court noted, the rainbow flag has come to symbolize support for LGBTQ+ rights. The majority said the state statute in question does not criminalize speech, but rather conduct with a specific intent — trespassing because the property owners or residents had associated themselves with a protected class.

The AP also reported that in his dissent, Justice Matthew McDermott said there was no evidence in the record that the recipients of Geddes’ notes were members of the LGBTQ+ community or whether he believed they were, nor whether any of the residents had an “association with” an actual person in those protected classes. He noted that the Legislature chose the words “association with” rather than “solidarity with” when it wrote the hate crime law.

“As a symbol, a flag doesn’t independently create or express actual association with particular persons,” McDermott wrote, adding that, “Not everyone who displays a pirate flag is associated with actual pirates.”

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Iowa school district removes 400 books including Buttigieg bio

In the case of the book about Secretary Buttigieg, a reasonable assumption a local official told the Blade was because Buttigieg is openly gay



Annie's Foundation/Los Angeles Blade graphic

URBANDALE, Iowa – The Urbandale Community School District has removed nearly 400 books including classic literature, contemporary subject matters, and books covering race and LGBTQ+ people from school libraries and classrooms.

Urbandale School District officials are defending their actions, claiming that they are bringing the district into compliance with a law passed last legislative session,  Senate File 496, which took effect July 1, that requires schools to remove books describing or visual depictions of a sex act from student access.

The District’s actions were made public after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by Annie’s Foundation, a certified 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Johnston, Iowa in suburban Des Moines. The foundation was founded by a group of parents, angered by the conservative push to ban books, the Florida-based Moms for Liberty in particular that launched a national effort to target books especially dealing with the LGBTQ+ community.

Moms for Liberty issued a statement Monday, saying, “After many school districts ignored parents concerns about sexually explicit books in school curriculum and libraries, concerned parents took their concerns to the Iowa Legislators. As a result, SF496 was passed which clearly states that school provided learning materials must be age appropriate. It is up to each school district to determine which books are age appropriate by using the state’s definition as outlined in SF496.”

The largest problem with implementation say school officials and others is the lack of guidance and clarity as the law is currently written.

“I’m afraid without that guidance we are going to see a patchwork of implementation from across the state because different districts might go about handling it different, differently and that just creates confusion both for our education professionals and also for our students,” said Melissa Peterson, the legislative and policy director of the Iowa State Education Association in an email to Ames/Des Moines ABC News affiliate WOI-DT5.

In a statement from Urbandale Community School District on the implementation, they say in part: “In the absence of guidance from the Iowa Department of Education regarding implementation of Senate File 496, we had to take a fairly broad interpretation of the law knowing that if our interpretation was too finite … our teachers and administrators could be faced with disciplinary actions.”

Annie’s Foundation president and founder, Sara Hayden Parris, told multiple media outlets that after the Foundation submitted the FOIA request, it wasn’t what they expected.

“So I got that list within a few days and was shocked certainly to see all the different books that were on there, especially specifically the case rate list is quite lengthy.” 

A partial list released by the Foundation included a children’s biography of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, titled ‘Mayor Pete: The Story of Pete Buttigieg,’ as well as 1984; The Color Purple; Llama Glamarama; Families, Families, Families; Everywhere Babies; The Family Book; And Tango Makes Three; The Handmaid’s Tale; As I Lay Dying; Madame Bovary; The Fault In Our Stars; A Farewell to Arms; Brave New World; A Separate Peace; Beloved Native Son; Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret; Catch 22; and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Many of the books pulled deal with issues regarding race and Black Americans, or historic events such as in the case of Catch-22, the Second World War.

In the case of the book about Secretary Buttigieg, a reasonable assumption a local official told the Blade in a phone call Tuesday afternoon, was because Buttigieg is openly gay and married.

The Iowa State Education Association’s Peterson said, “As we saw from the Urbandale list there were a lot of books that have nothing to do with the depiction of a sex act that also were on their list. We don’t want that kind of patchwork.” 

“To overcome this and get involved now, Peterson added, “I would encourage parents and community members to participate in those school board meetings and in those conversations to make sure that access to quality literature and instruction is not being unnecessarily prohibited because districts are being overly cautious.”

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Iowa LGBTQ+ group blasts Iowa governor signing anti-LGBTQ bills

School and library organizations are warning that many books long available on school library shelves could be banned



Governor Kim Reynolds signing legislation (unrelated) May 16, 2023. (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor/Facebook)

DES MOINES – Courtney Reyes, the Executive Director of OneIowa, the statewide LGBTQ+ rights advocacy group, called Republican Governor Kim Reynolds’ decision to sign the anti-LGBTQ+ education law behind closed doors an act of “cowardice.” “She is not willing to look trans kids in the eyes and tell them that she does not want them in our state, ” Reyes said.

Senate File 496, which Reynolds signed in a private event on Friday, will ban school books with descriptions or depictions of sex acts; prohibit instruction on gender identity or sexual orientation before seventh grade; require schools to notify parents if a student requests to use new pronouns; and enshrine the “constitutionally protected right” for parents to make decisions for their children, the Des Moines Register reported.

School and library organizations are warning that many books long available on school library shelves could be banned — far beyond the few, controversial titles that have made news in recent years, the Register noted.

The Iowa State Democrats in a statement on Twitter said: “Reynolds is trying to hide some of her worst legislation by signing it into law on the Friday of a holiday weekend thinking that Iowans will forget about it. We won’t.”

Advocacy groups have been joined by individuals also decrying the governor’s signing of the bill. The Sioux City Journal reported that Patrick Baughman, valedictorian of Sioux City West High School’s class of 2023, ended his speech with a declaration for trans rights and against “banned books” during his graduation.

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Fed up, Iowans stage huge protest against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation

Frustrated by legislation by Republican lawmakers targeting the state’s LGBTQ+ community over a 1000 people attended the ‘Rally to Resist’



Frustrated by the onslaught of legislative efforts by Republican lawmakers targeting the state's LGBTQ+ community over a thousand people attended the Sunday 'Rally to Resist' (Photo Credit: Iowa Senate Democrats/Twitter)

DES MOINES – Frustrated by the onslaught of legislative efforts by Republican lawmakers targeting the state’s LGBTQ+ community and especially students, a huge protest crowd estimated to be over a thousand parents, students, educators, faith leaders, community organizers and elected officials attended the Sunday ‘Rally to Resist’ on the West steps of the Iowa State Capitol.

“Iowans have had enough. We understand that our friends, neighbors, and family members are under attack and their rights are being stripped away. And Iowans are unified against anti-LGBTQ bills,” a Progress Iowa spokesperson told the Des Moines Register.

Iowa Senate Democrats welcomed the protestors tweeting: “Today, Iowa students and families showed up to protest all of the anti-LGBTQ bills sponsored by Republican politicians. Senate Democrats were proud to welcome them to the Iowa State Capitol. #ialegis #wesaygay

Iowa Senate Democrats/Twitter

“No politician has the right to tell us which bathroom to use, deny us medical care, dictate which pronouns to call ourselves, ban books and curriculum, roll back civil rights, deny adoption and foster care, do away with marriage equality, or call queer people obscene,” a Progress Iowa press release stated.

The Des Moines Register additionally reported that the rally comes after hundreds of students across Iowa walked out of class last Wednesday to protest the LGBTQ legislation.

Organizers estimated students at 47 schools across Iowa walked out as Republican lawmakers pushed forward with legislation aimed at tightening school policies and state law regarding gender identity, sexual orientation, gender-affirming care and equity, diversity and inclusion.

In an interview with the Register during the rally, Courtney Reyes, the executive director of One Iowa and One Iowa Action, said that in her 3½ years as executive director she has seen a “constant attack” on the LGBTQ community, specifically targeting transgender people.

“People in that building are making laws about us, and they don’t know about gender healthcare, they don’t know what it means to the families that need that service,” Reyes said. “When you threaten to take that away, you’re putting people’s lives in danger.”

“When folks are having their rights taken away, we need our allies to get uncomfortable,” Reyes told the paper.

Protestors rally at Iowa Capitol in protest of recent LGBTQ legislation:

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Iowa Governor notes ‘parental rights’ at anti-LGBTQ+ town hall

Reynolds and Republican lawmakers pledged to pass legislation this session banning LGBTQ materials in schools



Gov. Kim Reynolds addressed a town hall hosted by the conservative nonprofit Moms for Liberty Feb. 2, 2023, discussing “parental rights” legislation in Iowa. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

By Robin Opsahl | DES MOINES – Gov. Kim Reynolds and Republican legislators speaking at a “parental rights” event Thursday pledged to pass legislation this session banning LGBTQ materials in schools and policies allowing students to socially transition without their parents’ consent.

“School choice” supporters gathered at Franklin Junior High School  in Des Moines Thursday evening for the town hall event, hosted by the conservative nonprofit Moms for Liberty. Reynolds cheered the passage of her private school scholarship plan in the first weeks of the 2023 session, and promised they were not done with education legislation.

“The last few years have provided so many reasons to be in this fight in the arena for kids,” Reynolds said. “And maybe for you it was how they were kept out of school wearing masks for no good reason. Maybe it was demonizing our country. Or an obsession with race in the classroom … I guess my message to you is, stay involved because parents and freedom still matter in Iowa.”

 A demonstrator yelled over Gov. Kim Reynolds speech while holding up a transgender pride flag at a Moms for Liberty Town Hall at Franklin Junior High School Feb. 2, 2023.
(Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Protesters tried to shout over Reynolds’ speech, with one demonstrator holding up a transgender flag. Others in the room cheered and shouted “USA” as police officers removed protesters from the room.

Supporters celebrated approval of the Educational Savings Account (ESA) program, which gives students an account of $7,598 each year to use for private school tuition and associated costs. The national co-founder of Moms for Liberty, Tina Descovich, said she was excited to hear about Iowa successfully passing ESAs, but said that’s just “one small little portion of issues that are facing public education.”

For years, she said, politicians were not paying much attention to education. But in Iowa and other states across the country, Descovich said parents are putting the issue “front and center” in their state’s policy agendas, and lawmakers in states like Iowa are listening to their requests to let families decide the best educational path for their children.

“I think I think parents want that now, you know, everything in society is more custom made, and so education should be a little bit more accessible and custom made,” Descovich said.

Seven Republican legislators answered questions from attendees about Iowa’s education system. Many questions were focused on class material and discussion around gender identity. Reynolds and parents brought up Linn-Mar Community School District as an example of what’s wrong with modern schools.

The school district has a “gender support policy,” which allows a student to meet with the school to discuss socially transitioning by using a different name, pronouns and facilities corresponding with their gender identity. The district allows children to choose who is involved in those meetings with the school, and lets the child decide whether to involve their parent or guardian.

Lawmaker calls gender-affirming policies a ‘slippery slope’

Rep. Jeff Shipley, R-Fairfield, said school board members claimed the school could not reverse this policy because it would violate state and federal civil rights protections given based on gender identity.

House lawmakers approved legislation Tuesday banning school districts from letting a student use a different name or pronouns than what they were given at birth without written parental consent. House File 190 was also introduced Thursday to remove gender identity as a protected category from the state’s civil rights act.

“Mental illness should not be accommodated as a civil right,” Shipley said Thursday.

When a teacher asked the legislators at the forum about studies that showed the use of a transgender child’s preferred name and pronouns lowers suicide rates, Shipley said there were conflicting reports how to help transgender children with mental health problems. But he said policies like Linn-Mar Community School District’s are a “slippery slope.”

Using a child’s preferred name and pronouns without their parents’ knowledge could lead to them undergoing hormone replacement therapy or having gender-affirming surgeries without their parents consent, he said. How to best support transgender people is a conversation the Legislature will be discussing a lot going forward he said.

“I know other states have done things to prohibit these therapies,” he said, referencing conversation therapy. “So I think this is a conversation we’re going to have to have as a state to really decide what is the best standards of practice of therapy, what do kids need to alleviate the dysphoria and form actual identities that can be healthy and happy for the rest of their lives.”

Lawmakers address concerns about lack of choice access for special-needs students

Multiple parents also brought up concerns about how the ESA program will impact their special needs children. Legislators said they hoped to see expanded private school options for children with special needs, and were in discussions about potential future legislation to encourage more private institutions to special education students and offer more specialized educational programs.

Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, said he believes some private schools have not accepted special-education students because they didn’t have the resources. “And this bill was going to give them a lot more resources,” he said. “And so I’m hopeful that that alone is going to allow them to take a lot more special needs children.”

The conservative legislators assured the crowd that they would continue to provide parents more options for their children’s schooling going forward. Rep. Eddie Andrews, R-Johnston, said Iowa’s decision to desegregate schools 86 years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Brown v. Board of Education shows the state has always been committed to school choice.

“And that is all we are asking, and yes, demanding, that we have the ability to educate our children in the best way at the best school that is appropriate for my child’s success. To prepare my boy, my girl, your child, for success,” Andrews said. “And that’s all school choice.”

Moms For Liberty: Giving Parents A Voice Town Hall – IOWA


Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. Robin has experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald, in addition to working on multimedia projects, newsletters and visualizations.

They were a political reporter for the Des Moines Register covering the Iowa caucuses leading up to the 2020 presidential election, assisting with the Register’s Iowa Poll, and reporting on Iowa’s 4th District elections.


The preceding article was previously published by the Iowa Capital Dispatch and is republished with permission.

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Leadership quits, library closes after complaints about LGBTQ+ books

Some residents accused the library & its previous directors of having a “liberal agenda” over hiring LGBTQ staff & books on LGBTQ topics



Photo Credit: Gage Miskimen, The Gazette

By Gage Miskimen | VINTON — The Vinton Public Library has lost two directors in two years as city residents have complained about the library’s display of LGBTQ books and books about President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Most recently departing the library was Renee Greenlee, its director for six months. Her experience was as the children’s and family services library assistant at the Marion Public Library and she also had worked at the Hiawatha Public Library and the Kirkwood Community College library.

Greenlee, who left the Vinton post in May and started a new job at the Cedar Rapids Public Library, declined to comment about why she left the Vinton post.

The Vinton library’s board of trustees accepted Greenlee’s resignation earlier this month in front of 100 residents. During the meeting, around a dozen people spoke in support — and against — Greenlee.

LGBTQ books

Some residents have accused the library and its previous directors of having a “liberal agenda” due to its hiring of openly LGBTQ staff members and the display of books on LGBTQ topics. They argued books about religion should be displayed equally.

In March, Brooke Kruckenberg of Vinton said the library had a “liberal agenda” based on book choices and the hiring of Greenlee and her staff, as reported by Vinton Newspapers. She and her mother, Deb Hesson, argued for more Christian content.

“It appears that there is a slow, quiet agenda moving into our local library culture through the staff hiring decisions and the books that have crept in our children’s section of the library,” Kruckenberg said at the March meeting. ”I don’t believe the library is representing our town well with hiring a majority of staff who are openly a part of the LGBTQ community.”

Greenlee at that meeting said of the almost 6,000 children’s materials in the library, seven included headings of LGBT, gay or transgender and 173 were based on Christian life.

While the library board members accepted Greenlee’s resignation, they also adopted an ethics statement and new rules for the board’s public comment period.

The ethics policy says, in part, that board members will respect colleagues’ opinions and will not be swayed by public pressure or fear of criticism, Jimmy Kelly, the library board’s chairman, told the Des Moines Register.

“The purpose is to assure our next director we are supportive of the tasks they need us to undertake,” Kelly said. “And that we understand our role as a board and take that seriously.”

McMahon tenure

Vinton, a town of around 5,000 and the county seat of Benton County, also saw another director, Janette McMahon, resign in July 2021. She now is director of the DeWitt Public Library in Clinton County.

McMahon told The Gazette last week she had a good library staff in Vinton, and some library board members who “were utterly fantastic” and others who “were a challenge.”

“Not everyone was as supportive as others when the library needed to stand up for inclusion and diversity in its materials,” she said.

McMahon said she also received complaints about children’s books on display, including “Joey,” written by First Lady Jill Biden, and “Superheroes Are Everywhere” by Vice President Kamala Harris.

However, no formal complaint was made about those books.

“That puts library directors in an interesting position because if no one fills out a reconsideration form, there’s no way for a library to respond,” she said. “I’m a firm believer that everyone can have a right to their own opinion, but they don’t have a right to tell others what they can or cannot read.”

Instead of filing a formal complaint, some people would check out the books and not return them, McMahon said.

“Which is theft of materials,” McMahon said. “Then we had to go through a process to get them back. … We know the folks that had them out had been making complaints to other city officials and people around me without going through an actual process.”

Some residents also argued the library should have more books about former President Donald Trump on display, McMahon recalled.

“The Kamala (Harris) book was given to the library when she spoke there, and the ‘Joey’ book was a purchase request” from a library patron, McMahon said. “It was not deliberate.

“I can’t buy what doesn’t exist, and there weren’t quality books about Trump. It’s a long process to choose materials typically. We pay attention to reviews and publishers and our collection needs as a whole. We don’t just say what looks good on Amazon.”

McMahon said the way she was treated in Vinton quickly became more personal and uncomfortable, to the point she was no longer happy living in that community.

“When they refuse to make a formal complaint and not go through the process, it becomes side conversations constantly, and you can’t even stand up for yourself because you don’t know where it comes from,” she said. “It’s personal, and it’s not even about the job and that’s not OK.

“When I had had enough, we couldn’t function correctly as a library, so I decided to find a community that better fit me as a librarian and my standards for library ethics.”

Vinton library board members did not respond by the weekend to a request for comment.

Update to the story:

The Vinton Public Library, which lost two directors in two years amid community complaints over books, is now closed indefinitely as the interim director has left, too.

The previous directors left after city residents complained about the library’s display of LGBTQ books and books about Democratic President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

The library board met Tuesday to accept the resignation of Colton Neely, the interim director. Neely, formerly the library’s children’s director, will become a museum curator in Burlington. His last day — and the library’s last day to stay open for now — was Friday.

Vinton, a town of about 5,000 and the county seat of Benton County, will now be without its library for at least the next week, Library Board President Jimmy Kelly told The Gazette.

“As a board, we decided we are going to shut down the library for all of next week and use our meeting time next Wednesday to determine a pathway to provide limited hours and services until the new director is hired,” Kelly said.

The closing date for applications for the new library director was Friday as well.

“We’re hoping we can get a process moving quickly to identify a good candidate,” Kelly said. “It can sometimes take weeks or over a month to get a schedule in line, if the candidate has to put in two weeks at another job, different things.”

Most recently departing the library before Neely was Renee Greenlee, its director for six months. She had been the children’s and family services library assistant at the Marion Public Library and had worked at the Hiawatha Public Library and the Kirkwood Community College library.

Greenlee, who left the Vinton post in May and started a new job at the Cedar Rapids Public Library, declined to comment.

While the Vinton library board members accepted Greenlee’s resignation, they also adopted an ethics statement and new rules for the board’s public comment period. The ethics policy says, in part, that board members will respect colleagues’ opinions and will not be swayed by public pressure or fear of criticism.

“It’s been a challenge. It’s one more thing after the other and it’s been a slow progression,” Kelly said. “We totally understand with Colton … his training prior to this is in museums. It’ the perfect fit for him and the timing is how it happened.”

Vinton also saw another director, Janette McMahon, resign in July 2021. She now is director of the DeWitt Public Library in Clinton County.

McMahon previously told The Gazette that she received complaints about children’s books on display, including “Joey,” written by first lady Jill Biden, and “Superheroes Are Everywhere” by Vice President Kamala Harris. She said some residents argued the library should have more books about former Republican President Donald Trump on display.

“I can’t buy what doesn’t exist, and there weren’t quality books about Trump. It’s a long process to choose materials typically. We pay attention to reviews and publishers and our collection needs as a whole. We don’t just say what looks good on Amazon,” she told The Gazette last month.

However, no formal complaint was made about those books.

“A librarian is a public servant and they are not operating under a partisan agenda,” Kelly said. “But perception is reality to some people.”

Kelly said the board plans to set up better support for the next director.

“We could’ve done better with our previous directors, but we are going to set up our next director for success,” Kelly said.


Gage Miskimen is a reporter for The Gazette in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Miskimen is a graduate of the University of Iowa where he also worked as the Metro Reporter for The Daily Iowan.

eporter, The Gazette


The preceding combined article was originally published by The Gazette in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and is republished by permission.

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Iowa Supreme Court rules state discriminated against Trans employee

The first jury case brought under the Iowa Civil Rights Act since amended in 2007 to prohibit discrimination against trans people at work



Jesse Vroegh with wife Jackie and their dog. (Photo Credit: ACLU of Iowa)

DES MOINES – The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday upheld a verdict by a jury in Polk County that the state had denied healthcare coverage for medically necessary gender-affirming surgery because of being a transgender person.

The Polk County jury found that Jesse Vroegh, a former Iowa Department of Corrections (DOC) nurse, was also discriminated against when the DOC banned him from the men’s restrooms and locker room at his workplace.

Vroegh’s was the first such jury case brought under the Iowa Civil Rights Act since it was amended in 2007 to expressly prohibit discrimination against transgender people at work.
The state has since started providing this coverage for all employees, as required by both state and federal nondiscrimination laws.

 “I want to say thank you to those who have made this victory possible. I thank the Iowa Supreme Court for recognizing that transgender people should be treated equally under the law. I want to thank the ACLU and Melissa Hasso for representing me and helping me file this lawsuit. And I want to thank my wife, Jackie, who has stood by me and supported me in all of this. She is an amazing person,” Vroegh said in a statement adding:

“I am doing this so that other transgender people do not have to go through what I have. I am a nurse and I see on a regular basis how important it is for people to be treated equally when receiving medical care. It’s important for all people to be treated with dignity and respect.”

Rita Bettis Austen, ACLU of Iowa Legal Director noted:

“This is a historic victory for civil rights in Iowa, because it makes real the promise of nondiscrimination protections in employment that our legislature put in place for transgender Iowans in 2007.

“Despite those longstanding protections, Mr. Vroegh’s employer, the State of Iowa, repeatedly denied his requests to use the men’s restrooms and locker rooms consistent with his gender identity at work, and the state’s employee health insurance program excluded coverage for the medically necessary gender-affirming surgery for transgender employees, even though it covered the same procedures so long as they were not to treat gender dysphoria.

“The state should have been a model for other employers in its treatment of a transgender worker, but instead blatantly discriminated against Jesse, who only ever asked to be treated the same as his coworkers.”

Bettis Austen then added; “We are so grateful to Jesse Vroegh, our inspiring and brave client, for taking on this first-of-its kind legal battle in our state and doing so much to build support and change hearts and minds for those who will come after him. We are also grateful to the Iowa jurors who saw through the state’s discriminatory arguments and rendered justice for Jesse, and to the Iowa Supreme Court for upholding their verdict. The victory today simply would not have been possible without the stellar work of Iowa civil rights attorney Melissa Hasso, and John Knight, our co-counsel with the national ACLU LGBTQ Rights Project.”

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