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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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

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Iowa

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

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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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Iowa students walkout in protest over state’s anti-Trans youth sports law

The students protesting told ABC9 News the law discriminates against transgender students and isolates them

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Screenshot via ABC News affiliate KCRG 9 Cedar Rapids, Iowa

CEDAR RAPIDS – High school students upset over the new law signed by Republican Governor Kim Reynolds last week, that immediately bans transgender women and girls from playing on school sports teams that match their gender identity offered by Iowa public schools, colleges and universities, walked out of their classes Wednesday.

The bill also allows any student who alleges “direct or indirect harm as a result of a violation of the law’s requirement” to sue a school district, private school or high school athletic association if transgender girls are not banned from girls sports.

This bill marks the second anti-trans bill enacted in 2022, and the 11th state to pass an anti-trans sports ban.

ABC News affiliate KCRG 9 reported that the students at Cedar Rapids Washington High School walked out of class Wednesday morning to protest the state’s new law banning transgender athletes.

The students protesting told ABC9 News the law discriminates against transgender students and isolates them.

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Iowa Republican Governor signs ban on Trans girls in female sports

This bill marks the second anti-trans bill enacted in 2022, and the 11th state to pass an anti-trans sports ban

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Gov. Kim Reynolds signing the law banning trans girls from female sports (Photo by Stephen Gruber-Miller via Twitter)

DES MOINES – Iowa Republican Governor Kim Reynolds signed a law Thursday that immediately bans transgender women and girls from playing on school sports teams that match their gender identity offered by Iowa public schools, colleges and universities.

The bill also allows any student who alleges “direct or indirect harm as a result of a violation of the law’s requirement” to sue a school district, private school or high school athletic association if transgender girls are not banned from girls sports.

This bill marks the second anti-trans bill enacted in 2022, and the 11th state to pass an anti-trans sports ban.

Rep. Mary Mascher of Iowa City, forcefully told the subcommittee of the Iowa House Education Committee which passed the House version;

“I am adamantly opposed to this bill, because I think it is state-sanctioned bullying,” she said.

Democratic State Senator Zach Wahls, (D-37), told the Blade in an email after passage of the Senate version through the committee; “Republican politicians are trying to score political points and pit Iowans against each other rather than address the real economic issues affecting everyday Iowans. This legislation is shameful and disrespectful.”

The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and mental health organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people, condemned the signage of the law.

“A blanket ban on transgender student-athletes is utterly unnecessary for Iowa youth, but it will have serious mental health impacts on the most marginalized among them. Sidelining trans students will only contribute to social isolation and stigma that fuels bullying and mental health challenges for young trans people – issues they already face at alarmingly high rates,” said Sam Ames, Director for Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project. “To the trans youth of Iowa, please know that you are worthy of love and respect, and what is happening to you is wrong. But you are not alone. We are here for you and we will not stop fighting for you.”

Stephen Gruber-Miller, the statehouse reporter for the Des Moines Register noted that the Iowa High School Girls Athletic Union has removed guidance from its website saying transgender girls could fully compete as females if they consistently identified as female “at school, home and socially.”

Gruber-Miller also noted that Gov. Reynolds was in the Iowa Capitol rotunda, where she signed the bill telling the assembled audience that she’s connecting it to Iowa’s “impressive legacy” of advancing women’s equality. Behind Reynolds were signs saying “protect my innocence” and a transgender flag.

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Iowa Senate Committee passes Anti-Trans youth sports ban

“Republican politicians are trying to score political points and pit Iowans against each other rather than address real economic issues…”

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Iowa State Capitol Building (Photo Credit: State of Iowa)

DES MOINES – The Iowa Senate Education Committee passed SSB 3146 Thursday, which would restrict transgender women and girls from playing on school sports teams that match their gender identity.

The Senate version is a companion to HF 2309, which allows any student who alleges “direct or indirect harm as a result of a violation of the bill’s requirement” to sue a school district, private school or high school athletic association if transgender girls are not banned from girls sports. Both versions carry similar language.

Rep. Mary Mascher of Iowa City, forcefully told the subcommittee of the Iowa House Education Committee which passed the House version last week:

“I am adamantly opposed to this bill, because I think it is state-sanctioned bullying,” she said.

Democratic State Senator Zach Wahls, (D-37), told the Blade in an email after Thursday’s passage of the Senate version through the committee; “Republican politicians are trying to score political points and pit Iowans against each other rather than address the real economic issues affecting everyday Iowans. This legislation is shameful and disrespectful.”

“There are many issues that need the attention of Iowa lawmakers right now—this isn’t one of them. Transgender youth already face increased risk for bullying, depression, and suicide, and 85% of say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health,” said Sam Ames, Director for Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project. “We urge Iowa lawmakers to stop this bill and its House companion in their tracks, and to instead focus on supporting young trans people, not excluding them.”

During her House committee testimony last week, Emily Piper, representing the Iowa Association of School Boards, told the subcommittee; “This bill creates an unfortunate situation for school districts and our public employees where they’ll have to make a decision as to whether they violate state law or whether they violate federal law.” Piper also told members that the association opposes the bill because it “is going to have serious consequences, not only for our employees, but for the districts and for the taxpayer as we seek to defend ourselves. We ask that you do not put us in this position of having to choose between a state law and a federal law.”

Should these measures pass both the House and the Senate, the legislation will then head to the desk of Iowa Republican Governor Kim Reynolds.

The Des Moines Register reported that Reynolds repeated Tuesday that she believes it’s not fair to allow transgender women and girls to compete in girls’ sports, but said she’ll wait to see the final version of a bill Iowa lawmakers are considering before she commits to signing it.

“Girls have dreams and aspirations of earning a scholarship to help pay for college. Girls have dreams and aspirations of one day competing in the Olympics,” Reynolds said. “So it’s a fairness issue.”

Reynolds, a Republican, last year called for Iowa lawmakers to send a bill to her desk that would restrict transgender athletes’ ability to participate in sports matching their gender identity, but lawmakers adjourned the session without filing a bill.

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Iowa lawmaker: Anti-Trans youth sports bill is ‘State-sanctioned bullying’

“This bill is not about fairness in sports nor has it even been. This is an effort to further isolate transgender youth in Iowa by lawmakers”

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Iowa State Capitol Building (Photo Credit: State of Iowa)

DES MOINES – A bill that would ban Trans youth athletes from participating in girls and women’s sports in Iowa public schools, passed by the subcommittee of the Iowa House Education Committee last week, drew the swift condemnation of the committee’s sole Democratic member.

Rep. Mary Mascher of Iowa City, forcefully told the subcommittee;

“I am adamantly opposed to this bill, because I think it is state-sanctioned bullying,” she said.

“We talk a good game up here about protecting students, and making sure that their rights are upheld and that we honor and give them dignity in terms of their participation in school, activities and sports. And at the same time, we are setting up a system that will allow the state to sanction bullying in our schools.”

Rep. Mary Mascher (D-86) Photo Credit: Iowa House of Representatives

“I cannot abide by that,” Mascher, who taught fifth- and sixth-graders in Iowa City schools for 33 years before retiring in 2009, said. “And I look at all of the issues in the problems that we see students having, the struggles they face every day. Our transgender students deserve better.”

Iowa’s independent media outlet Little Village noted that HF 2309 allows any student who alleges “direct or indirect harm as a result of a violation of the bill’s requirement” to sue a school district, private school or high school athletic association if transgender girls are not banned from girls sports.

“This bill is not about fairness in sports, nor has it even been. This is an effort to further isolate transgender youth in Iowa by lawmakers who should know better than to use their most marginalized constituents as political pawns,” said Sam Ames, Director for Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project. “Research consistently demonstrates that trans youth already face increased risk for bullying, depression, and suicide – and the ugly debates around these discriminatory laws sweeping the country only make matters worse. There are many issues that Iowa lawmakers should be prioritizing this year. Attacking young trans people should not be one of them.” 

During testimony last Thursday, Emily Piper, representing the Iowa Association of School Boards, told the subcommittee; “This bill creates an unfortunate situation for school districts and our public employees where they’ll have to make a decision as to whether they violate state law or whether they violate federal law.” Piper also told members that the association opposes the bill because it “is going to have serious consequences, not only for our employees, but for the districts and for the taxpayer as we seek to defend ourselves. We ask that you do not put us in this position of having to choose between a state law and a federal law.”

The subcommittee also heard from Gavy Smith, a transgender girl who is an active participant in sports at her school, including volleyball, softball, bowling and track and field, the Little Village reported.

“Through my transition, the best thing to look forward to at the end of the day are those sports,” Gabby said. “They help me make new friendships and keep the old ones. They have made me stronger, mentally and physically.”

“If I were told I couldn’t play the sports that I want to and for the gender that I identify as, I would feel less about myself, like I’m being forced to feel different about who I am.”

The bill now goes to the House Education Committee for consideration. If HF 2309 passes both the House and the Senate, the bill will then head to the desk of Iowa Republican Governor Kim Reynolds.

The Des Moines Register reported that Reynolds repeated Tuesday that she believes it’s not fair to allow transgender women and girls to compete in girls’ sports, but said she’ll wait to see the final version of a bill Iowa lawmakers are considering before she commits to signing it.

“Girls have dreams and aspirations of earning a scholarship to help pay for college. Girls have dreams and aspirations of one day competing in the Olympics,” Reynolds said. “So it’s a fairness issue.”

Reynolds, a Republican, last year called for Iowa lawmakers to send a bill to her desk that would restrict transgender athletes’ ability to participate in sports matching their gender identity, but lawmakers adjourned the session without filing a bill.

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