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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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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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