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Bill requiring parental consent for transgender accommodations at school advances in Iowa House

Iowans protesting HF180 and other anti-LGBTQ+ legislation outside the capitol on Sunday. Photo by Meghan Holloran | Digital Editor

Republicans on the House education committee advanced a bill to the House floor on Feb. 1 that would regulate how schools treat transgender students. 

House File 180 would prohibit public and charter schools from taking several actions regarding transgender students. Schools couldn’t accommodate a student’s gender transition, including referring to the student by their chosen name, without written consent from a parent or legal guardian. Schools also wouldn’t be allowed to pressure a trans student or their parents to seek gender-affirming care.

Additionally, school staff couldn’t withhold information on a student’s gender identity or their intention to transition from parents, nor could they encourage a student to withhold that information from their parents. 

Proponents of the bill argue that, just like in medical decisions, parents are entitled to have a say in major decisions like their child’s gender identity. 

“We have parental permissions in place to deal with major health issues, and a sense of identity and gender identity is a major psychological issue,” said Drew Zhan, Director of Communications at The Family Leader, a prominent Christian ministry lobbying for the bill. “It’s something that parents [believe] that they have a right to shepherd their child through, rather than being barred from it altogether.” 

Keenan Crow, Director of Policy and Advocacy at LGBTQ rights organization One Iowa, said this bill would not only violate the privacy rights of students at school but also the Iowa Civil Rights Code, which bans discrimination based on gender identity.

“You can’t have a parent say ‘I waive that protection.’ That doesn’t make sense,” Crow said. “That would be like a parent saying, ‘I waive my child’s right to free speech,’ or ‘I waive my child’s right to not be discriminated on the basis of their race…’ That is absurd. That is not how rights work.” 

In testimony to the education subcommittee hearing on the bill, Laura Hessburg, Policy Director for Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, stated her concern that the bill would require staff like school counselors to violate their professional ethical standards as well as risk transgender students’ health and safety.

“The disproportionate rates of bullying, depression, violence and suicide among LGBTQ youth is not because they are somehow more prone to these risks due to their gender identity,” Hessburg said. “They are at higher risk because of how they are mistreated, stigmatized and shamed. There is no rational policy justification for undermining school policies to address student well-being.” 

The American Civil Liberties Union is currently tracking 371 bills in statehouses across the country that they believe attack the LGBTQ community. Of those bills, 23 are in Iowa. 

HF 180 was introduced in response to a 2022 policy from the Linn-Mar School District. 

The policy created gender support plans for students that could require staff to address a child by their preferred name and use their preferred pronouns. The plans also allow a student to use a bathroom or locker room and enroll in physical education activities that correspond with their gender identity. All of these actions could be taken without informing a parent or guardian. 

The Linn-Mar School District is currently being sued over the policy by the Parents Defending Education organization. An Iowa judge ruled in support of the district in September, but arguments to a federal appeals court were heard Feb. 16. 

One of the organization’s allies is former Vice President Mike Pence, who spoke to a group of the lawsuit’s supporters in Cedar Rapids on the same day as the appeals court hearing.

“We’re asking the court to end this dangerous and degrading policy and restore sanity and the primitive role of parents in schools,” Pence said.

HF 180 passed out of committee on Jan. 31 and has been placed on the House debate eligibility calendar. The House must now pass the bill by March 31 to be eligible for Senate consideration.

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