A bill banning the teaching of gender identity in Iowa schools appears to have stalled in the Iowa Senate.
A subcommittee recommended the passage of Senate File 83 – labeled by opponents as the “Don’t Say Trans Bill” – at the end of January. It has yet to receive a full vote by the Senate Education Committee.
The bill would ban teaching about gender identity for students in grades K-8 and allows parents to sue school districts if they believe a teacher has violated the ban. The bill would apply to all public, charter, and accredited private schools.
SF 83 is just one of over 25 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in the Iowa legislature this session, continuing a trend seen across the country in Republican-run legislatures of restricting or banning LGBTQ+ discussions or events.
Sen. Jeff Taylor, R-Sioux Center, is the lead sponsor of SF 83 and one of 16 Republican sponsors of the bill overall.
“The bill is a common-sense proposal,” Taylor said. “Is the teaching of gender identity necessary for basic curriculum? No.”
He believes gender identity is not beneficial to teach to children and that the issue has been too politicized recently.
“I believe this topic would not be taught with fact-based neutrality but rather serve as a type of indoctrination,” Taylor said.
While Republicans have a supermajority in the Iowa Senate, Democrats still are fighting to block any of these anti-LGBTQ+ bill proposals.
One of these Democrats, Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, served on the Education subcommittee that oversaw SF 83. The subcommittee recommended passage of the bill on Jan. 31 in a 2-1 vote, with Quirmbach the lone vote against.
“Every non-binary or transgender person I’ve talked to have all said the same thing: They knew they were different from an early age,” Quirmbach said.
This statement was further backed up by Keenan Crow, the policy director at One Iowa, who said the common age for transgender youth to come out is around nine years old.
“Contrary to the belief of the folks proposing this [bill], kids have a very well-developed sense of their gender by the time they’re going to school,” Crow said.
Quirmbach also believes this bill violates Article 1 Section 6 of the Iowa constitution, which states that all laws must be applied uniformly. He points to Iowa Code 279.5, which requires all Iowa school districts to teach about human growth and development starting in kindergarten.
“What this bill is trying to do is tell the public schools that they can’t meet the human growth and development needs of those minority populations,” Quirmbach said.
Quirmbach believes that if this law passes, the state of Iowa and school districts will be sued in both state and federal courts for violating equal protection under the law.
“This bill denies a certain fraction of the population equal education about their own human growth and development,” Quirmbach said.
Some public concern around the bill also points towards bullying, though Republicans don’t believe that will be an issue. Taylor said that students from every background deserve both empathy and support.
“No child in Iowa deserves to be treated with anything other than respect,” he said. “However, this does not mean that adults must affirm everything that a child believes.”
Data from the Cyberbullying Research Center shows 35% of children who are victims of bullying openly identify as transgender or non-binary. Data from the Trevor Project – a nonprofit LGBTQ+ suicide prevention group– shows that 53% of transgender or non-binary youth considered suicide, and almost 18% have attempted.
“To take information away from other students about their peers that would help them have a better understanding about their peers, that is irresponsible,” Crow said.
The bill has garnered the attention of many, with 57 lobbyists representing 38 different groups making official declarations. Forty-three have declared against the bill, 12 have declared for the bill and two are undecided.
“[Gender identity] does not just apply to trans people,” Crow said. “Everyone has a gender identity, whether they’re cis or trans.”
Crow said that they and the rest of the team at One Iowa will continue to engage with legislators and their constituents to fight back. The organization also has phone banks set up for the public to use, as well as planned rallies.
“[We are doing] everything that we can to push back against this harmful, misguided legislation we’re seeing this year over and over again,” Crow said.