Three New Bills that impact LGBTQ+ Education in Iowa

Jan 17, 2023

The Iowa legislature has introduced a series of three bills in the House and Senate that impact LGBTQ+ education.

House File 8 modifies existing educational standards for grades K through 3. HF 8 expressly prohibits a school district from providing “any program, curriculum, material, test, survey, questionnaire, activity, announcement, promotion, or instruction of any kind relating to gender identity or sexual orientation.” The broad language of the bill makes it uncertain whether a teacher could, for example, tell students that the teacher has a same sex partner as this could be an “announcement” or put up a pride flag in the classroom as this might be considered a “promotion.” As currently written, the bill wouldn’t just prohibit education on homosexuality as “sexual orientation” is defined as “actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality.” Likewise, “gender identity” is defined as “a gender-related identity of a person, regardless of the person’s assigned sex at birth” and an educator would be equally limited in discussion of cis-, trans-, or any other gender identity. The definitions of sexual orientation and gender identity in HF 8 are the same ones used in Iowa’s anti-discrimination code. There is an ambiguous final addition that requires school boards to provide “age-appropriate” and “research-based” instruction in human sexuality, self-esteem, stress management, interpersonal relationships, domestic abuse, HPV and the availability of a vaccine to prevent HPV, and [AIDS]” to students in grades 1 through 3. It is unclear how these two sections will interact as it seems impossible for a school board to provide instruction regarding these topics if the teachers cannot educate regarding sexual orientation or gender identity. It is possible that these apparently inconsistent revisions to the Iowa code signal an intention by the legislature to alter the definitions of sexual orientation and gender identity in Iowa’s anti-discrimination laws because revising those definitions would be one possible way to align the educator and school board restrictions. However, that is just speculation at this point.

Senate File 83 seeks to modify the same sections of the Iowa Code as HF 8, but only prohibits education regarding gender identity. SF 83 also extends the limit on education rights by prohibiting instruction regarding gender identity for all students grads K through 8. The most concerning part of SF 83 (and perhaps the most concerning aspect of any of these bills) is a new code section that would give a parent or guardian the right to sue the school district for educating students in grades K through 8 in any matter regarding “gender identity.” However, SF 83 also defines gender identity as “a gender-related identity of a person, regardless of the person’s assigned sex at birth.” If these bills do become law in the state of Iowa, a parent would have the right to sue the school district if the school district provides education regarding cis-gender identities. This could be one course of action to fight these bills if they do become law in the future.

House File 9 also relates exclusively to gender identity and seeks to take away protections for non-cisgender students. Under HF 9, a school district cannot encourage a student to withhold information regarding the student’s gender from their parents or withhold information regarding a student’s identity from their parents. The bill also prohibits the school district from providing information related to gender affirming care and actively promotes mis-gendering of students and refusing accommodations. As it relates to the school district’s “withholding” of information from a parent, it is unclear what exactly will constitute “withholding,” as the standard in the bill is unclear. One possible interpretation of the language as it stands now is that a school district could only be liable if the parent directly asks about the student’s gender identity and the school district provides false information or withholds information. As a final note, a school district can use a student’s preferred pronouns with parental consent. The requirements of this bill would be applicable to all students, regardless of grade level.