Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposal would require schools to get parents’ permission to use nicknames that don’t correspond with a child’s sex at birth. (Photo illustration by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch with images via Canva)
The Republican Party’s obsession with sex and gender identity has reached a fever pitch in the Iowa Statehouse this year. Gov. Kim Reynolds and her gang of helicopter mothers are clutching their pearls so hard they must be cutting off oxygen to their brains. At this rate, they will end up banning rainbows before the next election.
Iowa GOP lawmakers have expanded on the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law from Florida, extending the prohibition in schools on all things LGBTQ all the way to eighth grade. The Florida ban specifies kindergarten through third grade.
Sen. Sandy Salmon’s version of the bill, Senate File 159, would create draconian civil penalties from $10,000 to $50,000 for schools where violations occur and are not immediately corrected. The bill prohibits any instruction on gender identity or sexual orientation in grades K-8, while also requiring instruction on human growth and development to be “age-appropriate” and research-based. That seems like a contradiction, since pretending LGBTQ people don’t exist is neither age-appropriate nor research-based. It’s delusional.
Reynolds’ version of the bill, introduced last week, is even more ridiculous. Senate Study Bill 1145 states that a school district has to get written permission from a parent or guardian “to address the minor child by a nickname or a pronoun that does not correspond to the biological sex that is listed on the minor child’s official birth certificate.”
Now they want to regulate nicknames?! Have these people failed to notice how many nicknames are not gender-specific? What’s a teacher supposed to do if Barbara and Robert both want to be called Bobbie? What if Charlotte and Charles both go by Charlie?
The goal with this language is apparently to prevent trans kids from social transitioning at school without parental permission. That’s bad enough, but it’s written so broadly as to affect any kid who uses a nickname. Someone who calls herself “Kim” certainly must be aware that it’s also a boy’s name. Would Reynolds have to get a note from her parents if she were attending school under this law? Ever hear of a common boy’s nickname for Alexander, Sen. Salmon?
Are overworked teachers going to have to spend time researching whether Jean is a boy’s name or a girl’s? What about José-Maria? Or Ahn?
The bill is poorly written, but maybe it means no nicknames at all are allowed without parental consent. If that’s the case, I might have tried to get my junior-high homeroom teacher fired under a law like that. He persisted in calling me “Katie” for three years. I stopped trying to correct him after the first week of seventh grade.
Nicknames develop for all sorts of reasons. Some kids are saddled with names that lead to bullying, or that the teacher – or even a young child — can’t even pronounce. Sometimes, there are four “Jordans” in a class. (Is that a boy’s name or a girl’s?) Teachers who insist on using a child’s hated given name are likely to kill any enthusiasm their students may have had for school.
It would be comical if it wasn’t so dangerous. At the root of these bills is the ignorant and wrong-headed notion that children won’t turn out lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, etc., if they are sheltered from the knowledge that such a thing is possible. Worse, the legislation is driven by these parents’ vain wish that they can deny or change who their children are if only their school doesn’t affirm their gender identity or sexual orientation. That lack of acceptance at home leads to child abuse, homelessness, mental anguish and even suicide for far too many young people.
These bills also imagine that kids, regardless of orientation, won’t become sexually active if you avoid teaching them about sex. That’s just nuts. Kids find out about sex on their own, in a hundred different ways. What they don’t learn about is how to keep themselves safe from exploitation, disease and pregnancy. Parents who think this subject is best addressed at home are just as likely to never have “the talk” with their adolescent offspring.
Both bills also interfere with the collection of important public health data in the form of surveys that ask youth about behaviors and attitudes that might affect their health. The Iowa Youth Survey, for example, asks about gambling, smoking and vaping, illegal drug and alcohol use, bullying, perceptions of teachers, and perceptions of diversity and racism, in addition to sexual orientation and gender identity. Results are reported only in aggregate; the students are anonymous. This survey has long been considered a valuable tool for directing public resources and programs to protect children.
Both bills also meddle with the information students receive about the HPV vaccine, which prevents cancers caused by the human papillomavirus. The virus is primarily (but not exclusively) transmitted through sexual activity. So now the “don’t say sex” lobby has joined with the anti-vaxx mob to seek restrictions on mentioning the vaccine in health classes.
It’s a festival of denial and hysteria by a minority of Iowans that today’s GOP is all too happy to indulge. What these lawmakers apparently fail to grasp is this is not about keeping kids safe. These bills as written would do the opposite. Instead, this is about a small group of politically active parents, backed by out-of-state interest-group money, trying to impose their world views not only on their own children but on everyone else’s.
Advocates of this brand of legislation want to call it “parental rights.” Let’s call it what it really is: bigotry and fear driven by ignorance.
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