Iowa Activists Disregard State’s Commitment to Equality in Campaign Against LGBTQ Conference

Iowa state flagAnti-LGBT activists in Iowa have resorted to name-calling and extremist rhetoric in their attempt to stir up controversy over an upcoming safe-schools conference, referring to LGBTQ conference organizers as “self-proclaimed sodomites” and accusing them of “coming after” children with “evil propaganda.”

The fear-mongering campaign, which targets the Eighth Annual Iowa Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth and its supporters, not only spreads misinformation and hateful messages; it also disregards the state’s well-established commitment—embodied in law—to equal educational opportunity, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The LGBTQ Conference and the Opponents’ Extremist Rhetoric

The Iowa Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth, sponsored by Iowa Safe Schools, aims to “engage and educate students, educators, parents, community leaders, youth-serving professionals, policy makers, and others concerned about issues relevant to the LGBTQ community.” It also “encourage[s] networking and activism to inspire our communities to promote diversity, equality, and social justice.” The conference takes place this April 3.

Opponents of the event recently held a press conference to spew some of their anti-LGBT rhetoric and to put pressure on the Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) to withdraw its support for the event; the DMACC’s diversity commission is a conference sponsor.

As the press conference made clear, anti-LGBT activists are particularly offended by some of the upcoming event’s workshops—including a workshop called “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Right Wing?” and another called “For the Bible Tells Me So.” The latter workshop, according to the LGBTQ conference website, “offers healing, clarity, and understanding to anyone caught in the crosshairs of scripture and sexual identity.”

Conference opponents have demanded that DMACC not use taxpayer funds or tuition payments on the event.

Chuck Hurley, the Vice-President of the group “FAMiLY Leader,” spoke first at the press conference. Tapping into fears and stereotypes about LGBT “recruitment,” Hurley demanded that the LGBTQ conference organizers “stop coming after [his] kids and other people’s kids with evil propaganda.”

Other notable quotes from press-conference speakers included the following:

• “Homosexual and lesbian behavior is neither right nor healthy. The Bible has made that very clear for us.”

• “Part of the reason we’re here is to warn and to call on the adults who should know better to stop exposing impressionable school children to evil.”

• “Providing self-proclaimed sodomites with a venue to advocate what the majority of Iowans would consider to be deviant sexual behavior makes no sense.”

State Senator Denis Guth spoke as well, saying on behalf of a group of senators, “We cannot vote in good conscience  to give tax-payer dollars to people or groups who pervert the Bible, teach our children to engage in dangerous behavior, and target individuals . . . for hatred or bullying.” (One of the anti-LGBT activists’ claims is that they are the real victims of bullying here.) Senator Guth and some of his senate colleagues have threatened to cut off funds for the community college unless it ensures that taxpayers’ dollars are not used for the event.

Watch an excerpt of the press conference:

Iowa Law’s Commitment to Safe Schools for All Youth, Including LGBTQ Youth

In addition to spreading fear and misinformation about what it means to be LGBTQ, those campaigning against the safe-schools conference have (strategically) disregarded the fact that, as a matter of law and policy, the state of Iowa has already rejected their anti-LGBT message. The LGBTQ safe-schools conference that these activists so streneously oppose is, in contrast, largely aimed at making Iowa’s inclusive public-policy goals a reality.

A 2007 law, for example, proclaims that “[t]he state of Iowa is committed to providing all students with a safe and civil school environment in which all members of the school community are treated with dignity and respect.” The law goes on to prohibit bullying and harassment, which it defines to include certain conduct targeting a student based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. All the states’ school districts and accredited nonpublic schools are required under the law to adopt a sexual-orientation-inclusive and gender-identity-inclusive policy against harassment and bullying at school. The law also encourages schools to adopt training programs to reduce harassing and bullying behavior.

“Sexual orientation” and “gender identity” have also been covered since 2007 in the state’s anti-discrimination laws for employment and public accommodations.

The 2007 adoption of the inclusive safe-schools and anti-discrimination laws marked a major defeat for groups like the FAMiLY Leader and other anti-LGBT activists and politicians, and perhaps it’s no surprise that they remain frustrated. (It’s likely as well that they were not thrilled, to say the least, by the state’s subsequent recognition of marriage equality.) But nothing excuses the insulting and misleading rhetoric that dominated their recent press conference, and nothing justifies the threat to cut off funds to the DMACC. The LGBTQ safe-schools conference provides an invaluable service to vulnerable, often-ostracized minorities, and its organizers are helping to make Iowa’s public policy aspirations a reality. Those supporting the conference, including the DMACC, deserve public praise, not penalty.