On February 9th, 2023, Iowa House Republicans introduced Senate Study Bill 1145 (“SSB 1145”), Iowa’s equivalent of Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law. Similar to Florida’s law, Section 13 of Iowa’s proposed bill provides: “[a] school district shall not provide any program, curriculum, material, test, survey, questionnaire, activity, announcement, promotion, or instruction of any kind relating to gender identity or sexual activity to students in kindergarten through grade three.”[1] While supporters of the bill claim it is intended to protect parents’ rights, keep parents informed, and “ensure[] that school employees can’t hide information about a student’s requested gender transition or identity from the child’s parents,”[2] in reality, this is yet another bill by Iowa Republicans targeting LGBTQ+ students.[3] Specifically, Iowa’s SSB 1145 takes Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law to further extremes with two provisions.

First, SSB 1145 requires the forced outing of any minor students to their parents.[4] Under Section 16, school districts must “immediately notify the parent or guardian of a minor child . . . if any employee of the school district reasonably believes that the minor child has expressed a gender identity that is different from the biological sex listed on the minor child’s official birth certificate.”[5] This language requires employees to report any time they “reasonably believe” a child has expressed a gender identity; this suggests “expression” is more than a student explicitly telling an employee of their gender. Therefore, “expression” could potentially include an employee witnessing a behavior they believe expresses a certain gender identity, such as playing with dolls or wearing a dress, or an employee overhearing a conversation between students regarding gender identity. Forced reporting in these situations strips students of privacy at school, and could be particularly harmful when the students may already feel their home is an unsafe place for their gender expression. Data shows 56% of transgender youth reported previous suicide attempts.[6] Forced outing is likely to enlarge these statistics.[7]

Second, Section 16 of SSB 1145 would require school districts to “receive the prior written consent of the parent or guardian of a minor child. . . . before allowing any employee of the school district to address the minor child using a nickname or a pronoun that does not correspond to the biological sex that is listed on the minor child’s official birth certificate.”[8] Not only does this section provide another opportunity for forced outing, but it puts complete control of a student’s identity into the hands of a parent. A student cannot even choose a nickname without their parent’s permission. This section is facially discriminatory as only nicknames that do not “correspond with the [student’s] biological sex” require parental permission. This likely means Joseph may go by Joe but Joann may not, or Christopher may be called Chris but Christina may not.[9] Aside from the obvious impracticality of this section, the harmful goals are clear: “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.”[10]

It is not yet known whether this bill will pass, however with the backing of Governor Kim Reynolds and a Republican majority in both the House and Senate, there is a possibility the bill will become law.[11] That being said, Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law is already being litigated for its unconstitutionality,[12] providing a chance that U.S. courts may soon invalidate legislation such as SSB 1145. 

[1] S.S.B. 1145, 90th Cong. (Iowa 2023) (Senate Study Bill 1145 was introduced on February 9, 2023 and is currently undergoing subcommittee review).

[2] Tom Barton, Iowa House Republicans Introduce Their Version of Florida ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill, Quad-City Times (Jan. 31, 2023), https://qctimes.com/news/state-and-regional/govt-and-politics/iowa-house-republicans-introduce-their-version-of-florida-don-t-say-gay-bill/article_824934b1-1f0c-5ef5-8367-fb70c1a225e2.html [https://perma.cc/N4S7-FAT4].

[3] Just last year, Governor Kim Reynolds signed a Republican-backed law banning transgender girls from female sports. Devan Cole, Iowa Becomes Second State to Enact Anti-Trans Sports Ban this Year, CNN (Mar. 3, 2022, 7:08 PM), https://www.cnn.com/2022/03/03/politics/iowa-transgender-sports-ban/index.html [https://perma.cc/P7F4-R55G].

[4] See Peter Greene, In Iowa, Redefined Obscenity, Forced Outing, And Retraining Sessions, Forbes (Feb. 13, 2023, 2:12 PM), https://www.forbes.com/sites/petergreene/2023/02/13/in-iowa-redefined-obscenity-forced-outing-and-retraining-sessions/?sh=22fdf9e566fe [https://perma.cc/P5QR-QY5X].

[5] S.S.B. 1145, supra note 1.

[6] Ashley Austin, et al., Suicidality Among Transgender Youth: Elucidating the Role of Interpersonal Risk Factors 37 J. of Interpersonal Violence 1985, 1985 (2022).

[7] See Greene, supra note 4.

[8] S.S.B. 1145, supra note 1.

[9] See Kathie Obradovich, ‘Don’t Say Kim?’ Governor’s Bill Would Regulate Schools’ Use of Nicknames, Iowa Capital Dispatch (Feb. 13, 2023), https://iowacapitaldispatch.com/2023/02/13/dont-say-kim-governors-bill-would-regulate-schools-use-of-nicknames [https://perma.cc/985D-UF7G].

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] We The People, The Constitutionality of Florida’s Education Bill, National Constitution Center (Apr. 14, 2022) https://constitutioncenter.org/news-debate/podcasts/the-constitutionality-of-floridas-education-bill [https://perma.cc/5JE2-2A9V].

Friday, February 24, 2023