Iowa families launch lawsuit against anti-LGBTQ+ measure targeting public schools

Des Moines, Iowa - Seven families have filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging Iowa's anti-LGBTQ+ law targeting discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in schools.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds in May signed SF 496 into law, a strict measure targeting LGBTQ+ instruction and representation in public schools.
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds in May signed SF 496 into law, a strict measure targeting LGBTQ+ instruction and representation in public schools.  © SCOTT OLSON / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday on behalf of Iowa Safe Schools and several students' families, calls for the federal court to declare SF 496 unconstitutional and to block its enforcement as the legal case plays out.

Signed by Republican Governor Kim Reynolds in May, the law prohibits public school instructors from discussing topics of gender identity and sexual orientation through grade six and requires administrators to notify parents if students request a change to their name or pronouns. It also bans school library books showing sex acts – with an exception for religious texts.

"SF 496 is a clear violation of public school students' First Amendment right to speak, read, and learn freely," ACLU of Iowa staff attorney Thomas Story said in a statement.

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"The First Amendment does not allow our state or our schools to remove books or issue blanket bans on discussion and materials simply because a group of politicians or parents find them offensive."

Iowa students speak out about anti-LGBTQ+ law

Iowa students and families are fighting back over the state's anti-LGBTQ+ law which harms children and youth.
Iowa students and families are fighting back over the state's anti-LGBTQ+ law which harms children and youth.  © DAVID GREEDY / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

Iowa students are already feeling the chilling effects of SF 496 as hundreds of books have been removed from school shelves.

Puck Carlson, a high school senior in Iowa City, said, "Removing books that discuss queer topics or people from our schools tells our queer students that they do not belong there, that their existence is shameful. I am not shameful. I have an LGBTQ little sister, who I love more than anything in this world, and she is not shameful. She deserves to be herself and to know that she belongs."

"I've known since I was in third grade that I am a part of the LGBTQIA+ community," said West Des Moines eighth grader Berry Stevens. "In sixth grade, I first changed my name and started using they/them pronouns because I knew I wasn’t a boy or a girl. I’m just a person. This is a concept that a lot of adults have trouble understanding."

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"I am participating in this lawsuit because this new law hurts all kinds of kids and it hurts many of my friends," they continued. "I know what it's like to be bullied and harassed because of being in the LGBTQIA+ community. I wish my school would do something to actually prevent bullying before it happens, not just tell kids it's wrong after the fact. But because of this law, I feel like the school is too worried about getting in trouble with the state if they try to speak out."

Penalties associated with SF 496 may be levied starting on January 1 unless the court steps in to block the law.

Cover photo: DAVID GREEDY / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

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