An Iowa law restricting LGBTQ+ content and materials that went into effect this fall could hurt students' academic experience, school climate and mental health, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday on behalf of Iowa Safe Schools, a nonprofit that advocates for LGBTQ+ youth, and seven Iowa students and their families.
The lawsuit claims that school districts, in response to the law, inconsistently "banned books based on their content and viewpoint," removed rainbow flags and erased other messages of inclusion for LGBTQ+ students and staff, and restricted LGBTQ+-related extracurricular clubs.
The law, SF 496, forbids content related to gender identity and sexual orientation in grades K-6 and requires school staff to report students requesting gender-affirming accommodations, like pronoun changes, to parents. Plaintiffs say the law violates the First and 14th Amendments by infringing on freedom of speech.
The Iowa law is similar to a handful of other recent measures across the nation that have banned curricular materials, invoked anti-LGBTQ+ pronoun policies, and limited access to facilities and athletic teams. The Iowa law also prohibits instruction related to gender identity in K-6 health class, the lawsuit claims.
Plaintiffs are asking the judge to temporarily block the law’s implementation as the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for Southern District of Iowa, works its way through the courts. Their ultimate goal is for the law to be permanently blocked. Lawyers are hoping for a ruling as soon as a hearing is scheduled, they said during a press conference Tuesday.
While the lawsuit is pending, school staff may have to make difficult decisions, said the legal team for Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, which jointly filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs.
"Teachers will have to decide if they're willing to risk, potentially, their teaching licenses to do what they think is right and to support their students," said Nathan Maxwell, attorney for Lambda Legal, during the press conference. Maxwell and the legal team say the law has also interfered with schools' responsibility to protect students from anti-LGBTQ+ harassment and bullying. "I do think that they are in an impossible position where they will have to soon make very terrible decisions that might impact the health and wellbeing of their students."
He added that teachers are doing the best they can, and some have told LGBTQ+ students "that they are still a safe person."
The lawsuit comes one day after a South Florida principal and four other staff members at a Broward County high school were removed from their positions amid an investigation into allegations of a transgender student being allowed to play on a girls’ volleyball team. The allegation, if true, would be a violation of state law, which prohibits transgender students from playing on athletic teams aligning with their gender identities.
"Transgender youth should not have to live in fear at their schools," said Percy Batista-Pedro, a high school junior and plaintiff in the Iowa case filed Tuesday.
LGBTQ+ students "deserve to be in a supportive environment," said Rev. Brigit Stevens, mother of a gender-fluid 8th grader. "But this bill is paralyzing teachers and administrators."
"They're all shades of the same color, really," said Maxwell, adding that litigants have seen success in cases similar to the one filed Tuesday in response to "a flood of new laws" nationwide.
In Texas, a judge ordered that at least 12 books removed from public libraries in Llano County be placed back on shelves after they were removed due to LGBTQ+ or race-related content. The order was a result of a lawsuit also filed under the First and 14th Amendments.