A new law in Iowa prevents children from learning about HIV and HPV in school. It is part of Gov. Kim Reynolds’s “parental rights” legislation, which would also ban books that depict sex from school libraries except for religious texts, such as the Bible, Torah, and Qur’an. The law also prohibits “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” educational materials for students in kindergarten through grade six. Parents must also be notified if their child asks to use a different pronoun in school.
Health experts say removing HIV from the curriculum would leave students in the dark in terms of their sexual health, including testing and treatment. People ages 13 to 24 make up approximately one in five new HIV diagnoses, according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).
Research shows that providing HIV education in schools can reduce the spread by helping young people take steps to protect their health. Students will also miss out on the science behind new trends surrounding HIV, including the availability of PrEP and that undetectable equals untransmittable.
In terms of HPV, the CDC recommends children as young as nine be vaccinated.
Gov. Reynolds signed seven education-related bills into law last Friday.
“This legislative session, we secured transformational education reform that puts parents in the driver’s seat, eliminates burdensome regulations on public schools, provides flexibility to raise teacher salaries, and empowers teachers to prepare our kids for their future,” Reynolds said in a news release during a recent “parental rights” event with Moms for Liberty. “Education is the great equalizer and everyone involved – parents, educators, our children – deserves an environment where they can thrive.”
LGBTQ+ advocates and organizations were quick to criticize the laws by saying the legislation will “harm an already vulnerable group of children” and benefit no one.
Becky Tayler, executive director for Iowa Safe Schools, an organization committed to providing a safe space for LGBTQ+ children in schools, called the legislation “anti-child, anti-parent, and anti-educator” in a news release.
“With the stroke of a pen, Governor Reynolds has punctuated her crusade against LGBTQ youth this session,” Tayler said.
Mike Beranek, president of the Iowa State Education Association, said he was disappointed by the governor’s decision, while lending his support to students who will be negatively affected by the laws.
“Today, with her veto power, Governor Reynolds had an opportunity to support the thousands of great education professionals who work hard to educate, support, and elevate the students in their care,” Beranek said in a news release. “She chose not to exercise this power, and instead, cemented laws that are designed to intimidate, censor, and harm the educators and students who work in and attend our public schools.”
In March, Gov. Reynolds signed two bills into law regarding transgender youth, including a ban on gender-affirming care for those under age 18 and a ban on transgender people using bathrooms and locker rooms that do not match their sex assigned at birth.
More than 520 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced during the last legislative session in states all over the country, according to a recent tally by the HRC, including “forced outing” bills that require teachers to alert parents if their child starts going by a different name or pronoun at school.
These bills “rely on this sort of paranoid idea that teachers are secretly encouraging your kids to identify as trans, and then not telling you about it,” Gillian Branstetter, communications strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union told CNN. “It’s fundamentally important that all young people feel they can build trust with the people that they spend most of their day with, which are their teachers.”
Al Stone-Gebhardt, 17, who identifies as transgender, recently decided not to attend his graduation ceremony because he doesn’t want to be called by his deadname, the name he received at birth but no longer uses.
“Being deadnamed just immediately makes you feel belittled, weak and insignificant,” Stone-Gebhardt told the Associated Press. “I didn’t want to be in the classroom. I didn’t trust the teacher.”
Emily Osterling, a high school special education teacher, said “outing” laws force teachers like her to betray their students’ trust.
“Students wouldn’t trust teachers anymore,” Osterling said. “You’re putting educators in a very, very bad position. It’s kind of taking pieces of our job to a different level. A job is your source of income, I mean, it’s your livelihood.”