Nov 28, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Families sue to block Iowa law banning books, gender identity discussions

Illustration of a gavel on a book instead of a block.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

A group of families filed a lawsuit Tuesday in an effort to block a sweeping Iowa law that bans books with sexual content and forbids teachers from discussing or teaching LGBTQ topics.

The big picture: The suit comes amid a surge in attempted book bans in schools and public libraries across the country, and is just the latest battle in a culture war over what kids should be exposed to.

Driving the news: The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, Lambda Legal and Jenner & Block LLP announced the lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday.

  • They claimed the state law "seeks to silence LGBTQ+ students, erase any recognition of LGBTQ+ people from public schools, and bans books with sexual or LGBTQ+ content."

Context: The law, which passed earlier this year via a majority Republican Legislature, forbids "any program, curriculum, test, survey, questionnaire, promotion, or instruction relating to gender identity or sexual orientation" in grades K-6.

  • It also requires public schools K-12 to remove all books containing "descriptions or visual depictions of a sex act," except the Bible.
  • Teachers must notify parents if a student asks to go by a different name or pronoun.
  • It also requires written parental permission if a student wants to go by a pronoun or name not assigned at birth.

Zoom out: Other states have passed similar laws to stop educators from teaching students about certain subjects, including sexual orientation or gender identity.

What they're saying: Nathan Maxwell, one of the attorneys representing the families, called the Iowa law unconstitutional.

  • "Schools should be safe havens that protect all students — including LGBTQ+ students — so they can learn and thrive in an affirming environment," he said in a statement. "[This law] sends the message that LGBTQ+ kids are too shameful to be acknowledged and endangers not only their mental health, but also their physical safety and well-being."

Details: The lawsuit was brought on behalf of Iowa Safe Schools, a non-profit organization supporting LGBTQ and allied youth, along with seven students and their families affected by the law.

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