Lawsuit challenges Iowa law on sexually-graphic books, discussions of sexual orientation in K-6 classes

DES MOINES — The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa has filed a federal lawsuit that seeks to overturn parts of a new state law that forbids instruction about sexual orientation in elementary classrooms. It also requires schools to remove books with graphic sexual content and school administrators are to notify a parent when a student asks to be known by a different name or pronoun at school.

The lawsuit is filed on behalf of Iowa Safe Schools, a group that advocates for LGBTQ youth, and seven families with students in Iowa schools. Berry Stevens, a student in West Des Moines, spoke during an online news conference late this morning. “I am participating in this lawsuit because this law hurts all kinds of kids and it hurts many of my personal friends,” Stevens said. “We deserve to be able to express ourselves safely at school and we deserve to see ourselves in media, especially in books.”

Percy Batista-Pedro of Waterloo, the leader of his high school’s gay-straight alliance, called the law blatant discrimination. “I’m scared of being harassed if I wear pride apparel or if I talk about my identity in class,” the 16 year old said. “This fear, which is shared by many of my transgender friends, is why I have chosen to be a plaintiff in this case.”

Belinda Scarott, Percy’s mom, said the law is unnecessarily cruel. “This law only serves to make life more perilous for him and more terrifying for me,” Scarott said. “…I spend my days worrying about what potential damage the school day might do to my child’s physical or mental well-being.”

Thomas Story, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, contends the state law violates free speech and equal protection provisions in the U.S. Constitution. “This law is deeply confusing and schools have been at a loss on how to comply, even after consulting with their attorneys,” Story said. “This law has thrown the school year into chaos.”

Lambda Legal, which represented same-sex couples who successfully sued for the right to marry in Iowa, is also representing the students and parents who’ve filed this lawsuit.

“Protecting children from pornography and sexually explicit content shouldn’t be controversial,” Governor Kim Reynolds said in a written statement released Tuesday afternoon. “…Books with graphic depictions of sex acts have absolutely no place in our schools.”