New guidelines set by the 4-H in Iowa hope to make the group more inclusive of young LGBT people, but they're not sitting well with Christian conservatives.
On its website, 4-H, the nation's largest youth development organization, posted a proposed policy that would welcome "all gender identities, gender expressions, sexual orientations, and sexes." Specifically, the proposal calls for Iowa 4-H clubs to allow transgender individuals to use the bathrooms, locker rooms and overnight accommodations that align with their gender identity.
When an individual (youth or adult) notifies 4-H administration (at the county and/or state level as
appropriate) that the individual will assert a gender identity that differs from previous representations or
records, 4-H will begin treating the individual consistent with the individual’s gender identity. There is no
medical diagnosis or treatment requirement that individuals (youth or adult) must meet as a prerequisite to
being treated consistent with their gender identity.
Christian groups are already up in arms: Des Moines' The Family Leader—which "provides a consistent, courageous voice in the churches, in the legislature, in the media, in the courtroom, [and] in the public square"—has called on followers to tell Iowa 4-H not to accept the proposal.
In the comment section, a Family Leader rep claims "issue is a pedophile (statistically, these are most often straight men) need only claim to be transgender to be given access to girls in vulnerable situations."
A commenter on the thread declared the policy was "socialists trying to destroy 4-H like they did Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts." Another insisted if they had children or grandchildren in 4-H, "I would not let them go on overnights without me, or someone I trusted as a chaperone."
4-H is administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), a subdivision of the Department of Agriculture, but it is often overseen by local public universities. The Iowa 4-H, for example, is overseen by Iowa State University.
The proposed Iowa 4-H policy would be in line with the state's civil rights laws and the Iowa Department of Education guidelines, which mandate students must be allowed access to facilities matching their gender identity.
Nate Monson, executive director of Iowa Safe Schools, the state's leading LGBT youth advocacy group, told the Des Moines Register the antagonism the proposal is facing shows a lack of understanding .
"Someone doesn’t wake up and put a wig on one day. Often transgender people develop their sense of self as young as age 2 or 3, and go through a long process of solidifying who they are and coming out."
After the public comment period ended last week, a committee will review input and decide on the policy. John-Paul Chaisson-Cardenas, a 4-H Youth Development Program leader says the young people's voices will be given heavy consideration.
“At the center of this for me is that we want every child to feel like 4-H is the place for them,” Chaisson-Cárdenas told the Register . “At the end of the day, labels shouldn’t matter. All that should matter is that we all have a passion for [agriculture] and we all care about making a positive difference in our community."
While transgender Iowans are already protected by state law and Department of Agriculture nondiscrimination policies, Chaisson-Cárdenas added that the guidelines will help 4-H staff "navigate those times when it is complicated."