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This year has been identified as the worst year in recent history for legislative attacks against LGBTQ+ identifying individuals and groups at the state level, with 17 anti-LGBTQ+ bills enacted into law, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Reports from the ACLU and CNN corroborate this statement, too. And 2021 is not even halfway done.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines homophobia as the “irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or gay people.” Britannica Encyclopedia adds context to that definition, stating it is a “culturally produced fear of or prejudice against homosexuals that sometimes manifests itself in legal restrictions or, in extreme cases, bullying or even violence against homosexuals.” It’s important to note that homophobia is a conditioned response, something that comes about as a result of social and cultural customs and the pressure to adhere to norms and abysmal expectations. This context is crucial to understand how the laws being passed nationwide at the state level, and specifically in the state of Iowa, came about and why I consider them attacks against the LGBTQ+.
In Iowa, a bill introduced by Rep. Sandy Salmon, R-Janesville, House File 193, stipulates that parents must give written consent to present and discuss gender identity while their children are in the classroom. Legislators took no action on the bill this year, but the possibility of it passing was a very real concern for LGBTQ+ identifying individuals in the state of Iowa — and every Iowan for that matter.
Discussions of gender identity and the teaching of gender as a performance is critical to ensuring children grow up understanding the nuances of sociology and gender as something that exists on the spectrum. Some parents might have concerns about these teachings because of their religious beliefs. However, it is crucial to understand that public schools are dedicated to educating youth and preparing them for public life as intellectual beings and citizens of a democracy.
Cognitive formation of gender identity develops in early childhood and social cognitive theory (a widely supported theory by prominent sociologists, psychologists, educators and more) posits it affects behavioral outcomes for people throughout their lives. How they perceive themselves in relation to others and societal standards and expectations thrust upon them controls and reinforces their personal behavior in society over time. This is significant because personality attributes and career aspirations can be learned through teacher-child interactions or interactions with any authority figure, influencing the reinforcement of gender stereotyping. Without a gender-inclusive and gender-sensitive approach in learning and development, children are not allowed to fully explore who they are and make organic connections with the people around them, limiting their ability to gain authentic self-confidence and a stable sense of well-being.
When fields of study and the workplace become more diverse, results flourish and society advances. Some of the greatest advancements of modern society have come from queer scientists, innovators, artists and more. Sir Francis Bacon is commonly referred to as the father of empiricism and modern science, and there are historical notes indicating he was gay. Florence Nightingale, Leonardo da Vinci and Alan Turing are others on a long list of iconic individuals who progressed society, shaping it into the forward-thinking, fast-adapting environment most people are familiar with today.
Another bill introduced in Iowa — House File 272, sponsored by Republican legislators Mark Cisneros, Dean Fisher, Sandy Salmon and Skyler Wheeler — would have eliminated gender identity as a protected class under the Iowa Civil Rights Act. Gender identity as a potentially unprotected class specifically targets transgender people, further impacting their ability to receive adequate health care services and become employed or keep a job, among other things.
People are entitled to believe in what they want to and find solace and guidance in whatever way works for them, so long as it doesn’t come at the expense of harm to themselves or others. With the introduction of these bills, the possibility of harm inflicted on hyper-vulnerable, high-risk, and marginalized people came that much closer to reality.
Nichole Shaw is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org