Iowa Safe Schools started its Iowa Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth in 2006 with support from then-Governor Tom Vilsack. The conference has featured controversy in the past, but now that Iowa Safe Schools is responsible for flying the transgender pride flag over the Iowa Capitol — a move that broke Capitol grounds rules — Iowans are wondering why Republican governors continue to allow the title of the office to be used for the Iowa Safe Schools event.
Last week’s Facebook poll on The Iowa Standard showed 90 percent of the 392 respondents believe Gov. Kim Reynolds should demand the name of the conference be changed.
Back in 2012, Bob Vander Plaats wrote a letter to Gov. Terry Branstad encouraging Branstad to remove his title from the conference.
“The upcoming 7th Annual Iowa Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth is exchanging truth for acceptance and tolerance of harmful behavior,” Vander Plaats wrote.
Vander Plaats added that The FAMiLY Leader opposes the governor’s support of the conference, which includes passing out “safe sex kits” and allows transgender youth to use whichever restroom corresponds with their identified gender.
“Instead of passing out ‘safe’ sex kits to students, the conference could provide abstinence-based education, emphasizing healthy behavior and the healthy aspects of preventing unwanted pregnancies, STDs, depression and other problems resulting from sexual activity outside of marriage,” Vander Plaats wrote.
According to reports, Branstad couldn’t attend the conference that year because of a scheduling conflict. Branstad did, however, have Beth Townsend, executive director of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, speak on his behalf and read his proclamation that Sept. 1 is “Safe Schools Day.”
Branstad declined multiple requests from The FAMiLY Leader to remove his title.
Branstad even sent a letter of support to the event, extending his “very best wishes for a successful conference this year and in future years.”
According to a 2012 release from One Iowa, Branstad’s chief of staff Jeff Boeyink said “it is hard these days to take anything seriously that comes from Bob Vander Plaats or The FAMiLY Leader.” Boeyink called it sad and attention-seeking.
Branstad was praised throughout the ordeal by Nate Monson, executive director of Iowa Safe Schools.
The conference’s use of the Governor’s title was publicly disputed again in 2013.
“Stop coming after my kids and other peoples kids with evil propaganda,” said Chuck Hurley with The FAMiLY Leader. “Stop twisting the Bible and stop using our tax dollars to do it.”
Again, Branstad refused. His spokesman, Tim Albrecht, said “it is our understanding that this is a private conference, started by and named after Governor Vilsack. Governor Branstad has not asked that the word governor be removed from the title.”
They also noted the state does not provide funding for the LGBTQ conference.
2015 CONFERENCE SPARKS OUTRAGE
In 2015, a legislative panel was put together to investigate the youth conference. Rep. Bobby Kaufmann (R-Wilton) called for a hearing to look into the use of tax dollars to pay for students to participate in the Iowa Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth.
Kaufmann said several of the breakout sessions were “wildly inappropriate and that’s where you had these different X-rated, vile things being taught to the kids. It wouldn’t make the cut in an R-rated movie. It would have to be more like an X-rated movie.”
Kaufmann also said taxpayer dollars were involved because school districts paid for registration fees and transportation to the event.
Monson said students were given sexual health information not widely available in school health classes.
Kaufmann also said a speaker at the conference advocated vandalism against people who don’t support the LGBTQ community. It was a reference to a performance by Miss Coco Peru, a drag persona of actor and comedian Clinton Leupp. As part of the performance, Leupp said if LGBTQ youth see a car with a bumper sticker promoting traditional marriage, they should “reach down inside yourself and give them a blessing…then slash their tires.”
Monson called it a poor joke and claimed it was taken out of context.
Jamie Ehlert, a social studies teacher at West Des Moines Valley at the time, wrote a letter to the legislators describing herself as an ally of the LGBTQ community and a member of the district’s anti-bullying committee. She and a co-sponsor accompanied Valley’s anti-bullying student group to that 2015 conference.
“Unfortunately, we did not learn much regarding anti-bullying,” she wrote. “Instead, we were exposed to extremely vulgar language and X-rated material.”
Ehlert provided an example of Sam Killermann, a social justice comedian, giving students advice about how to browse the Internet for “orgies” and to find “pornography.” Students, she said, were told at one session about Internet sites involving safe sexual bondage and how students could learn about having sex dangerously, but safely. She also said Killermann instructed students about how to send naked pictures of themselves to others as well as what is considered illegal and how to avoid it. Killermann also talked about the legality of an underage person having sex with someone who is an adult.
Ehlert said Peru sang a ballad about how bullies should be poisoned and “(expletive deleted) die.” Peru mentioned the F-word several times. Ehlert’s group left early.
2015 CONFERENCE IN DISTURBING DETAIL
The FAMiLY Leader published a summary of the 2015 conference. One attendee reportedly told The FAMiLY Leader that the purpose of the conference is not fostering understanding in the schools or preventing bullying.
“Get that idea out of your head right now,” they said. “There were only two sessions (among more than 20) that had anything to do with bullying. It’s a conference teaching kids how to be confidently homosexual, how to pleasure their gay partners — one session even taught transsexual girls how to sew fake testicles into their underwear in order to pass themselves off as boys.”
The FAMiLY Leader shared the conference’s purpose statement:
“The mission of the Annual Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth is to a) engage and educate students and b) encourage networking and activism,” said the official program.
The FAMiLY Leader sent an observer to the conference. Several speakers highlighted horror stories of how outcast they felt as kids. They shared stories of “coming out” and finding homosexual relationships. They reinforced the narrative that the world “hates,” but the homosexual community accepts. They repeatedly affirmed it’s OK to be gay.
According to The FAMiLY Leader’s summary:
*One speaker wore a dress made of condoms, so they could be easily detached and “used as needed.”
*Another told a story of how he used social media to find friends and accidentally stumbled into an orgy.
*One session taught how to properly use “binders” to reduce the visibility of a girl’s breasts and discussed hormone treatments for delaying puberty, assuring kids the drugs were safe.
The father of a Des Moines area high school senior told The FAMiLY Leader his daughter was “absolutely distraught” by what she witnessed.
“She thought she was attending this conference to learn how students can be supportive of their homosexual peers, how they can bring unity to her school. She went thinking it was going to be on bullying, and she wanted to learn how to be more supportive, inclusive and accepting.
“When she got there, it wasn’t really on bullying; it was basically a sexual education class for same-sex couples. It was crude. One presenter told students who asked whether anal sex hurt that, as a lesbian, it really depended on how big the device is that their partner straps on.”
His daughter also attended Killermann’s presentation thinking it would be funny. But instead she listened to Killermann explain how pleasurable it is for same-sex couples to eat each other’s behinds and how to use different flavors of oils to make it taste better.
That year’s conference, The FAMiLY Leader said, was sponsored by:
*Principal Financial Group
*The TJX Companies, Inc. (T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods, Sierra Trading Post)
Other sponsors included were:
*The Iowa State Education Association
*The University of Iowa
*Iowa Association of School Boards
*School Administrators of Iowa
*Episcopal Diocese of Iowa
After the dust-up over the 2015 conference, Branstad’s communications director, Ben Hammes, said the conference “is a private event run by a private entity and the governor will not opine on the nature of the content.”
LEGISLATORS SEND LETTER
The controversial 2015 conference led to a letter submitted to Iowa Safe Schools from 23 state legislators.
We, the undersigned Iowa Legislators, respectfully request that you make available to us the complete un-edited video recordings of the recent Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth that was held at Prairie Meadows in Altoona on April 3 of this year.
News reports and comments from those who attended the conference suggest that some of the presentations were inappropriate for minor school children who were in attendance.
In addition, we have been informed that organizations who depend upon public funds were sponsors of the conference. As members of the Iowa General Assembly, we have a responsibility to oversee the use of those funds and the organizations that are responsible for them.
We understand that this request has already been made by Representatives Heartsill, but without a positive response from your office. We wish, therefore, to add our names to the list of Iowa Legislators that are interested in reviewing the conference presentations.
Once again, please make available the un-edited video recordings of the conference including the presentations by Miss Coco Peru, Sam Killermann, and Ryan Sallans by no later than Tuesday, May 12, 2015. You may submit the recordings to Representative Greg Heartsill and we will arrange with him to review them.
Thank you in advance for your prompt response to this request.
Sen. Dennis Guth – Sen. Jason Schultz – Sen. Ken Rozenboom – Sen. David Johnson – Sen. Jerry Behn – Sen Amy Sinclair – Sen. Jake Chapman – Rep. Sandy Salmon – Rep. Jarad Klein – Rep. Guy Vander Linden – Rep. Rob Bacon – Rep. Walt Rogers – Rep. Greg Heartsill – Rep. Steve Holt – Rep. Ralph Watts – Rep. Terry Baxter – Rep. Larry Sheets – Rep. Tedd Gassman – Rep. Dean Fisher – Rep. John Kooiker – Rep. Clel Baudler – Rep. Brian Best – Rep. Joel Fry
NO VIDEOS EXIST
Monson sent a letter in response to legislative leadership.
Dear Speaker Paulsen, Representative Upmeyer, Representative Smith, Senator Jochum, Senator Gronstal, and Senator Dix:
Iowa Safe Schools recently received a letter from some members of the legislature regarding the 10th annual Iowa Governor’s conference on LGBTQ Youth held on April 3, 2015. A copy of the letter with signatures is attached for your review. The letter includes a thinly veiled demand to release information and implies potential retribution in the form of additional financial oversight of some of our sponsoring organizations. We find the letter to be an exercise in intimidation and totally inappropriate.
The fact is, the information requested does not exist. Like most conferences held on small budgets funded solely by donors, we do not videotape our sessions. We have had repeated requests from Representative Greg Heartsill for information he has no right to expect will be provided him. These requests have become a distraction in doing our work to support students who are bullied.
Instead of certain legislators using bullying tactics to force an organization to release information that does not exist, the Iowa legislature should step forward in passing SF 345 which sets forward real steps that can protect minor school children. While this bill has stalled in the legislature, schools continue to lack the necessary guidance and ability to respond to bullying. Families, students and educators are frustrated by the delay in acting on this important issue. Iowa Safe Schools is proud to stand with Governor Branstad in urging the Iowa House to take up this important bill and protect kids.
If any members of the Iowa legislature are interested in next year’s Governors Conference on LGTQ youth and learn more about protecting Iowa’s youth, they are encouraged to register and attend. All our sessions are open for observation to those interested in learning how to create a more supportive environment for students who are often times put at risk.
Iowa Safe Schools trusts you will communicate with the appropriate members of your legislative bodies. We also trust this will be the end of this effort
Iowa Safe Schools
According to a schedule posted online from the 2019 conference, sessions included:
*HIV, STIs, and PrEP, Oh My!
*If You Can Play, You Can Play: Fighting Discrimination in Sport
*Advocacy — It’s Everyone’s Job: Legislator Panel
*Understanding Trans Student Rights
*A Discussion of Faith and Identity
*Drag Queen Ki-Ki (drag panel)
*How Do You Know if You’re Ready? Careful consideration before consensual coupling (Planned Parenthood)
*…But is this College Gay Enough?
*More Than Marriage: The Queer Youth Experience
*Pride Camp is ‘Not Your Typical Gay Camp!’
*You Better Werq! (drag panel)
It will be interesting to see if Gov. Kim Reynolds takes any action considering the history — both old and new — surrounding Iowa Safe Schools and its Governor’s Conference.