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After the controversial 2015 Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth hosted by Iowa Safe Schools, legislators investigated the event and submitted a report of their findings. Among the committee’s recommendations were that the name of the conference either specify former Gov. Tom Vilsack’s involvement or remove the title of governor from the conference.

Former Rep. Greg Heartsill said he still believes the label ‘Governor’ should be removed from the conference’s title.

“I believe the title of the conference is purposely misleading by the organizers at Iowa Safe Schools,” he said.

Pastor Sam Jones, of Hudson, talked about the bigger picture of Iowa Safe Schools. The group was responsible for flying the transgender flag at the state Capitol, which went against grounds rules. It also has received nearly $900,000 taxpayer dollars since 2014.

“As a pastor, I am anxiously waiting for Gov. Kim Reynolds to make a statement condemning what took place with the flying of the transgender flag over our beloved Capitol,” Jones said. “After the egregious behavior that was displayed, it is appropriate and reasonable for Gov. Reynolds to remove the name ‘Governor’ from Iowa Safe Schools’ conference as it clearly violates the integrity of the prestigious office and mocks our government’s policies. Actions have consequences, it is time for the executive branch of Iowa to remind Iowa Safe Schools of that!”

The 2015 report said one superintendent quickly called the Governor’s office when a student’s parent complained about the conference.

“I placed a call to the Governor’s office to inquire about what they knew of it. I was not happy with the conversation as I was informed that the Governor had nothing to do with the conference. I had to ask, ‘Then why is his name on it?’ When I asked members of the Gay-Straight Alliance group, they said that they felt the last speaker went way overboard. This (conference) is not at all what I thought it was. We were hoodwinked.”

The report concluded that taxpayer dollars were used for the transportation and registration expenses of students and staff to attend the conference. Iowa Safe Schools also promotes itself and the conference as a resource to public schools in Iowa.

The report said the allegations of the sexually graphic content shared with minors potentially rises to the level of criminal obscenity.

“Private conference or not, there is no immunity for breaking Iowa’s obscenity laws. Neither should there by any objection to asking questions about the conference when legitimate concerns are raised by parents, teachers and school administrators,” the report says.

Among concerns at the conference were:
*One father said his daughter was “absolutely distraught” by what she witnessed and left the conference early in shock. Rather than learning how to bring unity to her school, she was subjected to “basically a sexual education class for same-sex couples. It was crude,” he said.

*Another presentation discussed medical transition options available for transgender youth, and how to utilize private insurance and government programs to pay for various procedures. Students were advised on the types of transgender accessories are available to make it appear they have certain body parts they do not really have, or items to hide certain body parts they do have. Students were given tips on what kind of binders to use or not use and how to obtain them without paying for them. Puberty blockers were another topic. Discussion was had on how that hormone treatment is ‘safe and effective.’

*A drag performance at the close of the conference also drew ire. Coco used words like sh-t and f-ckin’ frequently. Coco also encouraged students to slash the tires of someone if they have a bumper sticker that shows support for one-man, one-woman marriage.

*One teacher who attended the conference with her students said “the conference went way beyond the subject of anti-bullying. With all the profanity, obscenities, and shock valley that were used during presentations, the conference did not serve its intended purpose. There was no educational value to this conference.”

*A high school principal said he first heard about what was happening when a student’s mother contacted him to say her daughter was uncomfortable and wanted to leave, but was afraid she might get in trouble for skipping out. He instructed the student could leave immediately without consequence.

“The following Monday the two teachers from our school (that attended with the students) confirmed what the mother had stated and also expressed strong disapproval of the conference content,” he said.

*Another superintendent stated, “our students went there looking for strategies to create a safe school environment. But due to the profanity and content, it was evident that the focus of the conference was about something else.”

Jamie Ehlert, who attended with students from West Des Moines Valley, sent a letter to legislators about her concerns. She also contacted Monson.

“In an email response, Mr. Monson dismissed Ms. Ehlert’s concerns and justified the questionable content as valid ‘sexual health’ issues,” the report says. “He also made it clear that, despite her objections, the subject matter for future conference ‘will not be changing.'”

Monson, the executive director of Iowa Safe Schools, initially met with legislators. He was questioned about certain organizations listed as sponsors of the event, namely School Administrators of Iowa, Iowa Association of School Boards and the University of Iowa. Monson denied any of those organizations provided financial support for the conference, but that was later found to be untrue in the case of School Administrators of Iowa and Iowa Association of School Boards.

At the conclusion of the Jan. 27, 2016 House Government Oversight meeting where the initial report was delivered, Monson agreed to meet with the panel the following week. However, the day before he canceled the appointment and refused to reply to follow-up requests to reschedule.

A letter was sent to Iowa Safe Schools from 23 Iowa legislators asking for the unedited conference video recordings. Monson responded the videos don’t exist. However, according to the report, one conference attendee said there was a sign at the registration desk noting that the conference sessions would be video recorded.

William Morain, who identified himself as a charter member of Iowa Safe Schools Board of Directors and has attended every one of the conferences hosted by the organization, took exception to Ehlert’s letter. He noted that Ehlert wasn’t present at the first session titled “Have You Seen S.E.X.” Ehlert simply reported what she had heard from her students. He stated he was present at this session and “categorically” denies the reports from her students.

However, he did not address Ehlert’s testimony where she went to personally investigate the incidents of the second session of “Have You Seen S.E.X.” Ehlert said she listened to the second session for a few minutes and decided to text her students, asking them to leave the session. She gave a firsthand account of what was presented in the second session, such as discussions regarding how students could avoid legal issues when sending naked pictures of themselves and where to find websites detailing how students could engage in ‘safe’ bondage, dominance and sadomasochistic (BDSM) practices.

“In his email, Mr. Morain did not challenge the aforementioned accounts of Ms. Ehlert,” the report says.

Despite an online video by Sam Killermann and Karen Rayne promoting this session to adult audiences that explicitly states the content is not appropriate for children, Morain and Monson both defended the content.

Morain acknowledged that Coco’s closing show was “crudely delivered,” but he justified it to “command those teens to stand up pridefully for themselves and end the shame that others have placed on them.”

Five recommendations were presented in the report:
*To avoid future confusion and inference, it was recommended that the conference organizers should more accurately label the event “Governor Vilsack’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth” or drop the Governor’s label altogether.
*Educators were recommended to familiarize themselves with Iowa law that prohibits the dissemination of and exhibition of obscene material to minors (Section 728.2) and prohibits admitting minors on the premises where obscene material is exhibited (Section 728.3).
*The Iowa Department of Public Health and the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners were recommended to provide guidelines and oversight to Iowa Safe Schools and licensed educators as to the appropriateness of material being presented with regards to sex education and sexual health.
*Schools considering sending students to the conference should be advised the subject matter of some sessions may contain sexually graphic presentations that are not appropriate.
*The final recommendation was that legislation be considered requiring parents to give informed consent before their minor child could participate in any class or seminar (on or off campus) that provides instruction on sex education and/or sexual health.

The Iowa Standard is a free online news source so we can reach as many people as possible. But we need to raise money! We are asking our readers to help support us as a news alternative entering 2020. If you could, please consider showing a sign of support to The Iowa Standard by making a contribution here.  Or, you can use Venmo and make a contribution to @Iowa-Standard-2018. 

You could also send a check to:
PO Box 112
Sioux Center, IA 51250

Jacob Hall

Author: Jacob Hall