US

Report says Trump administration nixed LGBT policy for 4-H, resulting in Iowa leader's ouster

The Des Moines Register reported on Sunday that the Trump administration is responsible for the ouster of Iowa's top 4-H leader. (Image source: YouTube screencap)

The Des Moines Register reported Sunday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture forced 4-H to withdraw a controversial LGBT policy, resulting in the eventual firing of Iowa's top leader in the youth organization.

What are the details?

In March, 4-H issued guidance — published under the logos for the USDA, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and 4-H National Headquarters — to serve as an outline for "4-H programs around the country on how to be inclusive for individuals of all gender identities, gender expressions, sexual orientations, and sexes."

The document explained different forms of sexual orientation, gender expression, sex, intersex, and gender identity. It went on to detail gender transition, so as to alleviate any confusion for the organization that teaches 5- to 18-year-olds.

Under the guidance, 4-H clubs are required to refer to transgender or intersex individuals in accordance with their gender identity and must allow access to restrooms, locker rooms, showers, and housing in accordance with an individual's gender identity. Requiring transgender or intersex individuals to stay in single-occupancy housing is forbidden, but accommodations may be made at the individual's request.

Athletic activities may be segregated on the basis of sex, but transgender or intersex individuals cannot be prohibited from competing in the gender category with which they identify.

According to the Register, Heidi Green, then-chief of staff for U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, requested that the guidance be rescinded within days of its publication. A NIFA communications manager then swiftly requested that Iowa and New York's 4-H organizations take down the LGBT guidance down from their websites.

Several 4-H programs in other states also became embroiled in political controversy over the guidance, including Idaho, Wisconsin, California, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, and Virginia.

So, why was someone fired over this?

Iowa's 4-H director at the time of the release, John-Paul Chaisson-Cardenas, fought to keep the guidance and criticized his bosses for bending to pressure.

"I guess I am not sure why we are valuing the propaganda machine of a recognized hate group over the existing rights of LGBTQ youth?" he said in an email to a superior, referring to the story that was first reported by right-leaning publication WorldNetDaily. "It feels wrong to me."

Chaisson-Cardenas is an LGBT rights activist and was reportedly thrilled to have received the national guidance for inclusiveness. After making what he says were approved edits to the document to fit the language of his employer — Iowa State University Extension — he posted a similar version online, and added a link to it in a 4-H Focus newsletter in late March.

A few weeks later, Chaisson-Cardenas promoted the new guidance, which he called "policy," on local talk radio, and ISU was inundated with emails expressing backlash over new direction.

The next month, new guidance was issued by Iowa State on LGBTQ inclusion for Iowa's 4-H programs. John Lawrence, the vice president of ISU's Extension and Outreach, gave Chaisson-Cárdenasa a letter of discipline that same day, the Register reported, "expressing disappointment in how the Iowa transgender guidance was approached and posted as 4-H 'policy.'"

Chaisson-Cardenas was also given the opportunity to resign after he complained that the new guidance didn't outline a plan for the use of sex-segregated facilities by transgender students, but he stayed on.

According to the Register, "he kept working, maintaining his stance that xenophobia is pervasive within 4-H and that an updated inclusion policy with specific protections for LGBT members was needed."

In August, Chaisson-Cardenas was let go. Iowa State issued a statement explaining he was dismissed because of his "tendency to focus on individual tactical projects while neglecting the overall strategic direction of the Iowa 4-H program; concerns raised by peers, employees and partners about his management style; and a pattern of poor decision-making and judgment."

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