aroundtheregion

Iowa
A conservative Christian group has caused a stir in a southwest Iowa school after the group pulled a bait-and-switch school assembly that targeted LGBTQ people and Mormons, the Des Moines Register reports:

The ACLU of Iowa is warning school leaders about a nonprofit Christian group that it says shared anti-gay and anti-Mormon messages in an attempt to proselytize at an Iowa high school.
A six-page letter from the ACLU comes in response to a Todd Becker Foundation visit to Logan Magnolia high school last spring for a school assembly, where the foundation talked about the dangers of drinking and driving.
Immediately afterward, the foundation disseminated religious DVDs and books, prompting some students to believe the “post assembly” event was endorsed by the school, according to the ACLU and the Iowa Department of Education, which investigated the incident.
A second evening event the foundation hosted at the school “was expressly proselytizing, including preaching against homosexuality and an invitation to attendees to kneel at the front of the room and welcome Christianity into their lives,” according to the ACLU’s letter.

The lawsuit brought by a church that argues Iowa’s civil rights department is trying to force the church to allow transgender people to use its facilities continues with the state arguing the civil rights policies do no such thing, the Des Moines Register reports:

A state attorney tried to assure a federal judge Wednesday that Iowa civil rights investigators would be unlikely to punish a Des Moines church for ignoring bathroom rules designed to protect transgender people.
But there might be some limited instances when the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ would be required to follow a law giving Iowans the right to use a bathroom corresponding to their gender identity, said Assistant Attorney General Molly Weber.
Such a situation could arise if the south Des Moines church were to serve as an election polling place or if it were to rent out its facilities for some non-religious use, Weber said.
But a lawyer representing the church said that answer offered little comfort to its pastor, who worries that posting the church’s new conservative bathroom policy online or speaking out about human sexuality issues could trigger an investigation by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.

In the Des Moines Register, columnist and pastor Matt Mardis-LeCroy criticized the lawsuit:

For those of you who skipped Sunday School, the Ninth Commandment states: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” But bearing false witness is exactly what seems to have happened in a federal courtroom right here in Des Moines.
At the end of August, U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose heard arguments in a case brought by Fort Des Moines Church of Christ against the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, Attorney General Tom Miller and the city of Des Moines. The lawsuit charges these entities with “compelling an Iowa church to communicate government messages to which it objects” and “forcing the church to use its building in violation of its religious beliefs.”
That sure sounds like bearing false witness to me.
The issue here is bathrooms, and the safety of transgender persons to access them. Under state law, all Iowans have the right to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity. However, a religious exemption gives churches and other houses of worship a lot of freedom to restrict this right according to their own beliefs. Churches are perfectly free to police their own bathrooms as they see fit.

Corrections officials in the state are working to be more inclusive of transgender prisoners, CBS2 reports:

Iowa Department of Corrections medical director Dr. Harbans Deol knows his department’s work is far from done, but is proud to see a starting point.
“I think it’s a challenging and exciting time,” he said.
He’s referring to the new gender dysphoria policy that applies to inmates. One area of this new policy, is that staff will use the pronoun an inmate wishes to go by.
“Whether it is “he,” “she” or “ze”, we’ll be asking them what pronoun they prefer,” Deol said.
“Ze” is the non-gender specific pronoun used instead of “he” or “she.”
Deol says staff will track all previous medical records for inmates and hormone therapy will also be available for any transgender inmate who wants the treatment.
But because there could be irreversible side effects following the treatment, Deol says medical staff will bring in an expert on transgender health issues.
“So we obtain a consultation with them, to make sure this is what they want,” Deol said.
There will be a protocol drafted for the prison’s medical staff to use and a consent from will be obtained from the inmate. Deol says these steps are in place to make sure each inmate who is deciding on hormonal therapy knows about the medical side effects.

Wisconsin
Wausau schools have adopted an individualized approach to transgender inclusion, WSAW reports:

Allowing transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice has come to the high school level, especially because the Obama Administration has threatened to take away federal funding to local schools. That could mean about 8.5 million for the Wausau School District, if they don’t comply.
“It’s difficult because it’s a new issue,” said the Board President, Lance Trollop. “It’s difficult because we have people on both sides of the issue.”
Trollop says the district will handle each situation on a case-by-case basis and if a student, who consistently identifies as a gender opposite their gender assigned at birth, they could be allowed to use the bathroom or locker room that aligns with that gender identity.
“The school district has an interest in every student being successful to do that you need an individualized approach,” said Trollop.

South Dakota
The legacy of a two-spirit leader from South Dakota lives on, Indian Country Today reports:

The family of the late Vernon Renville, Jr., a respected Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota two-spirit advocate, is carrying on his legacy of fighting for awareness and acceptance of the gay community.
“Vernon wanted to bring awareness and let others know, ‘it’s OK – gay is OK, and if you need anything, I’m here,’” Cassandra Mason, Renville’s sister, told ICTMN. “He wanted to educate people that didn’t know.”
Lenny Hayes, who is Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota and a two-spirit ally out of Minneapolis, became friends with Renville by way of their shared two-spirit advocacy. Hayes told ICTMN that Renville was a co-founder of the first two-spirit society in South Dakota.
“Vernon reached out to me about a year before he passed away to speak at their first two-spirit event. When I got done speaking, all their faces changed. It was like a relief. It was like somebody understands us. That’s how I became friends with Vernon,” he said.
Just months after the inaugural Two-Spirit Walk in August 2014, which Renville organized, Renville passed tragically that November, losing his life in a fatal shooting in Sisseton that claimed the life of four and fatally injured one.

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Andy Birkey

Andy Birkey has written for a number of Minnesota and national publications. He founded Eleventh Avenue South which ran from 2002-2011, wrote for the Minnesota Independent from 2006-2011, the American Independent from 2010-2013. His writing has appeared in The Advocate, The Star Tribune, The Huffington Post, Salon, Cagle News Service, Twin Cities Daily Planet, TheUptake, Vita.mn and much more. His writing on LGBT issues, the religious right and social justice has won awards including Best Beat Reporting by the Online News Association, Best Series by the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and an honorable mention by the Sex-Positive Journalism awards.

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