Mike Pence rallies against ‘radical gender ideologies’ in Iowa visit

During an event at a Pizza Ranch in Cedar Rapids, Pence lambasted the Linn-Mar Community School District for its gender support plans and other “woke” ideas in public schools.


Darren Chen

Former Vice President Mike Pence shakes hands with an attendee at Pizza Ranch in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on February 15, 2023.

Liam Halawith, Politics Editor

Former Vice President Mike Pence announced Wednesday — at an event in Cedar Rapids — that Advancing American Freedom, his conservative non-profit, is joining 20 other national conservative groups to file an amicus brief in the lawsuit against Linn-Mar Community School District for their gender support policy. 

The lawsuit brought by a group of Linn-Mar parents and the national interest group Parents Defending Education claims the district is violating parental rights by keeping a student’s gender identity and preferred pronouns confidential. 

The policy was passed in a divided vote by the Linn-Mar school board in April 2022. The policy would allow students in seventh grade or higher to request a gender support plan. These plans would, under the guidance of a school counselor, allow the student to change their name and preferred pronouns. The policy doesn’t allow staff to disclose a student’s gender identity without the student’s consent under federal education privacy laws and leaves it up to the student to inform their parents. 

Jordan Mix, the educational programming director at Iowa Safe Schools, told The Daily Iowan that the policy aligns with the Iowa civil rights code and previous guidance from the Iowa Department of Education. Similar policies are also in place in most Iowa school districts, including the Iowa City Community School District. 

Last fall, a federal judge in Cedar Rapids denied the group’s motion for a temporary injunction on the policy, saying the policy allows the schools to fulfill their statutory duty to protect students from harassment, according to court documents. 

The group appealed the decision to the 8th circuit court of appeals claiming the group has concerns that the policy would violate a parent’s common law right to make decisions about the care of their children, according to court documents. 

A federal appeals court in St. Paul, Minn. heard oral arguments in the case on Wednesday. 

Pence linked the lawsuit to a broader trend of “wokeness” and “radical gender ideology” in public schools during his speech on Wednesday. 

“Across the country, parents’ rights are being trampled by a politically correct nanny state that’s ruining our schools and telling parents they have no role in their child’s education,” Pence said. 

Pence said the policy at Linn-Mar is part of a “culture war” that is threatening parental rights. 

“Parent’s Rights wasn’t our choice to start the left’s culture war,” Pence said. “Now we have no choice but to win and we will win.”

Pence declared that his organization, Advancing American Freedom, will continue a court challenge against the gender support plans in Linn-Mar’s school policy.  

Advocates for the gender support plans say the plans help students thrive and learn in schools and that disclosing a student’s gender identity could put them in danger. 

According to the Trevor Project, a national LGBTQ+ mental health advocacy organization, one-third of LGBTQ+ youth have unsupportive parents and those who were rejected by parents are eight times as likely to commit suicide. 

“Everybody has a right to go to school and be safe,” Aime Wichtendahl, a Hiawatha City Council member and the state’s first transgender elected official, said to reporters on Wednesday. “We’re here for the freedom of all students to live authentically.”

Wichtendahl was one of roughly 50 protestors outside of Pence’s event on Wednesday, holding signs in support of transgender youth, American flags, pride flags, and other supportive messages. 

Gender support plans become target of Iowa GOP 

Iowa Republican lawmakers have targeted Linn-Mar’s gender support plan and other gender-related issues in the 2023 legislative session. 

Currently, House Republicans are advancing legislation that would bar schools from supporting a student’s social transition in gender identity and prohibit instruction on gender identity and sexuality in certain grades. Other legislation includes removing gender identity as a protected status in the Iowa Civil Rights Code. 

Gov. Kim Reynolds and U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa, made policies like transgender identities a key target of their campaigns in 2022. 

Hinson joined Pence at the rally on Wednesday, highlighting her legislation that would guarantee parents certain rights in terms of their children’s education. 

Hinson criticized Linn-Mar for prioritizing “woke” policies over education. Hinson’s two sons currently attend school in the Linn-Mar school district. 

These kids don’t belong to school boards and they don’t belong to the government,” Hinson said. “They belong to parents.”