January 2019 Church & State | People & Events

The Trump-Pence administration’s animus against LGBTQ people is so strong it has even infiltrated the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and is affecting a program aimed at young people who are interested in farming.

A November report by the Des Moines Register exposed how officials in the USDA helped to deep-six a more inclusive LGBTQ policy proposed by 4-H, an international organization known for encouraging children’s interest in farming and animal husbandry.

As part of a broader, long-term initiative to diversify the federally subsidized organization, 4-H leadership earlier this year drafted a new guidance intended to ensure that LGBTQ children feel welcome and protected in the organization. But once several state 4-H chapters posted the proposed guidance on their websites to seek public comment, conservative Christian groups began to protest. They were particularly up in arms about a recommendation stating that transgender 4-H members should be treated in accordance with their gender identity.

A Religious Right group in Iowa called The Family Leader labeled the guidance “radical” and resorted to fear-mongering, with a representative claiming the changes would encourage pedophilia. The Religious Right legal firm Liberty Counsel wrote to Iowa State University, which oversees Iowa’s 4-H program, and threatened unspecified “additional action” if the policy was not terminated.

According to the Register’s report, days after the 4-H guidance was published online, a chief of staff for U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue requested that it be rescinded, and a communications manager for the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture – the federal department that administers 4-H – emailed at least two state 4-H offices telling them to remove the LGBTQ guidance from their websites.

“The subsequent decision to take down the policy set off a firestorm this spring that engulfed 4-H programs in at least eight states – including Iowa, Idaho, Wisconsin, California, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Virginia and New York,” the Register reported. It also led to the firing of Iowa’s 4-H director, a strong advocate of the LGBTQ policy.

The fired official, John-Paul Chaisson-Cárdenas, resisted efforts to remove the policy, arguing that 4-H is “for all kids.” Chaisson-Cárdenas also reported receiving death threats.

The proposed guidance called on 4-H leaders to treat all children taking part in a manner consistent with their gender identity, and said they should receive equal access to programs and activities even if others complained.

The Register reported that while some people involved in 4-H applauded the changes in favor of LGBTQ tolerance, others pushed back strongly and sent messages to the 4-H leader in Iowa calling the guidance a “fascist push to redefine humanity” and calling transgender children “horrendous” and “sinful.”

After the guidance was removed from 4-H websites, USDA officials issued a terse statement saying it was never official policy.

Chaisson-Cárdenas said he doesn’t regret standing up for LGBTQ kids.

“I’m paying a very heavy price for doing it, and I don’t regret it for a single second,” he told the Register. “It was the right thing to do.”

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