The Trump administration pressured the international 4-H youth organization to remove a policy welcoming LGBT members, prompting a debate that led to the firing of the top 4-H leader in Iowa, the Des Moines Register reported Sunday.
The investigation by the Register found that Heidi Green, the former chief of staff for Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, requested the organization rescind the policy as conservatives and evangelicals protested it in the days after its announcement. The policy had asked the local programs to “treat all students consistent with their gender identity and allow them ‘equal access.’”
There are more than 6 million members of 4-H, which is administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, itself a part of the Department of Agriculture. The organization has been working to diversify since the early 1990s, and John-Paul Chaisson-Cárdenas, the 4-H director in Iowa, had long advocated for the organization to welcome LGBT youth. He resisted NIFA’s request that the Iowa 4-H take down the policy from its website, and he said that during the uproar he received death threats, according to the Register.
Agriculture Department spokespeople have maintained that the policy should not have been disseminated, as it was developed by a regional 4-H group and did not go through the required pathways to create a policy. Officials at Iowa State University’s Extension and Outreach, which oversees the 4-H program in the state, said that they fired Chaisson-Cárdenas over his failure to follow proper guidelines for policy-making, among other issues of professionalism. He has disputed their explanation, asserting that he is being punished for standing up for the rights of transgender youths. More than 200 people, including some 4-H leaders, signed a letter to the ISU president after the firing, praising Chaisson-Cárdenas’ work reaching out to “youth who were otherwise overlooked.’”
The Trump Administration has already established a habit of chipping away at protections for transgender people. In July 2017, Trump announced a ban on transgender troops in the military. In February 2017, Trump rolled back the Obama administration guidelines allowing students in public schools to use the bathrooms of their choice. And in October, the New York Times reported that the Department of Health and Human Services called on government agencies to adopt a definition of gender as being determined “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.”