Editor's note: WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
They thought the Iowa Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth was about anti-bullying. Instead, about 1,000 teenagers from more than 100 Iowa communities were treated to a profanity-laced performance by a drag queen along with graphic conversations on oral sex and a transgender tutorial on how to make fake testicles.
The April 3rd conference was sponsored by Iowa Safe Schools, a non-profit group that creates “safe and supportive schools” for LGBTQ young people.
Some parents were furious about some of the sexually explicit comments from paid speakers – including a comedian who told the high school students how “pleasurable it is for gay couples to eat each other’s behinds and how to use different flavors of (oils) to make it taste better.”
“We were absolutely flabbergasted,” one father told me. “It was graphic and pornographic. From a parent’s perspective I cannot think of anywhere this should be an acceptable conversation.”
The parent, who agreed to talk with me provided he was not identified, has a teenage daughter who attended the conference. The 18-year-old is a member of her school’s student support group that helps bullied teens.
“She though the conference would give the group better ideas on how to deal with bullying issues,” the parent told me. “But there was hardly anything about that.”
The parent described sessions about where discussions were held on how to clean yourself before anal sex “and the pleasure you can get from eating your partner’s backside.”
Television Station Local 5 News obtained cell phone video filmed by a student at the conference – where an attendee asked, “Is anal painful?”
“For paid speakers to be in front of a group talking about how to avoid choking during oral sex – I cannot fathom where that would be an appropriate conversation,” the father told me.
He said the teachers and other students in his daughter’s group were “extremely uncomfortable” and eventually the entire delegation left.
“The principal did talk to the kids and apologized to them for putting them in an uncomfortable situation,” the father told me. “If he would’ve known (how explicit it was) he would not have encouraged them to go.”
Tim Miller, the principal of West Des Moines Valley High School, sent me an email confirming that students from his school had attended the event.
“Some students and teachers were surprised by some of the content,” the principal wrote. “Not what they thought they were getting into. That would be the extent of my comments.”
The Family Leader, a conservative Christian advocacy group based in Iowa, also weighed in on the controversial conference. They dispatched an observer to document the meeting.
“Anyone with common sense would have to be outraged at what’s being taught to our children,” he told me. “If Iowans heard this – Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative – they would be outraged,” said Bob Vander Plaats, the president of The Family Leader.
According to Vander Plaats’ observer – students were also subjected to a profanity-laced performance by Miss Coco Peru, a self-described drag queen.
Here’s The Family Leader’s take on what Miss Peru told the young people: “People suck. They don’t give a f*ck about you. People thrive on smashing our pride to the ground. People that suck, f*ck you.”
The Family Leader then accused Miss Peru of urging students to vandalize cars belonging to anti-gay people.
Again – this is their version of what the drag queen said: “Reach down inside yourself and give them a blessing – then slash their tires.”
“I can’t believe Iowans of any stripe would endorse this keynote speaker,” Vander Plaats told me.
I had a chance to speak with The Family Leader’s observer. She told me students were given advice on medical transitions from male to female and vice versa – along with information on medication to delay puberty.
“They talked about binders – things that compress a girl’s chest to make it appear you don’t have what is there,” the observer told me. “And they talked about how students can make fake testicles by filling pantyhose with rice and sewing them into their panties.”
I reached out to Iowa Safe Schools but they have yet to return my calls. I will update this column should they do so.
Executive Director Nate Monson told Local 5 News that while some questions were graphic in nature they were still real questions.
“We know that kids don’t have a chance to ask questions in schools,” he told the television station. “When their health class rolls around and they’re talking about sex ed – they’re talking about just heterosexual students. For the first time ever in a lot of these LGBT kids’ lives they had a chance to ask questions about themselves.”
Iowa Safe School posted additional information on its Facebook page and website – blasting The Family Leader and accusing them of distorting the conference and misquoting the speakers.
“Bob’s mean-spirited rhetoric is a reminder that many LGBTQ youth face hostile communities, schools and even homes,” read a message posted on the website. “Bob has a large base of support across the state and uses it to bully LGBTQ youth.”
They said The Family Leader has tried to “bully, intimidate and take away a special event for Iowa’s students, parents and educators.”
It should be noted that Iowa Safe Schools does not specify how The Family Leader distorted the conference or which speakers were misquoted.
There’s no doubt that Vander Plaats and The Family Leader will be called anti-gay for exposing the tawdry side of this teenage conference.
“This isn’t about being anti-gay,” Vander Plaats said. “This is about a destructive conference for children.”
Bullying is a terrible thing and it is a very real problem in American public schools – for both gay and straight students.
Many of the young people who attended the Iowa Governors Conference on LGBTQ Youth did so because they cared about their classmates. They wanted to learn how to stand in the gap for others.
And yet some of these good-hearted kids were made to feel uncomfortable – and quite frankly – fearful. The individuals I spoke with begged me to protect their identities – deeply concerned about potential backlash from activists.
How sad that a group of young people found themselves bullied at an anti-bullying conference.