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Des Moines Register: Trump administration pressure over 4-H LGBT policy led to state leader's ousting

The Trump administration helped push the national 4-H club to remove a contentious LGBT-friendly policy, set...

Posted: Nov 20, 2018 5:42 AM
Updated: Nov 20, 2018 5:42 AM

The Trump administration helped push the national 4-H club to remove a contentious LGBT-friendly policy, setting off a battle that eventually led to the firing earlier this year of the top 4-H leader in Iowa, according to a Des Moines Register investigation published Sunday.

The investigation details the creation and eventual removal of the policy, which sought to "ensure LGBT members felt protected by their local 4-H program," by asking the organization to "treat all students consistent with their gender identity and allow them 'equal access,'" according to the paper. It also details the role of Heidi Green, the former chief of staff for Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, in requesting the policy be rescinded within several days of its publication, the paper said.

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According to the paper, "several states posted the policy on their websites, including Iowa," as "part of a larger effort to modernize the federally authorized youth group and broaden membership."

Days later after outcry from conservative and evangelical groups, at the direction of Green, a communications manager at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture "sent an 'urgent' email to at least two states — Iowa and New York — urging the 4-H organizations there to remove the LGBT policy from their websites," the Register found in the course of their investigation, which included interviews and more than 500 pages of state and federal communications.

The 4-H program is a youth organization with 6 million members and is administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture which is part of the Department of Agriculture.

Both Green and other Agriculture Department officials declined to answer questions about the incident, according to the paper.

In a statement, Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, told CNN that the document was developed by a regional 4-H group and "did not set national 4-H policy and should never have been disseminated." He added that "decisions on such topics rightly belong at the local level."

The decision to take down the policy, the paper said, "set off a firestorm this spring for 4-H programs in at least eight states" — including Iowa.

The call for the 4-H policy's removal "eventually precipitated" the ousting of Iowa 4-H director John-Paul Chaisson-Cárdenas, whom the paper describes as being "a fierce advocate of the LGBT policy," because of his resistance to the policy's removal, the paper said.

The policy, which Chaisson-Cárdenas said was "making a difference," was publicized by his state's chapter of the organization in March. Shortly thereafter, complaints about the policy flooded in, according to the paper.

John Lawrence, the vice president of Iowa State University's Extension and Outreach, which oversees Iowa's 4-H program, alleged that the process for creating policy wasn't followed, according to the paper -- an allegation that Chaisson-Cárdenas denied.

Lawrence did not immediately respond to CNN's request for comment.

Chaisson-Cardenas resisted the call to take down the document. According to documents obtained by the Register, he wrote in an email to his superiors -- referencing WorldNetDaily, an alt-right online publication, "I guess I am not sure why we are valuing the propaganda machine of a recognized hate group over the existing rights of LGBTQ youth?"

"Chaisson-Cárdenas said he was given the opportunity to resign at the May 10 discipline meeting or 'next steps would be taken,'" the paper reported, adding that he was finally terminated in August.

In explaining Chaisson-Cárdenas' removal, Iowa State said in a statement that, among other things, the 4-H leader had a "tendency to focus on individual tactical projects while neglecting the overall strategic direction of the Iowa 4-H program" and had a "pattern of poor decision-making and judgment," the paper said.

Chaisson-Cárdenas, the paper said, maintained that he had "an obligation to resist efforts to retract the transgender guidance and to fight xenophobia in 4-H's ranks." Chaisson-Cárdenas did not immediately respond to CNN's request for comment.

"I'm paying a very heavy price for doing it, and I don't regret it for a single second," Chaisson-Cárdenas told the paper.

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