Trump administration agriculture official pushes youth group to drop LGBTQ inclusion policy

4-H developed a policy to promote LGBTQ youth inclusion. Then Sonny Perdue's chief of staff intervened.

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On Sunday, the Des Moines Register reported that a move by the 4-H children's organization to update its policies to promote inclusion based on sexual orientation and gender identity was scuttled at the request of an official in the Trump administration's Department of Agriculture:

Several states posted the policy on their websites, including Iowa, where it prompted fierce opposition from conservatives and some evangelical groups.

But within days of the LGBT policy's publication, Heidi Green, then-chief of staff for U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, requested that it be rescinded, Sonny Ramaswamy, then-director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the federal department that administers 4-H, told the Register.

Afterward, a NIFA communications manager 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.

The subsequent decision to take down the policy set off a firestorm this spring for 4-H programs in at least eight states — including Iowa, Idaho, Wisconsin, California, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Virginia and New York.

Officials intervened against the 4-H policy, which was precipitated by a former Obama administration Dear Colleague letter, partly on the basis of pressure from evangelical former members of the group who threatened to pull their financial support.

Further, the Register found that John-Paul Chaisson-Cárdenas, a state 4-H leader and former youth director who helped implement the LGBTQ policy in Iowa and fiercely fought to preserve it, was terminated from Iowa State University over his advocacy.

Chaisson-Cárdenas was firm in his belief that 4-H should not back down from protecting LGBTQ members, writing in one email, "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? ... It feels wrong to me." But Iowa State Vice President John Lawrence accused him of violating procedure, blasting his "lack of judgment and professionalism" in an e-mail.

4-H is a significant international youth organization, with over 6 million members, devoted to teaching kids practical life skills and leadership through hands-on community projects. It has traditionally been associated with agriculture, although it also has programs in science and engineering.

The Trump administration has been relentlessly hostile to LGBTQ rights, from attempting to ban openly transgender military service, to rescinding federal guidelines for protection of workers based on gender identity, to arguing in court that gay couples can be refused service and that gay and bisexual people are not covered under the Civil Rights Act, to even having the president give a speech to an antigay hate group.

Failing to set clear guidelines to protect LGBTQ children is dangerous. Studies have found such children are at increased risk of being bullied, which in turn is a risk factor for everything from depression to drug use to suicide.

The Trump administration has become a mortal enemy of LGBTQ progress — and children around the country will suffer for it.

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Matthew Chapman is a video game designer, science fiction author, and political reporter from Austin, TX. Follow him on Twitter @fawfulfan.