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Sending the wrong message


If Senate Republicans are looking for a way to bill Iowa as a non-inclusive, backward and hateful state, they have no better opportunity than blocking the confirmation of Jonathan Wilson to the State Board of Education.

Wilson is exceptionally qualified. He served on the Des Moines school board for a dozen years, and his service on the board of directors of National School Board Association, for which he served as chairman, and the Council of Urban Boards of Education would bring a larger perspective to the state school board. Though also superbly qualified, some of the current state school board members lack that national perspective that becomes increasingly important as Iowa struggles to hang on to its reputation as one of the nation’s premier education states.

Oh, and by the way, he’s gay. That should be as incidental as other board members’ heterosexuality. That’s assuming, of course, that they are heterosexuals. Has anyone asked them? In any event, a person’s sexual orientation really has no bearing on the board’s mission to set policies that promote excellence in education — except to the extent that policymaking boards should mirror the populations they serve.

And there are gay students in Iowa. Report after report confirms that sexual orientation and perceived sexual orientation are the No. 1 causes of harassment in Iowa schools. About half of bullied students won’t go on to college.

The vociferous opposition to Wilson’s confirmation is not surprising, though, given the Iowa Senate’s failure to approve anti-bullying legislation that would have prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation.

The failure to act on important legislation that protects all Iowa schoolchildren is reflective of the hysteria surrounding Wilson’s nomination to the state Board of Education. His past service to education clearly indicates he has an “agenda” for excellence in education, which in most circles would be considered a virtue. But that’s not what his critics are blathering about: They’re worried he’ll “promote a gay lifestyle,” whatever that phrase might mean.

Voters punished Wilson for revealing he is gay in the 1995 Des Moines school board election, when he was tossed out of office. Let’s not punish him again by rejecting his nomination out of hand because he has the integrity to say who he is.

And let’s not punish Iowans by sending the wrong message about their state.

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