4-H official fired after proposing LGBTQ inclusion policy, report says

By Stephen Sorace

Published August 04, 2018

A youth development program director for a 4-H organization in Iowa was fired this week, months after a proposed gay and transgender inclusion policy drew the ire of religious conservative groups, a report said.

John-Paul Chaisson-Cárdenas, leader of the Iowa 4-H Youth Development group, confirmed his departure to the Des Moines Register, but declined to provide further comment.

"Through my life and through my career I have always tried to foster inclusive environments that welcome diversity for all youth and all people," Chaisson-Cárdenas said. "That's what I believe my career was built upon." 

The suggested policy would have allowed the program’s transgender members to use the restrooms, locker rooms and overnight accommodations that correspond to their gender identity, the paper reported. The program's leaders ultimately decided against the plan.

The 4-H group is supported by Iowa State University, who told the paper that Chaisson-Cárdenas was fired for a "documented inability to foster a positive and collaborative work environment" and "a tendency to focus on individual tactical projects while neglecting the overall strategic direction of the Iowa 4-H program."

The policy’s public unveiling had been an accident, John Lawrence, Iowa State University vice president of extension and outreach told the paper. He said that the university was never made aware of the policy, adding that the university was responsible for making rules, not 4-H.

But employees, parents and students with the program contacted Liberty Counsel, a law firm that promotes Christian values, over concerns that the suggested policy went against their religious beliefs, the paper reported.

“None of the people who contacted us are discriminating against anyone. We are just saying we need to have the proper balance so that nobody’s rights are discriminated against.”

- Mary McAlister, lead attorney

Attorney Mary McAlister called the proposed policy “discriminatory, unconstitutional and without legal authority.” McAlister said she would give the university a month before taking “additional action.” The university subsequently chose not to introduce the inclusion policy.

“None of the people who contacted us are discriminating against anyone,” McAlister said. “We are just saying we need to have the proper balance so that nobody’s rights are discriminated against.”

Chaisson-Cárdenas was terminated just a week ahead of the group's biggest event of the year, the Iowa State Fair.

4-H is a global network of organizations that aim to help youths reach their potential. In the U.S., the organization is overseen by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Click here for more from the Des Moines Register.