To familarize his students with him, seventh-grade literacy teacher Lucas Kaufmann showed them a presentation about his life. One of the images in the presentation was a Pride flag, prompting the kids to ask the Iowa teacher if he is LGBTQ+; he responded affirmatively, telling them he was bisexual.
Now Kaufmann is on administrative leave. Winterset Community School District Superintendent Justin Gross confirmed to the Des Moines Register that Kaufmann was placed on leave -- effectively punished -- for answering his students' question honestly.
On Tuesday, students at Winterset Junior High School rallied to the teacher's defense by walking out of class, with some draping Pride flags over their shoulders.
"When I was in junior high it would have been great to have a bisexual teacher or someone that I would feel safe talking about my sexuality with," 10th-grader Kiona Newbrough told the Register. Newbrough launched a Change.org petition demanding "justice" for Kaufmann and the LGBTQ+ community. Nearly 2,000 people have signed the petition as of Wednesday afternoon.
Iowa does not allow discrimination against employees based on sexual orientation; the U.S. Supreme Court also codified such protections on a national scale in a 2020 ruling.
Kaufmann's presentation was weaponized in a report by the Iowa Standard, a conservative website. The Iowa Standarddescribes itself as a "mainstream conservative news alternative."
The local teachers union has not commented specifically on Kaufmann's punishment, but representatives stated that teachers should have a right to be open about their identities in the classroom.
As the tumultous 2021-2022 school year has begun, there have been numerous clashes over the issue of LGBTQ+ teachers, students, and Pride flags.