"I am completely dismayed that 4-H would bow to a politically correct agenda like this," says one 4-H volunteer in a small north Idaho town of fewer than 1,500 people, where several dedicated club leaders tell WND they are worried sick they will have to dissolve their recently formed 4-H chapter.
Either that, they say, or support new LGBTQ guidelines instructing the century-old, largely rural, agricultural youth organization to embrace a radical sexual/gender diversity agenda – everything from being required to use special transgender pronouns, to allowing biological men to use women's restrooms, locker rooms and overnight accommodations, and much more.
And yet, the government agency that sponsors 4-H says it's all a big mistake.
That's for sure.
But let's start at the beginning.
4-H was created in the early 1900s for rural youth out of a desire to encourage practical and “hands-on” learning, connecting public school education with country life. Representing "Head, Heart, Hands and Health," the four H's encourage traditional values of clear thinking, loyalty, service and good living. Almost from the beginning, 4-H has existed under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with local chapters operating under state university extension departments.
Recently, while perusing the website of 4-H's parent organization, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (an agency of USDA), local 4-H leaders discovered an official-looking document titled "4-H Guidance for Inclusion of Individuals of All Gender Identities, Gender Expressions, Sexual Orientations, and Sexes," published under the logos of USDA, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the 4-H National Headquarters.
Then, just as mysteriously, the document vanished from the government's website on Tuesday, March 27 – after local 4-H leaders expressed alarm. What's going on?
The Idaho 4-H leaders interviewed for this story, who asked that their last names and town go unnamed, formed their 4-H chapter last fall. It has 23 youth members aged 5 to 17, who have already participated in projects ranging from raising rabbits, pigs and dogs, to knitting, sewing, shooting sports and outdoor adventures, as well as raising nearly $700 at their first bake sale, planning a dance fundraiser and preparing to participate in the town's annual parade. All these activities, they fear, may soon come to a halt due to the LGBTQ "guidance" they worry is being imposed on them.
What sort of 'guidance'?
The document, intended to guide everyone involved with 4-H – including kids as young as five – begins with definitions of terms such as "polysexual" and "intersex."
One section concerns "Identification Documents, Names, and Pronouns" and states: "4-H, including all paid and volunteer personnel, as well as youth members, will use pronouns and names consistent with a transgender or intersex individual’s gender identity."
The document further stipulates that, at any time during participation in 4-H, both youth members and adult leaders may "assert a gender identity that differs from previous representation." That is, a biological male may claim he's female and vice versa. Such assertion needn't be supported by "medical diagnosis" or legal "identification documents." Nevertheless, once the assertion is made, accommodation – from overnight housing to pronoun usage – must be met.
Accommodation requirements apply to restrooms, locker rooms, overnight lodging and athletic teams, in all of which individuals must be allowed access based on their chosen gender identity. These accommodations must be met even if others experience "discomfort" as a result. Perhaps most controversially, "4-H shall ensure nondiscrimination to provide transgender and intersex individuals equal access to programs and activities," even in circumstances when the youth member's family or guardian "raise objections or concerns" over their child's decision to request such transgender accommodations.
Is 'guidance' a suggestion or demand?
Contacted by WND, a somewhat embarrassed top USDA spokesman who asked to go unnamed in this report, said: "4-H is controlled at the local level and NIFA would not dictate policy on the national level. This [document] should not have been disseminated to make it appear that it was national policy."
Fair enough. But the larger question is: Do local 4-H leaders still have reason to fear that activists are aggressively transforming a revered institution of traditional-values rural America by imposing a radical progressive sexual/gender "diversity" agenda on it?
Why did the document appear on the federal government's official website in the first place? Why was it removed?
And since 4-H is funded primarily by taxpayers via federal and state governments, aren't all 4-H clubs compelled to adhere to government non-discrimination policies handed down from on high?
After all, everyone remembers that in May 2016, the Obama administration issued similar "guidance" to public schools across the nation, requiring they allow transgender students to use the bathroom matching their perceived gender identity. The penalty for failing to follow the official "guidance" would be loss of federal funds on which virtually all public school districts have come to rely. A huge national uproar ensued, one that continued until President Trump reversed Obama's transgender bathroom policy in early 2017.
Harboring a similar concern, the leaders of the 4-H chapter in north Idaho, an area of the country dominated by traditional, conservative Christian values, unanimously agreed they would not – indeed, could not – in good faith conform to the transgender 4-H guidelines in the "guidance" document in question.
"We wanted our children to join 4-H because we appreciate the 4-H values," said Jean, one of the north Idaho leaders. "I felt 4-H would be a way for our children to learn skills and build character. The last thing on my kids' minds is politically correct pronoun usage and sexual-orientation terminology."
"I can be accepting and inclusive without being told what to say, think and do," added Bonnie, who formed and leads the new chapter. "I can figure that out for myself. I don't need the government telling me what to do."
"They're expecting people to change for someone's belief system," said Matt, father of a 4-H youth member. "You're supposed to lay down your doctrine to appease theirs."
Another leader, Mike, explained: "This is the government telling me what to say and do to conform in a way that I do not agree with."
Now the mystery deepens: Despite reassurances from USDA in Washington, D.C., Bonnie says that, after meeting with officials of the local extension office overseeing her 4-H club in north Idaho, she was told the officials were being trained on the controversial document's guidelines and would soon be discussing them with local leaders.
"I said, quite simply, 'I'm not going to do this. I'm not going to conform,'" Bonnie told WND.
"Maybe 4-H won't allow me to continue," Bonnie says she told the two extension office employees, whom she says agreed her termination fears were probably justified. After further discussion, Bonnie recalls, one of the employees said to her, "I hate this," to which Bonnie replied, "You should hate this, because you are losing a really good chapter with really good leaders and really great kids."
What's really happening?
USDA assures WND the particular LGBTQ "guidance" document in dispute isn't national policy. But the broader and deeper reality is that, however incremental and state-by-state it might currently be, the aggressive push for adoption of exactly such controversial policies is real and ongoing.
Of the four listed authors of the mysterious document, one of them is Katherine E. Soule, whose University of California website is home to the mysterious missing 4-H transgender "guidance," along with another document developed at the Univ. of California, titled: "4-H Practices for Inclusion of Individuals of All Gender Identities, Gender Expressions, Sexual Orientations, and Sexes: Frequently Asked Questions."
Moreover, since states like Oregon and New York also have online documents strongly advocating what could be called "LGBTQ 4-H," the push is clearly ongoing. The Oregon document prominently lists five law firms specializing in aggressively pursuing transgender discrimination cases. And New York's "Diversity and Inclusion Initiative" includes an hour-long video on the creation of the "4-H Safe Spaces Logo."
On March 27, according to Bonnie, she discussed the matter by phone with two administrators of the University of Idaho Extension – James Lindstrom, 4-H youth development director, and Barbara Petty, associate dean and director. Lindstrom is listed as one of four authors of the mysterious missing LGBTQ "guidance" document.
According to Bonnie, Lindstrom explained to her that 4-H is for all kids and is meant to be a safe place where all are welcome and there is no exclusion. To this, Bonnie says she replied, "I have no problem with that. I have no problem including everyone. I knew that going in. But, a government entity cannot compel me to say anything. I just simply will not do it."
At this point, says Bonnie, Lindstrom told her the disputed LGBTQ "guidance" document wasn't supposed to have been "released" yet, and that she should "take the next week or so" to think about everything, including the "option" that she "re-think being a 4-H leader."
For the north Idaho 4-H leaders, it now appears to them their particular club will dissolve. As Matt stated, "If we stay, we're condoning this; but they're not going to allow us to continue if we don't conform."
If this chapter is representative of similar chapters around the country, 4-H may one day find itself in the same predicament as the Boy Scouts of America. Bowing to pressure from corporate sponsors under the sway of radical political, cultural and legal forces, the Boy Scouts began allowing openly gay members in 2014. By the next year, when BSA also ended its ban on openly gay scoutmasters, membership had declined by 6 percent. By 2016, membership had declined by 10 percent in comparison with 2013 numbers.
"I can't imagine how this organization can remain the same with these policies in place," said Jean of 4-H.
The north Idaho club leaders say they'll continue with current projects independently, finding alternative ways to get the kids involved with the local county fair and other outlets. Ultimately, Bonnie would like to see a national Christian alternative to 4-H, as has sprung up in response to both the Boy Scouts' and Girl Scouts' embrace of the progressive left's social agenda.
Asked how this has affected herself and her daughter on a personal level, Bonnie said, "We can't practice our beliefs because of somebody else's beliefs. Someone else's beliefs are becoming more important than ours. It's persecution, a soft persecution."
Matt agreed: "Tolerant is a word that’s been hijacked by that side of things. The definition has changed. You can be accepting, but know where the line is. That doesn't make you bad. It makes you strong in your beliefs. I'm not going to be tolerant in ways they want us to be tolerant. I don't think God calls us to be tolerant in that way."