The Status of Turning Point at Johnston

Lily Fleming

After several months of waiting, on April 25 the school board approved a club request for Turning Point USA. School board meetings to discuss the request took place beginning February 7 and every other Monday up until the vote, with the exception of school cancellations and Spring Break. 

During this time, controversy spread throughout the district and as broadly in newspapers like the Des Moines Register and TPUSA’s website. Students, parents, and educators made their voices heard at meetings in both opposition and support. 

At a meeting on April 18, the voting process was postponed to ensure club applicants Lucas Gorsch ‘22 and Gavin Gallagher ‘22 had the appropriate constitutional documents. Instead they submitted the organization’s mission statement, “… to identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government.” After hearing from many, the following week the board decided in a 7-2 vote to approve the request, establishing a new on campus club and additional chapter for TPUSA.

Founded in 2012 by Bill Montgomery and Charlie Kirk, an American conservative advocate and radio talk show host, Turning Point USA is a right wing organization based in Phoenix, Arizona. The official website of the organization states there are more than 1,400 chapters across high schools, colleges and universities in the United States. 

Since TPUSA’s founding, the nonprofit organization has earned an infamous reputation. As a result, schools nationwide have received pushback for endeavors to establish local chapters. On May 12, Drake University student leadership voted 17-3 against  establishing a campus chapter. 

In addition to TPUSA’s long standing reputation for generating controversy, a common concern for adversaries of the organization is its “Professor Watchlist,” a collection of instructor names who “advance a radical agenda in lecture halls.” 

At a school board meeting on February 7, Anne Smith spoke for educators, “To see two of our Johnston school board members support a group, Turning Point USA pushing the agenda that we public school teachers are unpatriotic, socialist indoctrinators, is not only beyond the pale, but it’s genuinely hurtful.”

A brief glimpse of a long timeline of alleged controversy demonstrates this controversy: 

  • 2017: The Huffington Post reports on Shialee Grooman, TPUSA’s Field Operations Manager’s history of posting racist and homophobic jokes, as well as 2012 admission that she loved “making racist jokes… if you’re a race other than White, I promise I will make jokes towards you.”
  • 2018: Midwest Regional Manager of TPUSA, Timon Prax, was allegedly fired for bigoted jokes about Muslims, Jews, and Mormons. 
  • 2021: Kyle Rittenhouse, gunman responsible for the shooting at a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha speaks at several TPUSA conferences, receiving standing ovations.
  • 2021: Support for the January 6 insurrection was voiced at the 2021 TPUSA Convention. Right before the US Capitol was stormed, founder Charlie Kirk posted in a since deleted tweet how “The team of Trump Students & Turning Point Action are honored to help make this (event) happen.”

For Johnston’s TPUSA chapter, Gorsch stated on March 7, “…It’d be unfair to hold every single organization of Turning Point accountable for the things that nationally it has done…” Though, also addressed in the series of school board meetings were the controversies in Gorsch’s independent political talking platform Grand Ole Podcast. 

In a since deleted episode, “Transgender is a Problem” Johnston’s 2022 Turning Point Chapter President discussed the intolerant opinions of transgenderism and LGBT+ pride he held, laughing as he told stories of interactions he had with trans students at Johnston. “Why are we teaching kids that if you’re a guy, turning into a girl is perfectly okay? No it’s not … You’re going to stay with those parts the rest of your life,” Gorsch stated. 

However, on March 8 Gorsch published podcast episode “36. The End & New Beginnings” in which he states, “I want to stay independent from Turning Point here on The Grand Ole Podcast. My opinions and my views are purely my own…”  Later in the episode he explains how he told school board representatives, “That’s not The Grand Ole Podcast by TPUSA, that’s The Grand Ole Podcast by Lucas Gorsch because that’s who I am and these are the opinions I stand by.” 

“I don’t have to believe in the idea of transgenderism… You might think it’s offensive, you might think it’s disrespectful … What’s funny is I take offense to that lifestyle, because you can get help.” said Gorsch.

On his previous remarks about Pride, he says, “I’ve since had a couple conversations with a couple of homosexual individuals and I would like to apologize for my comments about the pride movement… I’m not saying I agree with the pride movement and with that lifestyle, but I am saying I understand that being a homosexual isn’t necessarily a choice…” 

In an interview with Gorsch, he describes how Turning Point was established at Johnston to provide a place for both conservative students to talk, and opposers to talk and find common ground. At each meeting, an agenda is organized, then there’s a 20-30 minute window for speakers with different views to talk. “With it getting established at the end of the year, we really didn’t have time for that. But I’m hoping the next administration can do that,” he says. 

This year, the club officers were: Lucas Gorsch ‘22 ( president), Gavin Gallagher ‘22 (vice president), Harrison Mcguire ‘23, Spencer Meyer ‘22, Caden Myers ‘22, Ariel Blackford ‘22, and Bailey Oliver ‘22. Next year’s board officers were voted on during Johnston seniors last week of school (May 16.) 

Two meetings were held following the school board’s approval April 25. The first being on the following Tuesday, April 26 for board officers and the second on Friday, May 6. Due to scheduling conflicts on this date, Gorsch received many cancellation emails and decided to call the meeting off at the last minute, but, “For something that I worked so hard to establish, I figured that I wanted to at least be here for that (meeting),” Gorsch says. 

As for the logistics of next year, he reflects, “I’m pretty confident that it’s gonna remain how I want it. But at the end of the day, it’s not my administration, it’s gonna be a lot different. So, I know how I had a vision for it, (but) I won’t be involved.”

Further, the 2022 President of Johnston’s TPUSA chapter sees education of the first and second amendments, “teaching to spot” critical race theory, and civil discussion on the club’s future agenda.  Gorsch continues, “I really just think that it’s going to be a really good place for conservative students to talk. To have civil discourse with opposition, and if opposition doesn’t want to show up that’s fine. … There’s going to be agenda items from the president and they will divvy that down to all the members, everyone will have a voice, that’s really what it’s all about. … I think that will be something that a lot of parents wanted to see, and I think the future is going to be very bright for this club.”