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Iowa lawmakers should listen to Dani and Weaver
We’ve heard plenty from Republican politicians assailing Linn-Mar’s support policies for transgender students and pursuing legislation to make them illegal. Now it’s time to hear from Dani and Weaver.
Dani Kallas and Weaver, who goes by her last name, are juniors at Linn-Mar. They’re both involved in orchestra. Dani is also in band, marching band, jazz band, choir and show choir. Weaver is competing in speech in the storytelling category. They’re both involved in Spectrum, the high school’s LGBTQ organization. Dani is in the Social Justice Club and Weaver is into Dungeons and Dragons.
They’re bright, friendly kids. Dani is transgender and Weaver is asexual and part of the LGBT community. They’re each on a journey of learning about themselves and where they fit in. And where Republicans see a “parents’ rights” horror story, they see a supportive school district that provides them with a safe space as they make that journey.
“The teachers are, for the most part, supportive and most teachers at the beginning of either the year or the semester will ask if you prefer to go by a different name than what is in the system,” Dani said during an interview at a local coffee shop.
“Yeah, my geometry teacher actually asked me to stay after class to ask me a question. And she wants to double check my pronouns,” Weaver said.
“And having teachers be willing to support you is a big step because a lot of teachers, from what I've heard from other places, will go out of their way to ignore students’ preferred names and pronouns. So just knowing that teachers are doing whatever they can to support you, it just makes it feel like you have a good support system in school,” Dani said.
Dani and Weaver have been watching the Iowa Legislature as it considers anti-LGBTQ bills this session. One bill under consideration in the House would prohibit school districts such as Linn-Mar from offering gender support plans to students without parental permission. It would also require teachers and school staff to report kids who are questioning their gender to parents.
Linn-Mar’s policy currently allows students to ask for gender supports without informing their parents.
“It would limit trust between students and teachers, because a lot of students will go to teachers and talk about what they're experiencing,” Dani said. “But if they go to a teacher and talk about, you know, possibly being trans, they would have to know that teacher could be obligated to tell their parents that. And if they're going to a teacher instead of their parents in the first place, there's probably a reason. So that would kind of break that trust.”
“It will just tear apart a bunch of people, because you're pretty much forcing people to do something they don't feel ready to do yet. And that could put a lot of people at risk of being on the streets,” said Weaver, who also points to a higher suicide rate among transgender youth.
As Dani came out to their family, they received unconditional love and support. Weaver told her mom, but has had to be less open in her devoutly Catholic extended family.
“When I told it was mainly my mom that I told. Like we were in the car. She was like, talking about grandchildren or something. And I just said, ‘Yeah, you're gonna get none of that from me. I'm ace,’” Weaver said, using the abbreviation for asexual. “And she asked a few questions. I explained. Pretty simple.”
But Dani and Weaver said they know other kids who have had a far more difficult time coming out to family. Dani said lawmakers don’t seem to realize how important it is for those kids to have a safe space to be themselves at school without the stress of hiding who they are.
“I would say that if they're so concerned about parents not being involved, then maybe they should look in the mirror and look at why the kids don't want to tell them these things,” Dani said. “And that if they can't see why their children wouldn't want to tell them these things about themselves then they should try to think about the way that they make their kids feel. Because if their kid can't feel safe telling them who they are, then it makes sense that their kid would want to keep that a secret.”
Weaver and Dani are worried passage of legislation targeting Linn-Mar’s policy will wipe away all the progress that’s been made in making students feel accepted and supported at school.
“I think their goal is just to try to erase LGBTQ people. Just because they don't think it's normal, so they don't want to have to see it,” Dani said.
“They're just pretty much scared and confused. They don't understand what the LGBT community feels,” Weaver said.
“It's kind of like a two steps forward, one step back,” Dani said.
“More like two steps forward, 10 steps back,” Weaver said.
Weaver and Dani are also concerned about other bills that would prohibit teaching LGBTQ subject matter in lower grades. And they oppose removing books from curriculum and libraries that frankly address LGBTQ topics.
“When you take away both teachers and books from kids that only leaves the internet as a source. And the internet is riddled with opinions,” Dani said.
“Not to mention falsehoods,” Weaver said.
After high school, Weaver would like to go into voice acting, or maybe own a LGBTQ-friendly coffee shop to provide another safe space for her community. She doesn’t see herself staying in Iowa, although the current political climate in Iowa isn’t a factor.
Dani wants to be a civil rights lawyer in New York City. And for them, the current push to curtail LGBTQ rights is a big factor.
“For me, it definitely relates to the cultural climate and a lot with what's going on with the Legislature right now, Dani said. “There have just been so many anti-trans and anti-queer bills lately, and just in the past few years alone. And there's a lot of people, not necessarily in this part of Iowa, but just throughout Iowa in general, that it allows bills like that to be passed. And it allows people like Kim Reynolds to stay in office.”
“I think you needed a hug,” Weaver said, after leaning over and putting a supportive arm around her friend.
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