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Reynolds signs transgender ‘bathroom bill’, Iowa ban on gender-affirming care for minors into law
Legal challenges likely
DES MOINES — Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds on Wednesday signed into law a ban on gender-affirming care for minors, as well as transgender bathroom restrictions for schools, that are almost certain to be challenged in court.
Reynolds signed Senate File 538, making Iowa one of a growing number of states to prohibit gender-affirming care for transgender minors.
The newly-signed law prohibits Iowa doctors from prescribing puberty blockers or hormone therapy to transgender children under the age of 18. It also prohibits any surgeries on minors intended to affirm a gender that does not match up with their sex at birth.
Doctors who violate the bill would be subject to discipline from a state licensing board, and individuals could bring lawsuits against doctors who perform gender-affirming care.
Minors who are receiving medical treatment now would have 180 days to discontinue that care.
The governor also signed Senate File 482 that prohibits transgender people from using school bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity.
The legislation requires public schools to maintain separate bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, dressing areas and overnight accommodations for biological boys and biological girls.
The bill allows a student who "desires greater privacy" to request special accommodations from their school, with written parental consent.
Schools would be allowed to offer those students access to a single-occupancy restroom or "controlled use" of a faculty restroom.
Republicans described the proposal as a common sense way to ensure the privacy and safety of all Iowa students.
Data, though, overwhelmingly shows that incidents of sexual assault in school bathrooms are rare, and that transgender individuals are at a higher risk of harassment, discrimination and assault if they are forced to use the restroom that does not align with their gender identity.
Opponents of the bill have repeatedly said that there have been no incidents of transgender students in Iowa harassing their peers or misbehaving in bathrooms over the last 15 years. They have noted that Iowa schools have been able to provide accommodations without issue.
Reynolds on Tuesday told reporters banning gender-affirming care for Iowans under the age of 18 is “in the best interest of the kids,” to whom her heart goes out.
Reynolds also fired back at the proposed law’s critics, who she said remind her of the critics of her move to reopen Iowa’s schools and businesses earlier than some other states during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Echoing arguments made by some Republican lawmakers during debate, Reynolds on Tuesday said she does not believe the science is settled on the long-term impacts of gender-affirming care.
Emboldened by six years of conservative reforms under their belts and multiple elections that expanded their majorities in the House and Senate, Iowa Republicans have pushed a more conservative agenda this session, one focused on gender policies and curricula and books in schools with LGBTQ themes, and other measures targeting LGBTQ people, mirroring efforts in other GOP-led states.
A record 29 unique pieces of anti-LGBTQ legislation were introduced already this legislative session, said Keenan Crow, a lobbyist with LGBTQ activist group One Iowa. That, they said, compares to 28 LGBTQ-related bills introduced during the two-year General Assembly from 2021-2022.
“The Iowa Legislature and Governor Reynolds have repeatedly targeted the most vulnerable students with rhetoric and legislation designed to suppress, out, target, ban and censor Iowa’s LGBTQ+ student communities,” Mike Beranek, president of the Iowa State Education Association, Iowa’s main public teachers union, said in a statement.
“Despite these shameful attacks, the ISEA continues to stand with and fight for all our students,” ensuring they’re “safe, healthy, happy and learning,” Beranek said.
Legal challenges likely
Thousands of Iowans have publicly protested the GOP-backed legislation targeting the LGBTQ+ population, including a group of about a dozen Ankeny businesses. The group of businesses said the “hateful and discriminatory legislation will directly impact our businesses’ ability to find and retain employees (and customers) and to thrive in our state.”
The bills will likely be at least temporarily halted by a legal challenge. Similar bills in other states are being challenged in the courts.
Opponents note the legislation conflicts with both state and federal civil rights protections.
Gender identity was added as a protected class to the Iowa Civil Rights Act in 2007. The protections extend to education and public accommodation. At the federal level, Title IX protects gender identity when it comes to restroom and facility access in schools.
North Carolina passed the nation's first bathroom bill in 2016, which sparked a nationwide backlash, boycotts and a lawsuit challenging the law's constitutionality. The state settled that lawsuit in 2019 and is now prohibited from passing laws that prevent transgender people from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity.
The Iowa Supreme Court last year ruled in favor of a transgender employee at the Department of Corrections who argued it was gender discrimination to be required to use a unisex restroom instead of facilities that aligned with their gender identity.
"It is simply wrong for Gov. Reynolds to sign a law that will have devastating consequences for many children and their families in our state,“ Mark Stringer, ACLU of Iowa executive director, said in a statement. ”It should be parents, doctors and mental health professionals who make these decisions — not politicians trying to score political points by throwing transgender kids under the bus.“
Stringer and Democratic lawmakers said they are already hearing from families who say they are making plans to move out of state or move their transgender teen out of state.
Republican legislators who proposed and advanced the ban on gender-affirming care say it is necessary to protect children from medical care and treatments when the science is not settled, even though all major medical groups in the U.S. say the treatments are safe and the vast majority of studies show that the care leads to better mental health outcomes.
Doctors, LGBTQ and civil rights advocates say medical care is being politicized and creating a climate of fear.
Reynolds and other Republicans have pointed to studies and actions in some European countries. For example, the United Kingdom’s only center dedicated to gender identity treatment for children will close, and Sweden last year began restricting hormone therapy for minors.
Most medical studies show gender-affirming care is beneficial for young people experiencing gender dysphoria. Some have noted possible long-term effects and suggest more research is needed.
Lawmakers also heard testimony in recent weeks from doctors who said providing gender-affirming care to minors is a methodical, deeply personalized process that involves multiple doctors and parent consent.
Five House Republicans voting against the bill said it runs counter to the “parental choice” mantra Republicans frequently champion, preventing parents from getting their child the medical care they need.
“By signing these bills, the Governor has shown that she doesn’t actually care about parental rights,” said Becky Tayler, executive director for Iowa Safe Schools, said in a statement.
Iowa Safe Schools provides education, outreach, advocacy and victim services for LGBTQ and allied youth.
“The parental rights LGBTQ families have been sidelined for the sake of the Governor’s ill-fated power trip to national office,” Tayler said. “The Governor’s legacy will be forever tainted by the day she signed away parental rights and put children’s lives directly at risk.“
Reynolds also signed:
- HF 337: A bill for an act relating to the use of certain refrigerants.
- HF 202: A bill for an act relating to explosive materials including blasting agents, detonators, and destructive devices, providing penalties, and including effective date provisions.
- HF 113: A bill for an act relating to the state public defender pilot project for child welfare legal representation.
- SF 154: A bill for an act exempting hydroexcavation equipment from certain size, weight, load, and permit requirements on highways.
- SF 157: A bill for an act authorizing certain persons to administer the final field test of an approved driver education course.
- HF 133: A bill for an act relating to refund payments made in connection with motor vehicle debt cancellation coverage.
- HF 205: A bill for an act relating to the distribution of certain barrel tax revenues collected on beer.
- HF 257: A bill for an act relating to third-party testers who administer the knowledge and driving skills tests required for a commercial learner’s permit or commercial driver’s license.
Erin Murphy and Caleb McCullough of The Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau contributed to this report
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