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Iowa students leave school to protest LGBTQ proposals
‘It’s never going to stop queer people from existing,’ student says
Linn-Mar High School freshman Kalum Peterson joined hundreds of students across the state Wednesday in protesting bills being considered in the Iowa Legislature they say target the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth.
Kalum, 14, just started testosterone — a decision made under the care of a therapist and with the support of his parents. He struggles with gender dysphoria, or discomfort because his gender is different from his sex at birth. Coming out helped improve his mental health and made him feel less suicidal, he said. Gender affirming care like starting testosterone was the next step in “making me feel like me,” Kalum said.
Now, he is worried about that option being taken away from him by Iowa Republican lawmakers. Bills being considered in the statehouse — Senate Study Bill 1197 and House Study Bill 214 — would bar physicians from providing gender-affirming care to Iowans under age 18 even with parental consent. The bills prohibit puberty blockers, the administering of testosterone or estrogen and gender-affirming surgeries.
Kalum was one of about 50 students at Linn-Mar who gathered outside the high school Wednesday to learn more about the proposed bills that could affect their rights, joining dozens of other schools across Iowa — including Marion High School in Marion, Prairie High School in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City High School in Iowa City — in a statewide protest organized by a youth-led group called Iowa WTF and Iowa Queer Alliance.
The Linn-Mar Community School District has been a target of Republican leaders — including former Vice President Mike Pence and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds — after adopting new policies last year to protect transgender students from discrimination. These policies make official the practices already established in the district — and other districts in Iowa — to follow federal and state law.
The policies spell out inclusive practices for transgender students, including giving them access to restrooms, locker rooms or changing areas that correspond with their chosen gender identity. Students in the seventh grade or above could request a “gender support plan” that calls for teachers and peers to address the student by a new name and new pronouns. The policy leaves it up to the students whether to notify parents.
Tuesday, Republican lawmakers in the House and the Senate advanced proposals, including House Study Bill 208 and Senate File 335, which would bar transgender students from using school restrooms for the gender with which they identify.
New legislation introduced by Republican lawmakers also proposes an amendment to the Iowa Constitution that would ban same-sex marriages.
House File 9 — which passed out of committee last month and is eligible for debate by the full Iowa House — would require schools to obtain parental consent before affirming a transgender students identity, including using their new name or pronouns.
Another bill would prohibit gender identity instruction through eighth grade.
Iowa City High School junior Puck Carlson, 16, recalls learning about different gender identities and sexual orientation in “age appropriate lessons” in elementary school.
Puck already knew ne — a gender-neutral pronoun — was queer from a young age, and nirs — the possessive of ne — parents had always been supportive. The lesson in school further helped Puck “come to terms with myself and my sexuality,” ne said.
Normalizing different gender identities “would make a lot of people feel safer and more comfortable and happier,” Puck said, adding ne is “horrified” by the bills aimed at LGBTQ people — especially children.
“It’s never going to stop queer people from existing,” Puck said. “Those kids will still grow up and be queer, they just won’t have any knowledge and that can only lead to suffering and hardship. For the kids I know and for the kid I once was, it makes me so sad.”
Puck hoped to communicate opposition to these bills by walking out of school with about 100 other students from Iowa City High and South East Junior High School, walking almost 2 miles to the Pentacrest at the University of Iowa to protest.
Jules Robinson, 16, a junior at Prairie High School in Cedar Rapids, said they — their pronoun — always knew they didn’t “fit a specific gender.”
Jules led about 30 students in walking out of Prairie High. “It was a nice, comforting space,” they said.
Jules is not a legal name because “it hurts me to hear” that name sometimes, they said. “Being a girl just doesn’t feel right for me. I just am who I am.”
Jules’ parents are supportive of them being nonbinary — a gender that is not male or female — “but some parents aren’t,” they said. “I don’t have to go through that myself, but I have friends who do and it’s so painful to see them go through it every single day.”
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