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Decency and compassion leave Iowa’s golden dome of wisdom
Iowa, you make me cringe.
I’ve just watched the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature advance an agenda using the party’s almost total control of political power in this state to attack transgender kids. A vulnerable minority, which already faces marginalization, bullying and higher rates of suicide and homelessness is being punched around by the so-called leaders of this state.
Decency and compassion have left the Golden Dome of Wisdom. Hundreds of students marched this week in opposition to these bills. Republicans don’t care.
I’ve witnessed many instances of legislative malpractice during my years covering and closely watching state government in Iowa. But this is the worst I’ve seen. Republicans cast aside any notion of responsible governing to stoke fires of religious fanaticism they ignited with no regard for the consequences. For a state that prides itself on a record of protecting civil rights, these are dark days. History will not look kindly on the perpetrators of this hateful agenda, nor on those who sat by silently as it happened.
So, yeah, as a native Iowan, I’m beyond disgusted.
Is this what Iowa voters wanted when they elected a Republican governor and increased GOP majorities in the Legislature? If yes, shame on you. If not, what are you going to do about it?
A slew of harmful anti-LGBTQ bills survived a legislative deadline at the end of funnel week, keeping them alive for likely passage. There are bills banning gender-affirming health care for transgender kids, even with the consent of parents. Another bill advanced that would bar transgender kids from using a bathroom or locker room corresponding with their gender identity.
Of course there was Gov. Kim Reynolds’ “education” bill, mainly teaching us how far she’ll go to burnish her red state super star credentials. Her bill would make it easier to banish books from school library shelves, if Moms for Liberty object to their content, and place them on a blacklist accessible only with parental permission. No curriculum can address gender identity in elementary grades, sending a clear signal that transgender Iowans are somehow a problem, or a threat, that needs to be hidden.
In a particularly cruel section of the bill, if a school employee finds out a student is transitioning and wants to use a new name and pronouns, the school must inform the student’s parents. And if the student expresses fear of what might happen if parents are told, the school must notify the Department of Health and Human Services to investigate.
So a kid’s choice is to be outed before they’re ready or have the state investigate their family. No adult can be trusted. Best to just stay alone in the shadows, which is what Republicans want.
Experts lined up in recent weeks to warn lawmakers that these measures would profoundly harm transgender kids, exacerbating their isolation, higher rates of suicidal thoughts and higher potential for homelessness.
Lawmakers heard from Katie Imborek, co-director of the University of Iowa Health Care’s LGBTQ+ Clinic and Dave Williams, chief medical officer at UnityPoint Health, on the medical care provided to transgender youth. They told lawmakers that a ban on such care would ignore guidance from the American Medical Association, the American Pediatric Association and the American Association of Psychiatrists.
They told lawmakers gender-affirming care isn’t done without parental consent. Surgery on minors is rare. And the care helps with emotional and behavioral issues, depression and thoughts of suicide.
Lawmakers were told of the reams of research showing that the real safety threat in bathrooms and locker rooms is for transgender students forced to use facilities corresponding with their gender at birth. They’re the ones who face a higher risk of sexual assault and violence.
Republicans ignored it all. Deaf ears and sneers. Instead they stuck with a campaign of fabricated fear that has agitated an outraged minority while they reap the political spoils.
Maybe you think this doesn’t affect you. So who cares?
But consider for a moment the speed at which Republicans were able to transform transgender kids into public enemy No.1. In roughly one election cycle, these kids went from being students just trying to live their lives and be supported to become a target of derision by a governor, a sitting member of Congress, the legislative majority and a former vice president.
Public schools went from being prized institutions in Iowa to dens of liberal indoctrination in the wild imaginations of hard-right lawmakers. Teachers went from respected to reviled enemies thanks to concocted claims of sinister agendas.
This is the stuff of authoritarian regimes. Attack the “other.” Divide us with fictions.
Sure, anti-transgender bills have been filed in the past. Last year, the governor signed a law banning transgender girls from girls’ and women’s sports. But we’ve never seen an onslaught like the one unleashed this session, with frightening ferocity.
Republicans have built a highly efficient political machine fueled by fear. When it’s done crushing the rights of transgender kids, who will be its next target? Who’ll get tossed into the wood chipper of righteous outrage? There always has to be an object of outrage.
A constitutional amendment was filed that would, if approved by lawmakers and voters, overturn marriage equality. It’s unlikely to move this year, but never say never.
Republicans already are targeting higher education, advancing legislation that would prohibit state universities from spending state funding on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Yelling “woke” enough times makes it seem like a great idea. If Reynolds continues to follow Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ playbook, we could see the culture war overwhelm higher education in Iowa.
Maybe they’ll come after the journalists. Always a popular Republican target. Of course we know women’s reproductive rights are hanging by a thread likely to be severed. The attack on public schools isn’t going to end with this session’s blitzkrieg.
A Democratic legislator recently told my 21-year-old daughter that if she has the ways and means to leave Iowa, that’s why she must stay. We have to think of the Iowans who can’t leave and must endure this agenda.
Unless voters look over this landscape and clearly see the dangerous ways Republicans are wielding vast power and strike back, or at least stand up, this isn’t going to end.
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