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Hundreds protest LGBTQ bills at Iowa State Capitol
Democratic lawmakers, teachers, LGBTQ organizers and students speak at Sunday rally
DES MOINES — Evan Huegel is worried about his future in Iowa.
Huegel joined hundreds of Iowans Sunday to protest a surge of legislation that state lawmakers are considering this year that targets LGBTQ Iowans and topics in schools, bills he said will negatively affect him.
A transgender sophomore at Ankeny High School, Huegel said he faces bullying in school and lack of acceptance from some family members, but proposals to ban gender-affirming care for minors -- Senate Study Bill 1197 and House Study Bill 214 -- and restrict LGBTQ topics and students in other ways will make things even harder.
“I’m going to stand up and fight this, because I don’t want to live the rest of my school years in misery,” he said. “I don’t want to live the rest of my life in misery. This seriously impacts my future, how I’m going to grow up being a trans guy.”
The recent increase in bills focused on LGBTQ issues in Iowa has made it hard for Huegel to see a future in Iowa. He was considering going to college at the University of Iowa or Iowa State University, but now he’s having second thoughts.
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“Now I'm having to look at colleges out of state and be far away from my family, just so that I can be who I am,” Huegel said. “Which I am not looking forward to.”
Several hundred people crowded the west steps of the Iowa State Capitol to protest LGBTQ-related bills lawmakers are considering this year. They held signs that said “Trans People Belong in Iowa” and referenced the state’s motto — “Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain.” They flew rainbow and trans pride flags.
Democratic lawmakers, teachers, LGBTQ organizers and students who spoke at the rally said the bills being advanced by the state’s Republican majority contradict the notions of freedom and liberty the Republican Party champions in other areas.
“Real liberty is the ability to read what you want,” said Aime Wichtendahl, a Hiawatha City Council member and transgender woman. “Real liberty is having control over your own body. Real liberty is the ability to marry the person you love.”
Lawmakers have advanced bills out of committees this year banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors, prohibiting instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in early grades, requiring school employees to notify parents if they believe a child is transgender, and requiring students to use only bathrooms that align with their biological sex.
Republicans supporting the bills said they are a reaction to concerns brought by constituents and parents, and they give parents more input in their child’s education. On the bill to ban gender-affirming care for minors, Republican House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said last week the lawmakers are taking a cautious approach to the issue. That’s despite advice from medical experts last month to keep health care options in place for transgender youth.
“Part of why we are here where we are today is I was surprised to find out that some of our major health care providers in the state were actually doing this when we inquired about it,” Grassley said, “ … So we feel very strongly about our position that we’re taking on this issue.”
Teachers and education advocates said at the rally the bills that deal with LGBTQ issues in education are “censorship” and restrict the ability of teachers to be a trusted resource for their students.
Under a bill proposed by Gov. Kim Reynolds, any school employee would need to notify parents if a student expresses a gender identity different from their biological sex, and schools would need parents’ permission to refer to a student by a different name or set of pronouns.
Republicans have said the provisions would give parents information about important decisions their child is making, but some teachers said the bill could put students in harm’s way if their parents do not accept them.
“They prevent educators from fulfilling our important societal role of being trusted, safe adults for all students,” said Stacy Scmidt, a teacher and chair of the Iowa State Education Association’s LGBTQ+ Task Force. “We are often the first adults that young people go to to ask questions about any number of topics.”
A group of students who organized a statewide school walkout last week spoke at the rally, saying they plan to continue to oppose the legislation. The Iowa Queer Student Alliance is hosting another rally at the Capitol this coming Wednesday, the group said.
“We have shown up time after time and we’re not going away,” said Emma Mitchell, the group’s founder.