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What It's Like to Be Trans in Iowa In Today's Political Climate

Louisa Dewey
Community members rally for trans rights at the University of Iowa Pentacrest

The Trump administration is considering redefining the definition of gender under some civil rights laws in a move that could rollback protections for transgender, nonbinary, and intersex people. This move threatens to legally invalidate their existence by narrowly defining gender as based on sex assignment at birth.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks to Aime Wichtendahl, Hiawatha city council member and Iowa's first openly trans lawmaker, and Daniel Hoffman-Zinnel, Executive Director of One Iowa, about how this move would impact the trans community and the LGBTQ community as a whole. Max Shermen Mowitz, who identifies as transmasculine nonbinary, and Michelle Kell, who came out as trans in March of this year, also join the conversation.

According to a 2016 analysis of federal and state data, there are about 1.4 million Americans who identify as transgender. Hoffman-Zinnel says that the Trump administration has been attempting to dismantle the rights of transgender people long before this recent proposal.

"I think it even starts when the administration was first put into office with their reversal of transgender individuals being able to serve in the military, and then the rescinding of Title IX protections for transgender individuals in schools," Hoffman-Zinnel says. "This is just one additional thing evidently showing a trend and a pattern of this administration creating a harmful rhetoric targeting the LGBTQ community but especially the transgender and nonbinary community members across the country."

Wichtendahl says that the proposal is blatantly unconstitutional and may be the administration's way of trying to score points before midterm elections. While she believes that it would not survive a court challenge, she says there's still a huge amount at stake for the trans community.

"The sheer pointless cruelty of this administration knows no bounds," Wichtedahl says. "If it does go forward it could be significantly harmful for trans people throughout the United States."

Moving forward, Mowitz and Hoffman-Zinnel urge people to do their research and listen to the voices of trans people, particularly trans women of color. 

"At the end of the day the trans community are the experts, and we'll be able to help you understand what this looks like for us. But also... being patient and kind with yourself and others and recognizing that there's a lot to learn," Mowitz says.

Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River
Katelyn Harrop is a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa