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Iowa GOP Senators Advance Bill Banning Trans Students From Using Bathrooms Aligned With Their Gender Identity

John Pemble
Sen. Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City, sponsored a bill requiring Iowans to only use school bathrooms that align with their sex assigned at birth, instead of their gender identity.

Iowa schools would have to require people to only use bathrooms that align with their sex assigned at birth, instead of their gender identity, under a bill advanced Wednesday by Republicans on a Senate panel.

About 100 people were listening to the virtual subcommittee. Groups representing businesses, schools, and LGBTQ Iowans registered opposition to the bill.

Liz Lundberg told lawmakers that it’s heartbreaking to imagine a school forcing her 5-year-old daughter, who is transgender, to use the boys’ bathroom.

“This law opens the door to all kinds of abuse and would make all of our children less safe,” Lundberg said. “Teachers, staff, visitors and other students could use it to demand that any child prove their gender. And it’s designed to make things especially difficult for transgender kids.”

Lundberg added it could lead to more bullying and harassment of kids who are transgender. And she wondered how this policy would be enforced, but that question was never answered.

Sen. Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City, who sponsored the bill, said it’s not intended to be hateful.

“It’s important to note that the concern is not so much with transgender individuals likely to be sexual predators, but that sexual predators would exploit such laws for posing as transgender in order to gain access to women and girls,” Carlin said.

Damian Thompson, a lobbyist for Iowa Safe Schools, said there have been no such incidents in Iowa schools in the 14 years since transgender Iowans were granted protections under the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

High school student Paras Bassuk said the bill would make Iowa schools a less welcoming and unsafe place for transgender and gender-nonconforming students. He said it’s a myth that trans students endanger cisgender students in school bathrooms.

“Like any other student, the bathroom is a place where students seek privacy. And despite that, this bill perpetuates a culture of scrutiny towards trans youth that puts them at risk of bullying and harassment,” Bassuk said. “Separating bathrooms by biological sex would be a discriminatory mandate from the state that says, ‘We do not respect the validity of our students’ gender identities.’”

The bill would apply to all elementary and secondary schools in Iowa. Lobbyists for school boards and teachers said this bill directs them to violate state and federal law.

Chuck Hurley of The Family Leader was the only lobbyist to speak in favor of the bill. He claimed that letting trans students into bathrooms that align with their gender identity disrupts the privacy of students who aren’t transgender.

This bill is one of many anti-trans policies proposed in the Iowa Legislature this year, but it is the first one to have a hearing and advance.

North Carolina passed a so-called “bathroom bill” in 2016. The NBA and NCAA moved events to other states, and some companies canceled expansions, leading to major economic impacts to the state. The North Carolina legislature repealed parts of the bill the following year, and a court settlement ultimately put an end to it.

In the Iowa Senate, Carlin and Sen. Jeff Taylor, R-Sioux Center, voted to advance the bill. Sen. Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines, voted against it.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter