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Bills would ban trans youth from gender-affirming bathrooms, health care

Doctors would be prohibited from providing gender-affirming care for transgender youth in Iowa under legislation advancing in both the Iowa House and Senate.
Grant Gerlock
IPR file photo
Doctors would be prohibited from providing gender-affirming care for transgender youth in Iowa under legislation advancing in both the Iowa House and Senate.

Follow along with live updates on these bills here.

The Iowa House and Senate are advancing bills (SSB 1197/HSB 214) that would ban gender-affirming care for transgender minors, following in the example of similar measures that have passed this year in states like South Dakota and Utah.

Doctors would be prohibited from providing gender-affirming care for transgender youth, including hormone therapy, puberty blockers and surgery. A violation could lead to a lawsuit from a parent or the Iowa attorney general.

“These individuals are youths. What they’re feeling today may not be the same thing that they’re feeling when they’re 18 or older,” said Sen. Jeff Edler, R-State Center. “If we can regulate tobacco or alcohol of minor usage we surely can come in and put a pause on these body-altering, life-altering procedures.”

Opponents of the bill point out that gender-affirming care is approved by medical organizations including the American Medical Association and American Academy of Pediatrics. They said banning such care robs transgender children of treatments that can prevent depression and suicide.

Karen Butler of Iowa City said Republican lawmakers are also threatening to take away the rights of parents who believe gender-affirming care is appropriate. Butler said she and her husband approved surgery for their 16-year-old child who identifies as nonbinary, but if this bill had been in effect it may have stopped what she considers a lifesaving decision.

“You need to understand that this legislation currently under consideration is a threat to LGBTQ youth, but it is also a stunning and egregious threat to parental rights,” Butler said. “Why do you want to strip me of my liberty and my freedom as a parent? What makes you think you are in a better position than I to make health care decisions for my child? You are not. You do not know my child.”

Butler said the decision to make a medical transition is not made lightly, and only happens after months or years of conversation and therapy.

But supporters of the bill insist that kids should finish puberty before they can seek health care to support a gender transition. Samantha Fett of Carlisle supports the bill in order to require children to go through adolescence before deciding to undergo medical transition.

“We need to allow children to grow normally because puberty is key to human development. Pausing it has life-altering consequences forever, said Fett, a member of the conservative parents group Moms for Liberty.

But Maxwell Mowitz of the LGBTQ advocacy group One Iowa said it is wrong to suggest that a medical transition is something that a person would rush into by accident.

“We’re not trying to trick cis kids into becoming trans,” Mowitz said. “We’re trying to help trans kids live long enough to become trans adults. Gender-affirming care is part of that.”

The bills were introduced Monday and passed out of subcommittees Tuesday with just days to go before the legislative session reaches a deadline that will pare down the number of bills still up for consideration.

At least one of the bills needs to pass out of a full committee or the proposal may not survive past this week.

Bathroom bills advance in House and Senate

Another set of bills advancing in the legislature would restrict transgender students’ access to school bathrooms.

A proposal moving to the House Judiciary Committee (HSB 208) would allow schools to prohibit a transgender student from using a bathroom or locker room that matches their gender identity.

The bill amends Iowa code to say that limiting a bathroom to one sex is not discriminatory, but opponents of the bill say it sends the message that transgender students are not equal to their classmates.

Lily Bjorklund, a second grade student from Ankeny, told a House subcommittee that using the bathroom as a transgender girl does not cause the problems some think it does.

“I think you are confused about what happens in second grade bathrooms,” Bjorklund said. “No one is hurting each other in there. I’m not hurting anyone in there. We just go to the bathroom and wash our hands. That’s how easy it is. It doesn’t matter what sex I was born as because that’s not who I am now.”

The House bill says if a school limits bathrooms to only one sex, it must provide an alternative such as access to a single-person bathroom.

Under the Senate version of the bill (SF 335) which advanced to the Education Committee Tuesday, a transgender student would have to request permission if they wanted to use a single-person restroom. Unlike the House, the Senate bill would force all public schools in Iowa to limit bathrooms to only one sex. A planned amendment will add locker rooms.

Amber Williams of Moms for Liberty told a Senate subcommittee she supports the bill to protect cisgender girls at school.

“My concern isn’t about transgenders,” Williams said. “It’s not those individuals that are most likely to be sexual predators, but rather the sexual predators that could exploit this situation by posing as transgendered to gain access to women and girls.”

Kate Middleton of Iowa City accused the bill’s supporters of imagining a threat to justify discrimination against transgender students.

“If the concern is of men or boys masquerading as girls in order to enter the bathroom to do harm and assault, then our concern is with cisgender troubled boys not trans girls,” said Middleton, adding that her 11-year-old transgender daughter doesn’t run into problems with the bathroom she uses. “She can use the girl’s bathroom or a gender-neutral bathroom. She has no issue and neither do her classmates.”

Gender identity has been protected under Iowa civil rights law since 2007. Since that time, Keenan Crow of One Iowa said, schools have had little trouble managing which bathrooms students are able to use.

“The experience of Iowa schools over the last 15 years has shown that student abuse of these policies simply does not occur,” Crow said. “And if someone abuses any school policy to harm another student or invade their privacy, schools can and will stop such behavior as part of their legal obligation to provide a safe learning environment for all.”

Even so, Albia school board president Roger George told the subcommittee he has concerns about requiring cisgender students to share bathrooms with transgender classmates.

“I, for one, am a father of a daughter who is turning 16 and I know for a fact that she does not want a male in the female’s bathroom regardless of whether they are dressed like a woman or not,” said George.

Sen. Cherielynn Westrich, R-Ottumwa, said she brought the Senate bill forward after talking with George. In her own comments, she tied the bathroom bill back to a law passed last year in Iowa that banned transgender girls from playing sports with other girls.

“Just like we protected girls’ sports, we protected our girls from competing against males, we’re going to go ahead and protect the girls again,” Westrich said.

The House and Senate take different approaches to enforcing their bathroom rules. The House bill would authorize someone to sue a school district and seek monetary damages if the district allows a transgender person to use a bathroom according to their gender expression against school policy. The Senate allows anyone to file a complaint with the Iowa attorney general if a school district fails to address a violation of the bathroom policy.

One or both of the bills must pass through a full committee this week to ensure the issue stays viable in this session, although there are actions that can get around legislative deadlines.

This article was corrected to show it is the American Academy of Pediatrics that supports gender affirming care for minors, not the American College of Pediatrics.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa