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House sends bill restricting school bathroom use for transgender Iowans to governor's desk

protesters hold signs and flags in support of transgender Iowans
Madeleine C King
The Iowa House passed a bill restricting bathroom use for transgender K-12 students following protests against the legislation.

Transgender Iowans would be barred from using K-12 school bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity under a bill that is on its way to the governor’s desk for her signature.

The Iowa House voted 57-39 Thursday to pass the bill. Five Republicans joined all Democrats in voting against it.

The bill would prohibit people from entering school bathrooms or locker rooms that don’t match the sex listed on their original birth certificate. This includes all multiple occupancy bathrooms—which the bill would require to be designated for use by one sex—and single occupancy bathrooms that are designated for one sex.

It would leave unisex single occupancy bathrooms as one of the only options for transgender students.

Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison said the bill tries to be sensitive to the feelings of transgender students by requiring schools to accommodate any student who is uncomfortable with their bathroom or changing room options.

“But what about the legitimate concerns—safety concerns and privacy concerns—of our daughters who don’t want to change clothes in front a biological male, or our young men who don’t want to change clothes in front of females?” he asked.

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said all students deserve a safe school environment.

“Forcing transgender students into restrooms that don’t match their gender identity puts their safety at risk,” she said. “They need to be able to use the restroom that matches the gender they live every day at school without being singled out, which can serve to be discrimination and harassment.”

Konfrst said this is state-sponsored bullying.

Holt was asked if there have been any reports of incidents related to current bathroom policies. He said he knows at least six school districts and countless parents have expressed concerns where “these issues are taking place.” Holt also said some school officials have been asking for guidance on bathroom policies.

“As my mom used to say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Holt said. “I’m not interested in waiting until a child is raped in a restroom by someone pretending to be transgender.”

Rep. Austin Baeth, D-Des Moines, said if there was rampant, nefarious misuse of school bathrooms, he might understand the bill.

“But inventing these horror scenarios of a bad person going into a bathroom—it might be an effective tool of fear mongering, but it doesn’t reflect reality,” he said. “Shouldn’t we be basing our laws on reality?”

Rep. Elinor Levin, D-Iowa City, said transgender kids just want to be able to use the bathroom like everyone else and don’t want to hurt anyone.

“We are accepting the false narrative that there is a problem so that we can sweep in and be heroes, all while disregarding that our trans kids are the ones who face harassment and even violence as a result,” Levin said. “I am asking you, personally, please do not do this to them.”

Democrats also questioned how teachers would enforce the policy and how they would determine whether a student is transgender. If a school violates the bill, any Iowan can file a complaint with the attorney general, who would be required to investigate.

After the debate, House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, told reporters the bill was not as “hyper-targeted” as Democrats made it out to be.

“It didn’t just focus on saying, ‘gender assigned at birth, that’s the bathroom.’ It also is going to require that schools make accommodations for anyone that wants to have those accommodations,” he said.

Grassley noted that the bill covers locker rooms, changing rooms and any facilities for extracurricular activities, field trips and overnight trips.

This bill and the bill to ban gender-affirming medical care for minors are awaiting Gov. Kim Reynolds’ signature. The school bathroom bill would take effect immediately after she signs it into law.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter