Iowa Senate Advances Transgender Restroom Ban


Shoshie Hemley

Photo of Chuck Harvey at the virtual subcommittee meeting on February 10th, 2021.

Emily Martinez, Culture Editor

Iowa GOP senators recently won an education subcommittee vote in regards to a bill (Senate File 224) that will require all public and private elementary and secondary schools to only allow persons of the same biological sex to use the same bathroom. It will prohibit those whose facility does not correspond with the person’s biological sex from entering a bathroom of the opposite sex. A subcommittee is the first step in the legislative process where lawmakers can efficiently consider a bill and allow a public discussion to those for and against legislation. 

“When I first heard the news of the bill passing I got the overwhelming feeling of exhaustion and anger,” Reyna Roach ‘24 said. “I know the Iowa legislature, I’m aware they think I don’t deserve rights, I had some hope the people speaking their truths would be enough for our legislatures but the honest truth is that there are so many bills throughout Iowa, throughout this country that share the same transphobic rhetoric. I am tired.” 

This bill has been the first anti-transgender policy to receive a hearing and advance in the Iowa Legislature this year. 

“Having many friends that are transgender, I fear for the culture these legislators create when approving these bills through the subcommittee,” Lulu Roarick ‘24 said. “I believe this bill creates a culture where it is okay to disrespect and deny transgender students well-being and [their] access to things [they need], which is harmful.”

For City High students, this bill raises many concerns surrounding discrimination and privacy for other transgender students.

“I can’t see how anyone could approve of banning something that was used to make students more comfortable in their own schools. The bill states that biological sex is determined by one’s birth certificate to be determined male or female rather than what aligns with a student’s gender identity,” Nadia Castañeda ‘23 said. “I believe this ban is very harmful to transgender students because many already struggle with their gender identity and being respected. I’m afraid that if we get rid of transgender restrooms, we’d be taking away their sense of safety and inclusivity. These students go through enough, it could worsen their experience as a transgender student when all they want to be is themselves, comfortably.”

Harassment and bullying towards transgender students have also been a main concern coming from some students in response to the advancement of the ban.

“Banning transgender students from using the correct bathroom can be very harmful, not only mentally but even physically if they are attacked. For example, if someone is a trans male and passes as male, forcing him to use the female restroom may lead to him being yelled at and harassed for presenting male and going to the female bathroom,” Miranda Ryfe ‘24 said.

Senators in support of the bill argue that the bill is necessary for the safety of girls and women in restrooms. Senator Jim Carlin argued that the purpose of the bill is not so much about transgender individuals but rather about sexual predators that could exploit such laws by posing as transgender in order to gain access to women and girls according to Stephen Gruber-Miller from the Des Moines Register.

“[The bill] is 100% an attack on trans youth. There is no actual reason for the bill to pass, other than to be discriminatory. There is no evidence that trans people actually place any danger to cis people, especially not our youth. By saying that we can’t do something as simple as going to the restroom is a clear violation of our rights and an attack on the community,” Roach said.

Transgender restrooms have been available in Iowa since 2007 since the Iowa Civil Rights Act was passed that protected the rights of transgender Iowans.  Those opposed to the bill argued that since transgender bathrooms became available, there have been no reported incidents concerning the safety of girls and women in restrooms according to Katarina Sostaric from the Iowa Public Radio.

“Trans youth will not be safe in school, they will not be able to use the restroom where they should. The bill is also spreading and reinforcing really harmful rhetoric about trans people, especially young trans girls. When I was at the subcommittee, the proponent’s main argument [about the bill] was that allowing trans people into the bathrooms would put cis people in danger. This is a really big piece of transphobic propaganda that is totally unsupported and very widespread. Reinforcing it with the legislature is scarily probable,” Roach said.

A mother of a 5-year old transgender girl raised her concerns for her daughter to lawmakers as she claimed that the bill could make things more difficult for transgender kids in terms of having to prove their gender, harassment, and safety according to Stephen Gruber-Miller from the Des Moines Register.

“I think living in a more liberal city you kind of forget the fact that you’re still in a red state and not everyone is as accepting as your community,” Roarick said. “No matter how anyone presents it, it’s their right to use the bathroom, especially at school. I think it’s ridiculous the kind of rationalization these people go through to justify their actions.”

Gender identities that do not directly correlate with what is on one’s birth certificate is a serious topic for some transgender youth as well.

“It’s important that the bathrooms resonate with [a person’s] gender identity over what they were assigned at birth because most of these students already deal with dysmorphia and stress before and even after transitioning. This [bill] could cause them more unnecessary pain that they should not have to deal with,” Castañeda said.

Some students are upset at the fact that lawmakers are concerned with who can and cannot use certain restrooms rather than what they consider to be larger issues in Iowa such as COVID-19.

“Iowa lawmakers care [about who can use certain restrooms] because it is a frequent tactic used to discredit and discriminate against trans people,” Roach said. “It spreads the rhetoric that we are dangerous and need to be kept separate or away from people. We are a part of one of the most vulnerable marginalized people, especially trans women, and this bill and the ideology behind it is spreading clear misinformation and villainizing us. They are clearly doing this because they are transphobic. The overwhelmingly conservative Iowa legislature doesn’t like trans people and this is one thing they can do to show it and hurt us.”

Some students also argued the concerns lawmakers are raising are not valid enough to pass a bill over.

“I believe lawmakers have these concerns because of a lack of understanding. These bills are rooted in fear, and I think that if they were to have a conversation with the people opposed, they would understand how hurtful this bill is,” Castañeda said.

With the progress of the bill, some students believe the future of City High’s gender-neutral bathroom is unprecedented.

“There are a lot of trans students at City High and many of us will be put in a really bad position of either just not using the restroom or suffering through the horrible experience of going in the wrong restroom,” Roach said. “I’m non-binary so I don’t really have one of the binary bathrooms to go to (we do have gender-neutral ones but there are few and they are far) but I do know many binary trans people in our school that will be screwed over by this. It’s also something that’s oddly affirming, to be able to go where you are supposed to and this bill is forcing all of us to suffer. We are not the gender assigned at birth, our sex is irrelevant, and this bill reinforcing really transphobic misinformation.”

However, City High principal John Bacon expressed his views over the current attempts to remove gender-neutral bathrooms as City High’s gender-neutral bathroom was introduced shortly 4 years ago.

“I am proud that we have a gender-neutral bathroom at City High. I think it is very important that all kids feel safe, respected, and happy at school. I do think that any effort to take away gender-neutral bathrooms is an attack on those who need it. I do not think people in Des Moines should concern themselves with what bathroom students in Iowa City choose to use. Human beings choosing to use a gender-neutral bathroom does not have a negative impact on anyone. It does, however, have a positive impact on their experience at school. Certain members of the legislature say that they believe in local control. But in reality, I am not sure their actions match that proclaimed belief,” Bacon said.