Student organization protests ‘don’t say trans’ bill in schools


Katherine Kealey

Eleven-year-old Noah McIver sits with his mother Julie Betts among a crowd of protesters and legislators in the Iowa Capitol. “It is not going to stick for very long,” McIver said. “Because there are going to be people who will be fighting for the right to exist.”

Iowa State student majoring in English Bailey Lagan, who identifies as gay, turned to her teachers who served as allies throughout her K-12 education. Multiple proposed bills in the Iowa Legislature prohibiting the discussion of “gender identity” in school could prevent this kind of relationship if passed.

More than 100 people gathered inside the Capitol on Wednesday for the oneiowa LGBTQ Day On the Hill. The protest was against the passage of bills that prevent school staff from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity and prohibiting gender-affirming practices, such as using preferred pronouns.

“I definitely think if I had, I probably wouldn’t be standing here right now,” Lagan said, regarding if she had attended a school where this kind of legislation was implemented.

Keenan Crow is the director of policy and advocacy for oneiowa, a lobbying group that advocates advancing legislation to empower and improve the lives of LGBTQ Iowans.

“This is a coordinated strategy,” Crow said. “This is not something that is Iowa-specific. It is something that we all have to work together, not just in Iowa but literally all across the U.S., to fight this back.”

House File 9 would require parents’ consent for schools to facilitate any accommodations to use a student’s gender identity other than the sex listed on their birth certificate. It also prohibits school districts from withholding or giving false information regarding a student’s gender identity to a guardian. The bill made it through the subcommittee on Tuesday.

Senate File 83 allows parents or guardians to bring a civil action against a school for providing instruction on gender identity. If this legislation passes, the limitation on curriculum would apply to kindergarten through eighth grade. There is a similar bill in the house, but it currently applies to kindergarten through third grade.

State Sen. Herman Quirmbach met with constituents as part of the oneiowa protest. He said supporters of the bill do not understand that sexual orientation and identity are not matters of choice.

“In eighth grade, most people are going through puberty, so they are already forced to deal with the transition to adulthood,” Quirmbach said. “To prevent them from having access to counseling, the really ugly bottom line is it is going to lead to a lot more suicides. Gay and trans kids are already more prone to self-harm.”

In the last three weeks, eight anti-LGBTQ bills have been proposed. In 2022, the first anti-LGBTQ bill wasn’t proposed until mid-Feburary, and in total, there were 28 pieces of legislation proposed on the matter, Crow said. Only one of these passed, which resulted in a ban against trans girls and women from playing on women’s sports teams.

“They’re going quickly,” Crow said. “They are trying to muscle us out of the conversation to the best of their ability.”

Claire Daly is a senior in criminal justice and a minor in women and gender studies. Daly is openly queer and works with children who are queer. She came to protest because they have also expressed their frustration and concern with the “don’t say trans bill.”

“Being queer myself, it feels like a direct attack on my community and on kids who are already vulnerable,” Daly said.

Daly went to a private Catholic school where there were similar policies. She remembers seeing her peers being pulled from her classes per their parents’ request because a health textbook had the word “gay” in it.

“I don’t want other kids to have to go through that,” Daly said.

Rev. Jennifer Hibben is the director of the Vine, a campus ministry at Iowa State University. The Vine is a progressive and inclusive campus ministry where they not only welcome everybody but are affirming and accepting of all identities.

“I see it as part of our faith work to make the world around us look more like what we believe it should,” Hibben said, “based on our values from our faith, but also just based on basic human rights.”

Hibbens organized bringing students to the state house to take part in the protest and engage with the legislative process.

“One of the most important things we can do is educate ourselves so that we can best advocate for ourselves and for others, and this event does a great job of doing that,” Hibben said. “I think that college students should be empowered to do this work. There’s no reason it has to be old people doing legislative work or doing advocacy.”

The oneiowa protest was one of the biggest protests at the state house this legislative session, coming second to protests in response to the private school scholarship bill, said Democratic Rep. Sean Bagniewski.

“It is censoring positive role models in their lives, and they’re not going to have anybody to look up to,” Daly said. “It becomes a cyclical thing that I have had a lot of my friends experience where they get in these bad situations, and they have no guidance whatsoever.”