Students around the nation are pushing back on Republican attacks on LGBTQ+ rights. They’ve stood up for teachers and coaches, walked out en masse, and this week, a Missouri university reopened a student resource center after students protested.
But high schoolers in Iowa are taking a different approach to defy the state’s laws. They’ve heckled the state’s anti-LGBTQ+ governor, and instead of relying on teachers and faculty for support, they’re providing it themselves.
State law bans healthcare professionals from providing any medical treatment that attempts “to alter the appearance of, or affirm the minor’s perception of” a gender other than the minor was assigned at birth. The law also forbids the use of puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy. Medical professionals who provide such trans-related care can be sued up to 20 years later and also possibly lose their medical licensing.
The state also has a law that prohibits people from using school bathrooms that don’t correspond with the gender that a person was assigned at birth.
Another law requires school administrators to notify parents if their child requests to be called by another name or request accommodations for their gender identity. The law also bans books that include “depictions of sex acts,” no matter how vague or the overall content of the book. Like a similar law in Florida, it forbids teachers from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity.
“With the name laws, people don’t realize the point of it. They don’t realize that it’s trying to hurt trans kids,” Naomi, president of their school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), told the Iowa Starting Line. “They don’t see that we’re the people being attacked by this. And so they’ll be like, ‘Oh, this nickname thing is so stupid.’ But they don’t turn around and realize who it’s hurting the most.”
“Teachers have to follow the law. We don’t,” senior Brett Giltner said. “We can always be there to support our students when our teachers potentially can’t, even though they want to. So that’s the nice thing about having a GSA (gay-straight alliance) at the school and having a pretty decent-sized GSA.”
“It’s something we can do to show legislators and our state that we’re here. We’re not going to listen to your rules.”
The students have organized social events celebrating the queer community and support sessions for each other.
“We just have to continue to be here for people,” Naomi said. “We’re doing our best to schedule so that everyone can come because sometimes people just need a place to come and chat.”
Giltner noted that, as a recent Iowa transplant from Illinois, where LGBTQ+ rights have been explicitly protected, it was a major culture shock.
“It’s like you cross an imaginary line and it’s like you’re allowed to be yourself here [in Illinois] and you’re not allowed to do this anymore here [in Iowa],” he said.
The governor of Illinois signed an executive order to help protect transgender students on the day that Chicago’s Pride parade was scheduled.
“Ending the intolerable levels of discrimination and violence against our transgender community starts here – in our schools – by making the values of tolerance and respect just as much a part of our educational cultural as academics, athletics, and the arts,” said Chicago’s out mayor Lori Lightfoot, who attended the signing ceremony.