A group of Iowa Republican legislators won’t leave LGBTQ Iowans alone.
Since the new legislative session began in January, Reps. Sandy Salmon, Dean Fisher, Jeff Shipley, Skyler Wheeler and others have supported bills to remove or chip away at civil rights, especially for transgender Iowans.
At least five bills targeting LGBTQ rights have been introduced in the Legislature this year, with differing levels of extremism.
Many of the legislators on the bills are the same people who pushed legislation to remove trans people from Iowa’s Civil Rights Act. That effort was quickly stopped by the Republican House Judiciary Chair.
House File 2273, along with its companion Senate File 2193, probably goes the furthest. The House version of the bill is called the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act.”
The bill states that “sincerely held religious beliefs and more convictions” are protected, including the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman; a person’s gender must align with their given sex at birth; and life begins at conception.
“There’s a number of different, fairly dangerous ideas floating around out there,” said Keenan Crow, director of policy and advocacy at One Iowa. “It ranges the gamut all the way across the board for any situation that an LGBTQ person could find themselves in. They could be discriminated against in one of those situations depending on the bill that we’re talking about. And I think they’ve really covered a massive range with all the different legislation.”
HF 2274 revisits the failed attempt to remove trans people from Iowa’s Civil Rights Act by calling for a committee “to examine the outcomes of the inclusion of ‘gender identity’ as a protected class” in Iowa law. One of the main areas of study is trans suicide rates in Iowa and whether gender identity as a protected class is “necessary or advisable.”
Another bill, HF 2272, prohibits medical professionals from providing gender-affirming medical care like puberty blockers and hormone replacement to trans children in Iowa. A similar bill is currently in the South Dakota Statehouse.
Nate Monson, executive director of Iowa Safe Schools, said he’s confident many of these bills won’t make it out of their respective committees, but he worries they’ll be used as negotiating tactics for later bills.
“It’s very likely that that hard-core group of right-wingers may use them as negotiating tools to pass the final budget,” Monson said. “We’ve seen them do that with the trans Medicaid ban and with abortion rights in the states. It’s a very real possibility they try to discriminate against trans youth at the last minute to get something passed.”
Monson also said there’s not much enthusiasm for bills like this among the broader Republican majority.
“What we are hearing from our sources in the Republican majority is that they don’t have an appetite for this. They know they are very divisive. They know the business community is going to come out against these bills and they don’t want them to go further than what they have,” he said.
It doesn’t take much to chip away at civil rights, though. The less explicit laws may not make the same kind of waves, but they could normalize restricting rights.
Monday afternoon, a subcommittee met to discuss HF 2201, a bill requiring schools to notify parents or guardians about classes, programs or any curriculum addressing sexual orientation or gender identity. Under the bill, parents and guardians can have their children exempted from learning the material.
Crow said many of the less extreme bills are introduced at the same time as over-the-top bills to make them seem more reasonable.
“We know just introducing this legislation has a really negative impact on the mental health of LGBTQ people and particularly LGBTQ youth,” Crow said.
In 2010, after the Iowa Supreme Court legalized marriage equality, Iowa Safe Schools conducted a small survey at school districts in areas with large campaigns advocating for the removal of those judges. Monson said data showed increased instances of bullying at those schools.
“Attacking trans youth is kind of the theme of this,” he said. “I think the hard-core group of Republicans who are thinking this are frankly not realizing the amount of support trans students have in Iowa.”
Some of that support comes from the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the Iowa Civil Rights Act. That change happened 13 years ago, and Monson said few people are happy about it being attacked.
“It’s kind of hard to vote against when you realize that you have a cousin or niece who is trans,” he said. “And I think there will be repercussions in the next election for those who are supporting these extreme measures.”
Monson said many Republicans understand that attacking people’s civil rights, especially in an election year, isn’t a popular position.
“I think it’s absolutely disgusting what these legislators are doing,” he said. “I know, personally, trans kids who are victimized because of these kinds of bills coming up for debate. And it’s just disturbing to me that 50-, 60-year-old individuals who are a legislators would bully kids like this. And I hope people in their districts hold them accountable.”
By Nikoel Hytrek