LGBTQ high school students left the Iowa Capitol building in tears this afternoon, with some experiencing panic attacks on their way out, after state troopers forced them to leave because some had used Statehouse bathrooms of the gender they identify with. Iowa Safe Schools had organized a group of over 100 students today to lobby legislators on issues impacting LGBTQ youth.
“Four state troopers forced us out, including myself, they pushed me, forced all the students out,” explained Iowa Safe Schools Executive Director Nate Monson. “We had some students still in the Capitol, we had to find them, it was pure chaos.”
One trans student who identified as male who wished to remain anonymous told Starting Line that he was using the men’s restroom and had a small amount of makeup on around his eyes. A man in the restroom questioned his makeup and reportedly told him, “You’re in the wrong bathroom.”
Several other students who identify as male were soon after told they couldn’t enter the men’s restrooms by state troopers, who had begun to gather around them.
“I witnessed a state trooper what I consider verbally assaulting one of my students,” said Andrew Krischel, a teacher and GSA adviser at Southeast Polk High School. “He was yelling at him, saying he wasn’t allowed to use the restroom because he’s a little girl, and if he went in the restroom he’d be sexually assaulted or something like that.”
Some video from the incident up at the Iowa Statehouse today where state troopers removed a group of LGBTQ students from the Capitol after some used the restroom of the gender they identify withhttps://t.co/9B2umrpylE pic.twitter.com/DmRALcPmsO
— Iowa Starting Line (@IAStartingLine) March 13, 2020
In a video shared with Starting Line, four state troopers can be seen in the second floor rotunda confronting Monson and telling him that they all needed to leave the building. Monson insists to the troopers that the Iowa Civil Rights Act covers public accommodations, including public restrooms.
Part of the incident of LGBTQ students being kicked out of the Iowa Statehouse by state troopers in this video: pic.twitter.com/9a7uF1acax
— Iowa Starting Line (@IAStartingLine) March 12, 2020
“That is not a gender-neutral restroom, it is a male restroom,” one trooper can be heard telling Monson.
“Leave or you will be arrested,” the trooper said shortly after.
Monson told Starting Line he started hearing about issues with troopers confronting students around 1:00. A little over a half hour later, they were told to leave.
“They started rounding up any kid that was wearing rainbow, essentially,” Monson said of the state troopers. “They got in my face and told me I had to be quiet. It was quite intimidating.”
Krischel said that he was trying to help one of his students who was dehydrated and having health issues, but was told by a Capitol official to get water on the way out of the building or they would be arrested.
“We weren’t doing anything wrong and we just got kicked out,” 17-year-old Victoria Sampsel of Des Moines, said through tears afterward. “I’m angry … We were advocating for LGBTQ youth. I wish everyone would understand what LGBTQ youth go through.”
An Iowa State Patrol spokesperson sent out the following statement to media afterward:
“At approximately 12:30 p.m. today, the Iowa State Patrol and Capitol Security received citizen reports of multiple people occupying one of the male restrooms in the Iowa State Capitol. The concerned parties expressed concern because the occupants included both adult and minor females. On three separate occasions, Capitol Security requested the adult and minor females discontinue the use of the male restroom and directed them to the gender-neutral restrooms located in the Capitol should they so desire. The group refused to comply with the requests and were escorted from the Capitol by members of the Iowa State Patrol without incident or arrest.”
Earlier in the day, the students found success in their lobbying efforts. A Senate subcommittee advanced legislation to ban the “gay/trans panic defense.” The Iowa House had passed the bill unanimously earlier in the week, a rare success for LGBTQ issues at the Republican-controlled Legislature.
“I think the troopers need to all be terminated that were involved, and I think the Capitol needs to have a serious conversation with all their staff and legislators to make sure it’s a space where everyone can feel included,” Monson said. “It’s their building, and they were told it wasn’t today.”
Staff with Iowa Safe Schools attempted to calm down the students after they exited and gathered on the Capitol steps. Several Democratic lawmakers, including Janet Petersen, Todd Prichard, Liz Bennett, Ross Wilburn, Jennifer Konfrst, Heather Matson and Chris Hall, as well as State Auditor Rob Sand, all came outside to speak to and reassure the students.
“I wanted to make sure you know, that you were just on the floor of the House, that is where you belong,” Konfrst told the students. “You have every right to be here and we’re very grateful you’re here. There are people here who love you and want you here.”
Many of the students hugged one another and fought back tears while waiting outside.
“I’m overwhelmed because it hurts to see my students treated like this,” Krischel.
“‘You are never welcomed back at the capitol again,'” Krischel said one trooper told him. “And I said, ‘we’ll see about that’ and left.”
Monson predicted there would be serious legal fallout over the incident.
“The state of Iowa may have about 150 lawsuits on their hands,” Monson said.
by Pat Rynard