Despite Anti-Trans Laws, Families Find Joy, Community in Ankeny Dinner

Being transgender or nonbinary in Iowa is difficult, especially for students in Iowa’s schools. But community support still exists in this state.

The Iowa Legislature has dedicated itself in the past two years to restricting those students’ rights to go to the bathroom, play sports and get necessary and recommended health care. Gov. Kim Reynolds signed two of those bills into law last month.

There are more bills aiming to restrict what students are allowed to read at school, and whether they’re allowed to learn sexual identity and gender identity at school.

Because of this wave of legislation, parents in Ankeny decided there needed to be an event focused on the support trans children have.

The Ankeny Pride CommUnity Dinner is on Sunday, April 16, from 5-8 p.m. Dinner is pasta, bread, salad and dessert, with options for dietary restrictions.

Local businesses pitched in for the food (West Forty, Uptown Confections and Curiosities) and for the games and raffle prize packages (Dungeon’s Gate and The Dealt Hand). Other local businesses also donated to the event.

“We have to be very intentional about finding joy, because it’s easy to just get caught up in the dark,” said Jill Bjorkland, mother of trans 7-year-old Lily, who has frequently spoken at legislative meetings to explain how discriminatory laws will affect her.

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‘It’s a struggle’

It’s been a few weeks since the bathroom bill and the gender-affirming care bill were signed by Reynolds, but Bjorkland said it hasn’t gotten easier.

She said Lily still has to deal with people using her deadname (the name she was given at birth that she doesn’t use anymore), or gossiping about her at school.

Lily has never been suicidal, but Bjorkland said she’s started to say she understands why some people don’t want to live and why they hurt themselves.

“It’s a struggle. We’ve seen changes in her a little bit. I’d say she’s still very happy on the outside but the comments she makes, we know there’s inward conflict,” Bjorkland said.

“It’s definitely her trying to process what’s being done to her,” she added. “It’s tough. And we make sure we always say, ‘It’s not you, it’s not about you, it’s not personal.’ But how do you do that when someone’s attacking your very personhood?”

From dehumanization to celebration

The organizers hope the event will also connect the area LGBTQ community to each other.

“We’re hoping to show them [LGBTQ youth] what love and acceptance looks like, and that they are surrounded by a community that cares,” said Melissa McAlister, another of the event organizers and the parent of a trans teenager.

“After so many months of dehumanization, the idea of celebrating them seems like a good one,” she continued.

Bjorkland and McAlister both said they’re constantly meeting new families like theirs in the Ankeny area, and that community has made the discriminatory bills easier to deal with.

McAlister said she’s been struck by how many businesses and people have stepped up to show their support and offer help.

“I think sometimes, particularly in Ankeny, it can feel isolating. So it’s nice when you find your people,” McAlister said.

“I think last summer when we had Ankeny Pride, everyone was blown away by how many people came out and how supportive the community was,” she continued. “And I’m hopeful that this event will be in that vein as well, just to show those within the community that they’re loved and they are supported and that there are so many people concerned about their well-being and working to make things better.”

Bjorkland said every time their family meets another trans child, Lily lights up.

“I think so many people don’t know each other exist,” she said. “It’s hard to explain, but I feel like sometimes we’re kind of isolated from each other, we might think we’re the only one going through it.

“Even though we feel targeted and isolated, we don’t have to be alone.”

For more information on the event, click here.


Nikoel Hytrek

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