Trans Iowa Student Stands Up to Governor. Here’s How She Did It

She had about two seconds.

Clementine Springsteen had watched how each student receiving their awards would walk to the front and pose with Gov. Kim Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg. How the photographer would snap the photo, give a thumbs-up, and then the next name would be called.

She decided on her timing and, when it was her turn, used the thumbs-up as her cue to declare, as she walked away from Reynolds, “Trans rights are human rights!”

“I was originally going to say two lines,” Clementine said. “I didn’t think that I would have enough time to say the ‘I am trans and I am proud’ part, which is unfortunate because I feel that is an important part of that.”

Clementine, a transgender woman and senior at Davenport West High School, was at the April 30 ceremony to accept her Iowa Governor’s Scholar certificate. The program honors the highest-achieving students at Iowa’s high schools. More than 400 students were recognized this year.

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Weeks beforehand, Clementine decided she needed to speak up, and figured out what she would say while she had the spotlight for a few seconds.

“I was tired of seeing Gov. Reynolds’ laws destroy my community,” Clementine said. “It’s been a pretty consistent thing at my school, seeing members of my community being torn down, having things taken away from them. It’s been a common thing amongst my friends, amongst my community, that Kim Reynolds’ laws have put us in fear and have made us feel like we’re not welcome.”

For example, one of Clementine’s friends has always been athletic and passionate about sports. But, because she’s a trans woman, the state is no longer allowing her to participate in school-sponsored sports.

Last year, Reynolds signed a bill banning trans girls from playing sports on teams that match who they are. This year, Reynolds signed two more pieces of anti-trans legislation to deny necessary, gender-affirming healthcare for trans children and to restrict which bathrooms trans people can use in schools. Two other bills restricting their rights are waiting for her signature.

In response, hundreds of Iowa students have been moved to protest the laws. Children spoke at legislative meetings about the effects the laws will have on their lives. And in March, students demonstrated at the Capitol and walked out of schools across the state in opposition.

Clementine participated in the walkouts at her school. She said Davenport is a mixed-bag when it comes to support for the LGBTQ community, but she has found even more support and community since she made her statement in front of the governor.

“I knew that there was going to be applause,” Clementine said. “You have a room of 400-something of the of the brightest students from Iowa. And I knew that within that crowd there was going to be a lot who agreed with my message.”

She also expected boos—not that she heard any—and she expected some kind of video would be posted. But she didn’t expect to go viral.

“I did not expect to wake up on Monday morning to a couple million people now knowing my name,” Clementine said.

She wasn’t the only one to make a statement: Photos of two students wearing RAYGUN shirts have gone viral alongside the video of Clementine.

But Clementine said there were even more fashion-related protests: Another person wore a ‘Trans Rights are Human Rights’ shirt covered by a blazer, one woman wore rainbow pins, and one woman’s whole suit was the blue, white and pink of the trans flag.

“It’s definitely kind of thing where it’s like, I have support here and I have people that I can reach out to for help if I need to, and I know that they’ll have my back,” she said. “That was a big part of me doing this. Showing my community that, hey, there are there are people out here who are fighting. And so hopefully that gives them the strength to keep fighting as well.”

Since the ceremony, Clementine has connected with some of the other students and she’s had to learn how to navigate the new attention. She’s even gone so far as to have her speech and debate coach read her interviews and give her feedback about what she said.

But Clementine said it’s all been worth it.

In the fall, she’ll be attending Drake University and double-majoring in international relations and law, politics and society. And she said she’ll continue standing up for herself and her community.

Part of that includes a partnership with RAYGUN to benefit Clock, Inc, an LGBTQ+ community center in next-door Rock Island, Illinois.

The shirt made in collaboration with Clementine to benefit Clock, Inc.

The way Iowa politics have gotten more extreme in the last few years has motivated Clementine to act. She said the injustices committed against marginalized groups has sparked her sense of justice and made her realize she has to stand up and speak out.

“A lot of it is anger,” Clementine said. “Mostly anger at seeing my friends hurt, seeing my community hurt, and seeing how it has affected pretty much everybody that is close to me.

“It’s definitely not a sort of thing where I wake up every morning and like, ‘I can do this,’” she continued. “There are mornings I wake up and I’m like, ‘This feels like an un-winnable fight.’ But I keep going because I feel that it’s my responsibility to.”


Nikoel Hytrek

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