Governor, spare us your fake concern for trans kids
After using them to build your political brand
This reporting first appeared at Bleeding Heartland and is shared here as part of the Iowa Writers Collaborative. Previous posts reviewed the key legal questions surrounding Iowa’s ban on gender-affirming care and the latest version of the “bathroom bill.” For regular emails linking to all articles and commentary recently published at Bleeding Heartland, subscribe to the free Evening Heartland newsletter.
What's worse than signing bills that will torment transgender children and could drive many to harm themselves?
Pretending you're doing it reluctantly, because you care about their "best interest."
To no one's surprise, Governor Kim Reynolds signed Senate File 538, which denies gender-affirming health care to Iowans under age 18, and Senate File 482, which prohibits schools from allowing transgender people of any age to use facilities that align with their gender identity. Bleeding Heartland has already explained at length why these attempts to enshrine discrimination will harm transgender children and may not hold up in court.
The governor's office did not include any specific comment about the anti-trans legislation in a March 22 news release announcing ten bill signings.
But in public remarks the day before, Reynolds wanted everyone to know how much she cares about the children she was about to devastate.
Stephen Gruber-Miller reported for the Des Moines Register,
"We need to just pause, we need to understand what these emerging therapies actually may potentially do to our kids," Reynolds told reporters at a news conference Tuesday. "My heart goes out to them. I’m a parent, I’m a grandmother, I know how difficult this is. This is an extremely uncomfortable position for me to be in. I don’t like it. But I have to do what I believe right now is in the best interest of the kids." [...]
Kollin Crompton, a spokesperson for Reynolds, said the governor has met with some parents of transgender Iowans to speak about both pieces of legislation.
"My heart breaks," Reynolds said. "I’ve sat down and met with them. It’s not easy. It’s not easy for me either. It’s not easy for our elected officials to make these decisions. So I just, I hope they know that."
How gullible does the governor think Iowans are?
The easiest thing for an ambitious Republican politician to do right now is punch down on transgender people. GOP governors and state legislators are racing to match each other's cruelty, cheered on by conservative influencers who ignore the facts and consensus view of mainstream health care providers.
It's not credible for Reynolds to claim her "heart breaks" for transgender children, when she has consciously and repeatedly used them to build her political brand.
Remember: for years, bills targeting LGBTQ Iowans did not advance in the Iowa legislature. The dynamic changed in April 2021, when the governor announced on live national television that she wanted to ban transgender girls and women from sports teams, as some other Republican governors were doing.
The following March, Reynolds was jubilant after signing that exclusionary bill at a public ceremony.
Reynolds bragged about erasing transgender kids in her closing 2022 campaign ad, which aired in heavy rotation across the state. The governor looked at the camera as she said with a smile, "Here in Iowa, we still know right from wrong, boys from girls, and liberty from tyranny."
It was widely understood in the state capitol that Reynolds wanted GOP lawmakers to fast-track the gender-affirming care ban and bathroom bill.
But if she was in fact "extremely uncomfortable" and sincerely trying to "understand what these emerging therapies actually may potentially do to our kids," why didn't she send her staff to the House or Senate subcommittee hearings? They could have heard from experts who work with transgender kids.
Every mainstream medical organization recognizes that gender-affirming care can be necessary and life-saving for children who have higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.
Anyway, how could it be in the "best interest" of transgender kids to force them to use school bathrooms where they will feel unsafe or stigmatized?
As Iowa Safe Schools pointed out in a statement, "there have been zero documented incidents of transgender Iowans behaving inappropriately in restrooms" since Iowa added gender identity to the state civil rights act in 2007. "On the contrary, transgender Iowans are at a higher risk of harassment, discrimination, and assault if they are forced to use the restroom that does not align with their appearance/gender identity."
Reynolds should be honest: she has chosen to elevate her standing in Republican circles at the expense of a small group of children whom most Iowans don't understand. Children who already faced too much bullying and isolation. Children who were already at higher risk of not living to see their eighteenth birthday.
The least she could do is not pretend to be punishing them for their own good.
Final note: The Iowa Trans Mutual Aid Fund has resources to support transgender, nonbinary, and gender diverse people.
LGBTQ youth struggling with thoughts of self-harm can reach trained counselors through the Trevor Project, which offers text, phone, or chat services. Readers experiencing suicidal thoughts for any reason can call 988 or (855) 581-8111, text (855) 895-8398, or use the live chat function on the Your Life Iowa website.
Content on Iowa politics with Laura Belin is available for free. There are also paid subscription options for those who want to support my work that way.
Appendix: Statements released by advocates for LGBTQ Iowans after Governor Kim Reynolds signed bills banning gender-affirming care for minors and mandating school discrimination against transgender people of all ages
From Iowa Safe Schools:
Not only does SF 538 ban medically necessary, lifesaving care for transgender youth, but it also prevents parents from getting their child the medical care they need—care that the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and other leading medical authorities have said is essential for some youth.
Gender identity was added as a protected class to the Iowa Civil Rights Act in 2007. These protections extend to education and public accommodation, ensuring that students and adults have the right to use the restroom they feel safest in. Since 2007, there have been zero documented incidents of transgender Iowans behaving inappropriately in restrooms. On the contrary, transgender Iowans are at a higher risk of harassment, discrimination, and assault if they are forced to use the restroom that does not align with their appearance/gender identity. At the federal level, Title IX protects gender identity when it comes to restroom and facility access in schools.
“By signing these bills, the Governor has shown that she doesn’t actually care about parental rights,” said Becky Tayler, Executive Director for Iowa Safe Schools. “The parental rights LGBTQ families have been sidelined for the sake of the Governor’s ill-fated power trip to national office. The Governor’s legacy will be forever tainted by the day she signed away parental rights and put children’s lives directly at risk.“
From One Iowa Action Executive Director Courtney Reyes:
“With the stroke of a pen in a closed-door signing, Governor Reynolds has signed away the safety of transgender students in schools across the state. She has signed away the ability of physicians to recommend life-saving treatment they deem safest and most effective. She has forced the hand of many Iowa parents who will flee the state to keep their children safe and healthy. Governor Reynolds has shown that parental rights only matter when it's used to strip the rights of LGBTQ Iowans.
This bill isn’t actually about kids. If we were worried about kids, we would ensure that access to gender-affirming care becomes easier, not harder, because that care saves lives.
Governor Reynolds will not get the call when a trans child has taken their own life because they do not have access to the care they need. One Iowa will. Churches will. Iowans will.
The parents and caregivers will have to sort through unimaginable grief for so many, all because of this legislation that does nothing but harm children. We call on the Governor and her majority to stop using kids as political pawns. Stop these senseless attacks and work on legislation that benefits all Iowans rather than more bills that harm a vulnerable minority.
To our beloved trans community: We are with you and will never stop fighting for you.
From ACLU of Iowa Executive Director Mark Stringer:
"It is simply wrong for Gov. Reynolds to sign these bills that will have devastating consequences for many children and their families across our state.
"This is not the first time that a government has abused its power at the expense of a small group of people. But in this case the target is children. That is shameful and cruel.
"With gender-affirming care, it should be parents, doctors, and mental health professionals who make these decisions—not politicians trying to score political points by throwing transgender kids under the bus.
"Parents of transgender children are doing their level best to keep their kids alive. These parents deserve every tool at their disposal to create a future for their children. That should include the option of gender-affirming care, which is endorsed by every major medical association.
"Because of the toxic, unaccepting climate society has created for transgender people, suicide rates among transgender teens are terrifying. A study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that more than half of transgender male teens had attempted suicide and 30 percent of transgender female teens said they'd attempted suicide.1 Politicians pushing this bill said they think transgender teens might regret getting gender-affirming care when they're older. Studies don't support that.2 And it begs the point: If a transgender teen doesn't make it to adulthood, it won't matter.
"We are already hearing from families—who can afford it—who say they are making plans to move out of state or move their transgender teen out of state.
"These parents know their kids deserve the chance to live well and be happy. But Gov. Reynolds has made these very kids and their families a target and has taken away their rights. She has decided to use the power of the state to hurt the very parents and kids who need our support.
"Let’s be clear. A law that can take away the future from the most vulnerable kids is a deeply unjust law. Gov. Reynolds’ choice to sign this bill is an event from which too many Iowa children and families will not recover.
"The Governor also signed a bill that forbids students from using the school bathroom that aligns with their gender. It's a sad day for all kids that our state now has a law that does not recognize fundamental facts about transgender kids. It's a bill born out of a deep misunderstanding of what it means to be a student and transgender and out of ill-placed fears.
"Unfortunately, politicians can pass laws that hurt kids and never look back, but it's transgender kids who have to live with increasing hostility against them from the government, including even monitoring where they go to the bathroom at school."
From Mazie Stilwell, Director of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Iowa:
“Gender-affirming care is essential, lifesaving, and supported by every credible medical organization in the United States. This is not about Iowans’ health or safety: it is about politicians taking away young people’s bodily autonomy and control.
“Iowa’s youth and transgender people deserve so much better from our elected representatives. We want all transgender and gender expansive youth in Iowa to know that we see you. You are loved. And you are deserving of respect and autonomy.”
From Iowa State Education Association President Mike Beranek:
“Iowa’s public-school employees are dedicated to protecting and supporting all the students in our care. The Iowa Legislature and Governor Reynolds have repeatedly targeted the most vulnerable students with rhetoric and legislation designed to suppress, out, target, ban, and censor Iowa’s LGBTQ+ student communities. Despite these shameful attacks, the ISEA continues to stand with and fight for all our students.
"To our students. We support you. We respect you. We care for you. We will fight to ensure you are safe, healthy, happy, and learning. We stand with all our students today, tomorrow, and always."
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The sad irony is Reynolds squawking about giving parents liberties in their kids' education with the destructive school voucher and book banning bills, then ripping away those liberties away when it comes to parents protecting their trans kids with medical treatments that could save lives. It's beyond sad irony. It's cruel and heartless and caters to hate and fear-filled people. Reynolds should be ashamed of herself, but she appears to be shameless. My heart goes out to all the trans kids who risk bullying and violence in schools with this unkind bathroom bill, too.
A little story here - several years ago the Fairfield High School went through a brouhaha over gender identity and bathrooms. This was when North Carolina started to make a big to-do about it. My friend's daughter was part of the LGBTQ+ community at the school, and the girl said the bathroom issues was a nonissue. The kids didn't care. It only became an issue when the parents got involved - all the rhetoric followed, fear over sexual abuse, grooming, all that garbage.
But I'll tell you something - childhood sexual abuse is very real, 1 in 3 women were sexually abused as children and 1 in 6 men, according to statistics I learned when I was recovering from my own childhood experience of it. HOWEVER, much of the childhood abuse happens primarily IN FAMILIES or in institutions that are trusted, such as the Catholic Church. Not in high school bathrooms by trans kids, for heaven sakes. It's much easier to blame something outside your circle than look at what might possibly be within it. That may be driving some of this reactive legislation.
If Reynolds and all her legislative sheep were truly concerned about sexual abuse, they would pour a heck of a lot more money into mental health in the state. Childhood sexual abusers were often abused themselves as children. So provide opportunities for their healing before they continue the cycle. But that doesn't serve the purpose of fueling the culture wars. Or facing what might be in one's own closet.
Do you notice that in the picture in this article as well as a picture when the gov signed the school voucher bill that all the people in her pictures are young white girls. It's very disturbing. Her prejudice is showing. No diversity, not in POC, not in anyway pictures that show the variety of children who make up our State. Thank you for your good work on keeping us informed and for sharing your voice which encourages me. Diana