Iowa leaders, don't ruin kids' lives

Aime Wichtendahl is a member of the Hiawatha City Council and first openly trans woman elected to government in Iowa.

When Iowa Republicans gained a trifecta in 2017, I told our city manager, “I don’t know what their economic agenda is, but I bet it has something to do with gay marriage and abortion.”

Fast forward six years and little has changed—except the legislature devotes extra time attacking transgender youth to feed their lives into the never-ending culture war dumpster fire.

Iowa House Education Committee chair Skyler Wheeler, State Senator Sandy Salmon, and Governor Kim Reynolds have all introduced bills equivalent to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, banning instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through eighth grade. Wheeler’s bill (House File 8) is scheduled for a subcommittee next week. Salmon’s bill (Senate File 159) advanced from a subcommittee on February 9. The governor’s bill (Senate Study Bill 1145) was just published but has already been assigned to a subcommittee.

Wheeler also sponsored an “out-if-trans” bill, now numbered House File 180 after approval by Republicans on the Education Committee. The governor’s new bill contains similar language requiring school staff to inform parents or guardian if a student “has expressed a gender identity that is different than the biological sex listed on the minor child’s official birth certificate.”

Proponents like Wheeler and Reynolds claim this legislation bolsters parents’ rights.

However, these rights are not reserved for all parents, especially for parents who want their children to have access to fully stocked libraries and access to knowledge.

No. These laws are made by and for a small group of activists like Moms for Liberty, who believe their rights are the only ones that matter. (Fun Fact: You can’t be “for liberty” if you’re banning books.)

House File 180 is a particularly heinous piece of legislation, which would forcibly out any child to their parents if they express any feelings of being transgender, non-binary, or gender non-conforming. The bill would block school officials from providing accommodations and support such as using a student’s preferred name and pronouns.

After the subcommittee hearing on that bill, Wheeler proved especially oblivious to the potential harm this could cause. “What I’ve heard from today from those opposing thing is bill is, Parents are evil. That’s literally what you guys were saying. Parents are evil and don’t know what’s best for their kids.” (Side note: No one said parents were evil.)

These bills make clear that certain parents’ rights won’t be a priority: those who have gay or trans kids and want them to be safe and receive a quality education.

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill would handcuff the public school systems, stopping them from providing resources to faculty and students to create a more harmonious learning environment.

As someone who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, I can remember how outing people destroyed a lot of lives and careers. It’s not something to treat lightly. Even if a school outing a student results in parents accepting their trans child at home, it’s still a massive breach of privacy and trust, which can still cause trauma.

The consequences of getting this wrong can be dire, especially in an era where right-wing politicians have a pathological obsession, hatred, and fear of transgender people, and race to outdo each other on how extreme they can be.

Is a student whose parents watch Tucker Carlson every night going to feel safe coming out to them? Or are they legitimately worried they will be put out on the street?

According to the Trevor Project, 28 percent of queer youth reported being homeless in their lives.

That’s one in four LGBTQ kids. One in four who risk losing their homes because of this law.

These bills will increase bullying and risk of self-harm, and trans youth without family support are twice as likely to be at risk for suicide.

The legislators who write these bills know these statistics, but they don’t care. They are so terrified that their children might be queer they are willing to burn down the entire public school system. 

In case it needs to be said: You can’t make a straight person gay. You can’t make a gay person straight. You can’t make a trans person untrans.

However, there is a lot of harm in trying.

So, maybe it is worth asking, “Skyler, what if this were your child?” Would you want a government official to forcibly out your child?

Maybe it wouldn’t bother you. Maybe you’d want to know. Faced with this new information, would you put your politics aside to ensure that your child was loved, supported, and safe at school? At home?

While I don’t know Wheeler personally, I’d like to think that would be the case. However, since his name is at the top of many anti-trans bills introduced in this legislature, I have my doubts.

If I were to guess, I’d say lawmakers like Wheeler believe the public schools have been infested with dirty leftists who are hell-bent on destroying America. That’s why the legislature is providing vouchers to private Christian school alternatives that claim to offer safe harbor from that “socialist gender ideology.”

Did I cram enough hyperbole and adjectives in the previous sentence? Dang, forgot to overuse the word “woke.” Next time.

Anyway, it’s a cute thought and one that is utterly divorced from reality.

I went to a private Christian school from pre-K through twelfth grade. I received a patriotic Christian education and learned America was God’s chosen nation, boys were boys and girls were girls, and the only sanctified relationship was heterosexual marriage.

Yet, I’m still trans, because you can’t make someone not trans—no matter how much you deny it, or try to pray it away, you can’t.

I know, because I tried—and it nearly killed me.

So, Representative Wheeler, Senator Salmon, and Governor Reynolds, I encourage you not to be so cavalier with other kids’ lives.

To the people of Iowa, I call on you to contact your representatives and say, “Enough with this culture war garbage.”

Iowans voted for the GOP because they believed the cost of living is intolerable. Rent, housing, and groceries keep going up, the water keeps getting worse, and wages are stuck in the 1990s. Yet, the government refuses to address any of those concerns.

Tell your legislators enough is enough. Enact policies that make your lives better. Don’t ruin the lives of kids who simply want to live their lives and get an education.    

Photo of Aime Wichtendahl taken by the City of Hiawatha, provided by the author and published with permission.

About the Author(s)

Aime Wichtendahl

  • Skyler

    2016 Wheeler’s website highlighted the following campaign themes:

    “ I am running for the Iowa House because I believe in continuing the fight to advance, promote and defend Christian conservative principles in Des Moines. I am a full-spectrum conservative who will defend the positions that matter most to Fourth District voters ”