No one needs a civility lecture from Jeff Shipley

Photo by Greg Hauenstein of protesters at the Iowa state capitol on January 31, 2024.

“If you wish to enjoy civil rights, being able to act and behave civilly is a prerequisite,” State Representative Jeff Shipley tweeted on January 31, shortly after his latest effort to take civil rights protections away from transgender Iowans went down in flames.

Even for a practiced troll like Shipley, it was a remarkably ignorant and obnoxious statement.


The most prolific filer of Iowa House bills targeting LGBTQ people was bent out of shape because some protesters directed mean words and gestures toward him.

He’s wrong on the law, of course. No one has to “behave civilly” to earn civil rights. Those are for all to enjoy, whether they shout “Lock her up!” or “F*ck you, J-Dog.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the First Amendment protects offensive speech. As Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in 2011, this country has chosen “to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.” That opinion ruled in favor of Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps, whose pickets at military funerals were far more hurtful than the slogans shouted at Iowa’s capitol last week.

Shipley knows civility is no “prerequisite” to free expression, because he uses provocative language to make his own points. Like the time he called a vaccine advocate a “medical rapist,” “pharma fascist,” and “corporate vaccine whore.” Or his remarks on the Iowa House floor that compared being transgender to having cancer. Or just a few weeks ago, when he tweeted that an opponent of school book bans should be “criminally investigated” for providing obscene material to minors. (The person on the other end of that exchange filed an ethics complaint against Shipley last week.)


Shipley has prioritized three issues during his legislative career: undermining vaccination programs and protocols, legalizing certain drugs, and codifying discrimination against transgender people. He’s better at getting publicity than results; few of his proposals even got through a committee. In five years, he’s floor managed only a handful of bills (none of them high-profile).

House File 2082 made it further than Shipley’s previous attempts to amend the Iowa Civil Rights Act. His other bills were never assigned to a subcommittee. But House Judiciary Committee chair Steve Holt seemed favorably disposed to this one, which would have removed gender identity from the civil rights code and redefined gender dysphoria as a disability subject to some civil rights protections.

The subcommittee chair, State Representative Charley Thomson, gave Shipley eight minutes to make his case at the beginning of the January 31 hearing, which you can watch here.

Although Shipley wasn’t shouting or using obscene words, his comments were anything but respectful toward his adversaries.

He led by saying “the social theory of gender identity more closely resembles a physical and mental impairment” than an “immutable or inherent characteristic” like other protected classes. A short while later, he again invoked the cancer analogy, asserting that “as identity disorders continue to metastasize, we see more and more bizarre identities being protected under this umbrella.”

Shipley implied that trans or nonbinary people are delusional: “Children expressing themselves freely and playing make believe is great—that is, until the child believes their make-believe identities are entitled to robust legal protections under Chapter 216 [the civil rights code], and anyone who says otherwise is a hateful bigot.” He kept mentioning a controversy from two and a half years ago, as if thousands of Iowans should lose their legal protections because one trans teen upset some people at the Pella public pool.

The bill’s sponsor brought another witness, Jefferson County resident Cynthia Yockey, to use part of his allotted time at the subcommittee. She declared that gender identity “has no physical reality,” and falsely claimed Iowa’s current law “allows straight men the right to masturbate in women’s restrooms, and smear semen on the toilet tissue in every stall […] and gives straight males the right to parade around nude in the women’s locker room and wave their erections in your little girl’s face.” (Adding gender identity to Iowa’s civil rights code in 2007 didn’t change the fact that indecent exposure and sexual assault remain illegal.)

Several trans or nonbinary Iowans testified against the bill. They explained that being transgender is not a disability or mental illness, and that not all trans people have gender dysphoria. They shared their fears or personal experiences with discrimination while living in a state with no gender identity protections.

In Shipley’s worldview, he and like-minded Iowans are the threatened ones.


In the hallway outside the subcommittee meeting, trans Iowans and their allies chanted some affirming slogans, like “Trans rights are human rights.” And some called Shipley rude names or raised their middle fingers in his direction. By his account, what happened at the capitol on January 31 “went well beyond shouting and name-calling” and “illustrated the hostile environment which nullifies the spirit of civil rights.”

Shipley criticized the advocacy organization Iowa Safe Schools for not commenting “on the pervasive harassment and bullying which has targeted those who dare to speak on these issues.” Maybe they were too busy documenting the pervasive harassment and bullying faced by thousands of LGBTQ youth across this state. Iowa Safe Schools executive director Becky Tayler wrote in a recent court filing, “Tragically, due to the notable, perceivable increase in completed suicides” among LGBTQ+ youth in Iowa, the organization “has begun formally documenting the number of completed suicides as of calendar year 2023.”

Speaking of which, Shipley accused me of defending rhetoric like a message he apparently received last week, urging him to take his own life. To be clear, I would never tell anyone to kill themselves or publish a call to suicide on this website. If Shipley is concerned about hateful words driving people to suicide, he should read up on what queer and especially transgender youth routinely face, just for existing.

Research has shown several ways to reduce suicide attempts by trans and nonbinary youth: respect their preferred names and pronouns, allow them to change legal documents, provide access to gender-affirming care. Shipley cheered last year as Iowa’s Republican trifecta enacted laws shutting down all of those avenues of support: forcing schools to out LGBTQ students to their families, forbidding classroom discussions of LGBTQ topics, banning trans or nonbinary youth from using school facilities that align with their gender identity, prohibiting doctors from offering gender affirming care to patients under age 18.


The strangest thing about Shipley’s tone policing is his lack of self-awareness. He’s best known for outrageous statements about COVID-19, vaccinations generally, and trans people. Yet he has cultivated an image as a friendly, harmless guy. His campaign website has used the domain for years.

Soon after his GOP colleagues Thomson and John Wills joined Democrat Sami Scheetz to vote down House File 2082 in subcommittee, Shipley scolded his political opponents. Here’s the whole tweet I quoted at the top of this post:

What would he know about making an enemy his friend?

That tweet wasn’t a one-off. Responding to me later that evening, Shipley quoted a memorable line from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech: “In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”

Responding to Todd Dorman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Shipley posted a famous quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “Whenever you are confronted with an opponent, conquer them with Love.”

Love like saying being transgender is akin to having “a malignant sarcoma”? Love like approvingly sharing a post that claims most trans people have personality disorders?

Dr. King and Gandhi led social movements to end the oppression of their own people. Shipley has used his position of power to worsen the lives of Iowans he doesn’t understand, who are already marginalized.

Last week, those Iowans had the rare opportunity to celebrate a victory at the statehouse. It won’t be the last time they show up to defend their basic human rights. And when they come back, they sure as hell don’t need to be polite to those who would make them second-class citizens.

Photo by Greg Hauenstein of protesters celebrating the demise of Shipley’s bill on January 31

About the Author(s)

Laura Belin

  • How do you recognize a hit piece

    “In five years, he’s floor managed only a handful of bills (none of them high-profile)” the journalist has probably looked at a log of who sponsors or cosponsors bills that have been up for vote. Then, the number of bills is reported vaguely (a handful), without mentioning the substance (what is high profile for one Iowan is sometimes important to others). The journalist also does not disclose that very few legislators sponsor many bills, the immense majority of other legislators being active on other political fronts (fundraising, pandering to the electorate, passing the bills, lobbying etc)

    I briefly looked at the mentions of Shipley on X. He is receiving a lot of hate, called fecal names, plus the death threat mentioned in this piece. At the same time many big companies are promoting LGB+ agendas. So, the oppressed is not necessarily on the side that the journalist has taken. This hit piece and the pictures of raised middle fingers is not up to the standards of this blog and media. When you think they go low, you go high.

  • wrong on many levels

    Shipley sponsors lots of bills. Most go nowhere. He doesn’t chair any committee (a position that would give him control over some bills). Several Republicans first elected in 2018 (as he was) are chairing committees now:

    Who’s who in the Iowa House for 2024

    Floor managers lead House debate on bills that the chamber actually passes. I looked specifically at the list of bills he was assigned to floor manage. Here are all the bills he has floor managed in his legislative career:

    First term: “A bill for an act relating to the review and permitting of sewer extensions and water supply distribution system extensions”

    Second term: “A bill for an act relating to electronic transactions by permitting the use of distributed ledger technology and smart contracts”

    Third term: “A bill for an act relating to assault including assault on a pregnant person and domestic abuse assault, and providing penalties.”

    He has been assigned as floor manager for a couple of bills that never came up for debate.

    Like I said, a handful of bills. I didn’t say they were not important, I said they were not high-profile.

    Shipley is not oppressed. He is part of the dominant governing majority of this state. No one is taking away his rights. On the contrary, he is trying to legislate discrimination against vulnerable people while comparing himself to Gandhi.

    Death threats are never ok. I’m not going to get upset about people calling him names, though. He is calling them mentally ill and trying to pass bills that could ruin their lives.

  • Civility Lectures

    For Shipley to even suggest he’s a victim is ludicrous. The statements he’s made, the disrespect he’s shown to others, the half-baked ideologies he promotes? No one owes him an apology. His claims of hate mail may or may not be true and should be condemned but he can’t spew vile and malicious vitriol on a regular basis and then believe that others don’t have the right to push back equally hard. Obviously he’s using a different definition of civility and a different standard for who it applies to depending on whether it comes from his lips or from others. Your column is exactly right. You hit it on the nose. It’s past time for each of us to stand up and speak out for ourselves and for each other.

  • Thank you

    Now I know the difference between floor managing and sponsoring a bill. I still disagree with the journalist on who is the oppressed, because the Parliament and the Government are not the only entities “governing” the lives of people, we need to consider the role of their employers, educators and even the medias. Anyway it’s a blessing to have journalists who do in-depth work and it’s good to talk.

  • nothing strange about his lack of insight/reflexivity

    it’s quite typical for these folks and should be expected and understood as a limit for productive and or corrective dialogue.

  • Civility for me AND for thee

    I agree that Shipley is an odious troll of the Ben Shapiro school of trolling. He thrives on conflict with others. Arguing with him is like (to crib a famous analogy) mud wrestling a pig. Even if you win, you’ll only get dirty and the pig will enjoy it anyway.

    However,, he is right on one front. We can’t decry the lack of civility in politics from our political opponents, but then excuse it from our side. Trans Iowans have a right to be mad, damn mad! They should be wearing out the sidewalks marching around the capitol and Terrace Hill night and day. They should have editorials in every newspaper in the state. They should have rallies from the Mississippi to the Missouri!

    However, politically, it hurts their cause to show up at the capitol ranting and raving and looking unhinged. It hurts their cause to send death threats and yell obscenities at elected officials. If your opponent wants to classify your existence as a mental illness, you don’t win the fight by looking and/or acting like someone with a mental illness.

    I’m sorry if it’s problematic of me to judge, but I’m a pragmatist first and foremost.

  • it's "problematic" of you to slander folks with psychiatric conditions

    that doesn’t make you a pragmatist but a bigot. There is a long, proud, and effective history of public displays of anger from the various movements for women’s rights, for racial equality, to Stonewall and ACT UP, and we shouldn’t try to limit the means of resistance available to people because they offend conservative/moderate sensibilities.

  • Playing into Shipley's hands

    If Shipley is out there telling his constituents “these people are dangerous and need to be stopped”, then how does it benefit the cause to act like the public danger he implies? To send him death threats and get on camera screaming obscenities just feeds his narrative.

    I understand the history of movements that aligned more toward the violent or at least the provocative, like Act Up and others. I get it. But I still come down more on the side of the nonviolent, creative protesters. As MLK said, “darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

  • This is not Stonewall, I stand with Sharpeye

    At the time of the Stonewall riots, in NYC 1969, the major US companies were not proclaiming their love for gay rights, or asking openly gay actors to advertise their light beer. Dick in Iowa City likes middle fingers and this is their right, but comparing the 2024 Iowa rage of the LGBT+ to Stonewall is just plain odd. I stand with Sharpeye.

  • "Sharpeye"

    It’s one thing to express an opinion here and be done with it.

    It is quite another to comment, reply to a comment, then reply to another comment, and in each of those comments, to stray further and further from not only the topic, but reality.

    “I stand with Sharpeye” is really the only point.

    And for what purpose?

    When someone’s comments go further and further away from what the story, itself said, that someone becomes a troll.

    Not a big surprise here, since Bleeding Heartland described Jeff Shipley as a “practiced troll.”

    It appears he has a lackey in the form of Karl M.

    That’s unfortunate, since good articles like this one tend to have equally provocative and insightful comments.