Meet Aime Wichtendahl, who could be Iowa's first trans legislator

After inching toward greater diversity following each of the last two general elections, the Iowa legislature could take another step forward this year if Hiawatha City Council member Aime Wichtendahl becomes the first transgender person elected as a state lawmaker.

While other trans candidates have run for the legislature—Democrat Elle Wyant and Libertarian Jeni Kadel competed for Iowa House seats in 2022—Wichtendahl is the first trans major-party nominee in a district that leans to her party. She was unopposed in the June 4 Democratic primary for House district 80, covering part of the Cedar Rapids metro. It’s an open seat because longtime Democratic State Representative Art Staed opted to run for the Iowa Senate.

Wichtendahl discussed her campaign and her priorities in a June 6 telephone interview.


I wondered what Wichtendahl has been hearing from voters since announcing her legislative campaign in December. Three issues come up most frequently when talking with locals about Governor Kim Reynolds and the Republican-controlled legislature, she said.

Many Iowans “are ashamed” by how negative politics have become. They are also “greatly concerned” about policies that harm public schools, and some are worried about abortion rights being overturned. (The Iowa Supreme Court is expected to rule this month on whether to allow the state to enforce a near-total abortion ban, or leave that law blocked while litigation proceeds.)

Wichtendahl broke one lavender ceiling in 2015, when she became the first openly trans person elected to public office in Iowa. Are voters excited by that aspect of her current candidacy?

Since her first campaign, Wichtendahl has observed that there’s always a segment of people “really excited” about her being transgender and another group “who really hate that.” She estimated that the other 80 percent mainly want to know “what are you going to do for them.”

Throughout her time on the council, she has focused on delivering results. “I always say that I got into government for the boring things, you know, to make sure that we could have good parks and fill the potholes and lower property tax rates, and make sure that we have a community that can attract good jobs. Those are all the things that I love doing. So that’s not going to change when I go to Des Moines.”

Over the past two years, Wichtendahl has repeatedly come to the statehouse to talk with legislators—but not about the boring things.


Iowa Republicans didn’t prioritize bills targeting the LGBTQ community during the first few years of their trifecta. But beginning in 2021, Reynolds used discrimination against trans people to build her brand in national media appearances. She held a public bill signing to celebrate passage of a transgender sports ban in 2022, and bragged about knowing “boys from girls” in the closing television commercial for her re-election campaign.

Shortly after the legislature convened in 2023, several anti-trans bills gained traction in the state House and Senate, and the governor incorporated many discriminatory provisions into her wide-ranging education proposal, later enacted as Senate File 496.

Wichtendahl wrote a guest commentary for Bleeding Heartland in early February 2023, decrying legislative attacks on transgender youth. Efforts to restrict classroom discussion of LGBTQ topics, ban certain books, and out kids to their families “will increase bullying and risk of self-harm, and trans youth without family support are twice as likely to be at risk for suicide,” she warned.

A few weeks later, I met Wichtendahl in person for the first time. She was testifying at an Iowa Senate subcommittee on a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for minors.

Aime Wichtendahl speaks during an Iowa Senate subcommittee on February 28, 2023 (photo by Laura Belin)

She told the senators she had known she was trans from the age of 9.

I didn’t go to one of those “woke” public schools, or whatever the outrage word is at the moment. I went to a patriotic Christian private school, where they taught us that America was God’s country. That men were men and women were women, and the only legitimate relationship was between a man and a woman in the bonds of matrimony.

And yet, I learned all that, and I am still trans. Because being trans is a condition of the human race. You can’t erase us, no matter how many books you ban, […] no matter how many rules and regulations you put in front of us.

Wichtendahl described herself as a “survivor” who considered ending her own life when she was 25. She promised to keep fighting for others to live their lives without government interference.

Less than a week later, she was back in Des Moines for a large rally against the record number of anti-LGBTQ bills moving quickly through the legislature.


Wichtendahl engaged an already fired-up crowd at the March 5, 2023 event outside the state capitol. “I have very little filter, and I will say what needs to be said. What needs to be said is that there’s only two types of people who ban books: cowards and fascists.”

Recalling a recent Iowa Senate subcommittee on proposed school library book bans, Wichtendahl noted that Moms for Liberty (a group that influenced the governor’s education agenda in several ways) had tried to redefine liberty.

“But let’s talk about what liberty is, and what it isn’t,” she said, drawing cheers after each of the next six lines:

Liberty is not about banning books.

Liberty isn’t about being bathroom cops.

Liberty is not putting the government between you and your doctor.

Real liberty is the ability to read what you want.

Real liberty is having control over your own body.

Real liberty is the ability to marry the person you love.

Selfie of Aime Wichtendahl at a rally outside the state capitol on March 5, 2023 (published on her campaign’s Facebook page)

People in the legislature “make a lot of radical assumptions about what the so-called trans agenda is,” Wichtendahl went on. She argued that the trans agenda is in fact “remarkably libertarian”: “We want to be left alone by our government. We want to be able to go to school, to go to work, and to live life without a bunch of pearl-clutchers giving us their opinions on gender.”

One last “critical” point: “the trans agenda is the ability to achieve an average life span.” Wichtendahl was alluding to the reality that LGBTQ youth face higher risks of self-harm and suicide. Experiencing discrimination and lacking support at school or at home are proven risk factors for suicide attempts.

Despite the outcry, Republicans enacted several policies targeting trans and nonbinary Iowans in 2023. Reynolds signed laws prohibiting children from receiving gender-affirming medical care and banned trans students, staff, or visitors of all ages from using school facilities aligned with their gender identity.

In addition, Senate File 496 required school administrators to out transgender or nonbinary children to their families. The same law prompted school libraries and classrooms to remove numerous books centering LGBTQ characters and prohibited instruction “relating to gender identity and sexual orientation” from kindergarten through sixth grade. (A federal court later blocked enforcement of the book bans and teaching restrictions, but let the forced outing provision stand.)

Undeterred, Wichtendahl was back at the statehouse several times during the legislature’s 2024 session, as the LGBTQ community mobilized against more harmful Republican bills.


It was a five-alarm fire for trans Iowans in late January when Iowa House Judiciary Committee chair Steven Holt scheduled a subcommittee on a proposal to remove gender identity protections from the Iowa Civil Rights Act. (A Democratic trifecta amended that law in 2007 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.)

State Representative Jeff Shipley had introduced similar bills for years, but none had received a subcommittee hearing, even in 2023. He put a new spin on the concept this year, with language that would remove gender identity as a protected class, while redefining “a diagnosis for gender dysphoria or any condition related to a gender identity disorder” as a disability under the civil rights act.

Hundreds of people showed up at the capitol to oppose the bill. Most couldn’t get into the packed hearing room. Wichtendahl was there in plenty of time.

Aime Wichtendahl prepares to speak during a January 31, 2024 Iowa House subcommittee on a bill that would remove gender identity as a protected class under the Iowa Civil Rights Act (photo by Greg Hauenstein)

She was seated next to Shipley as he made his case for treating gender identity like “a physical and mental impairment,” instead of as an “immutable or inherent characteristic” like other protected classes. He suggested 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.”

Shipley yielded some of his speaking time at the subcommittee to a constituent who 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.”

Recalling the hearing this week, Wichtendahl told me that as the bill sponsor and his guest spoke, she thought, “The testimony is so obscene, I’m surprised Moms for Liberty hasn’t banned it yet.”

(photo by Greg Hauenstein)

Wichtendahl spoke forcefully when it was her turn to address the subcommittee members (her comments begin around the 43:15 mark of this video). She reminded legislators that the state of Iowa has already “denied us health care,” “banned our books,” and “harassed and forcibly outed queer kids.”

“You seem to think that being trans is some kind of ideology, so I will say it plain: there is no such thing as transgenderism. There is only transgender people. We are human beings. We are American citizens. We are Iowans. And we do we do not deserve this abuse that we are getting from our government.”

Aime Wichtendahl addresses Iowa House members at the January 31 subcommittee (photo by Greg Hauenstein)

All three subcommittee members—Republicans Charley Thomson and John Wills and Democrat Sami Scheetz—voted not to advance Shipley’s proposal to amend the civil rights act.

Celebrations were short-lived, however. The very next day, the governor’s office introduced a new bill that would codify “separate but equal” treatment of transgender Iowans. In what one civil rights advocate described as “an astonishing government violation of privacy rights,” Reynolds’ proposal would have required that birth certificates and driver’s licenses display a transgender person’s sex assigned at birth as well as their current sex.

The Iowa House Education Committee amended the governor’s bill and approved it on a party-line vote in time for the legislature’s first “funnel” deadline. But leaders never brought it to the House floor.


I asked Wichtendahl how it would change the equation to fight these battles as a member of the legislature, rather than from the outside.

“I think it will make a huge difference,” she said. When Shipley and others are using “overwhelmingly negative, just outright lies about the trans community and what trans people look like, they have to look really hard away from the people who are in the room.”

She believes “it’s easier for them to denigrate us” when legislators don’t have to confront someone at the capitol who represents that community.

Wichtendahl is campaigning on a broader set of issues that indicate Iowa is on the wrong track as leaders undermine public education, bodily autonomy, and reproductive health care while failing to solve real problems.

She believes Iowans are “fricking sick of the culture war,” and “the tide is turning,” as shown last year when book banners lost school board races in many Iowa communities. She thinks her message will resonate with voters who “just want people to represent them, to fix the issues of the day, to make Iowa a livable place again.”

If elected to the state House, Wichtendahl will also fight “to restore the rights they took away” from the LGBTQ community. “All of these anti-LGBTQ bills are 100 percent unnecessary. It solves no problems. They’ve only exacerbated tensions,” making people’s lives worse and pushing some to move out of state.

“Maybe it’s a relic of a bygone era, I just want people to have good lives. I want you to be happy. I want you to be able to live the American dream and see how far your talents can take you. That’s kind of the core of my beliefs. I just dislike this hateful, cynical politics. It’s time to move beyond it, and escort it right to the dustbin of history.”

Aime Wichtendahl speaks at One Iowa’s Rally on the Hill on February 5, 2024 (photo originally published on the candidate’s Facebook page)


In the November election, Wichtendahl will face Republican John Thompson of Cedar Rapids, a veterans advocate who was unopposed in the GOP primary. Although this isn’t a safe Democratic seat, Wichtendahl will be favored.

House district 80 covers parts of northwest Cedar Rapids and the suburbs of Hiawatha and Robins in Linn County.

The latest official figures show the district contains 7,772 registered Democrats, 6,974 Republicans, and 8,222 no-party voters. Looking only at “active” registered voters who have cast a ballot within the past two years, the numbers are closer: 5,868 Democrats, 5,712 Republicans, and 5,308 no-party voters.

The area’s recent voting history reflects a broader trend in Iowa and nationally. Democrats have steadily gained ground over the past decade in suburbs like Hiawatha and Robins, where a higher percentage of voters have a college degree.

According to the map Josh Hughes created in Dave’s Redistricting App, precincts that are now part of House district 80 voted for Joe Biden over Donald Trump by 53.9 percent to 43.7 percent in the 2020 election, and for Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield over Senator Joni Ernst the same year by 52.1 percent to 45.3 percent.

In the 2022 election, when Democratic turnout was relatively low across Iowa, voters in House district 80 re-elected Staed by 7,601 votes to 6,358 for GOP challenger Barrett Hubbard (54.4 percent to 45.5 percent).

Disclosures filed with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board in May indicate that Wichtendahl had about $16,000 cash on hand going into the general election. Thompson had about $1,530 in the bank.

Asked how she feels about the campaign, Wichtendahl told me, “we’re in a great place” and she “couldn’t be happier with where things are.”

She will need high Democratic turnout, especially in the Cedar Rapids precincts. A strong crossover vote in Hiawatha, where she is best known due to her work in local government, would seal the deal.

About the Author(s)

Laura Belin

  • Diversity matters

    Diversity of ideas, competencies annd drive are what matters. I do not care how our politicians look without underwear, or what their color is.