More than 150 Iowa City Community School District students walked out of classes on Friday and marched to the Pentacrest to protest the newly enacted ban on transgender girls playing girls’ sports at all public and private schools, as well as at colleges and universities in Iowa. Planning for protest began among five friends at South East Junior High School immediately after Gov. Kim Reynolds signed HF 2416 into law on March 3, but students from Northwest Junior High and from ICCSD’s high schools also joined in the march that arrived at the Old State Capitol shortly after noon.
HF 2416 restricts participation on all school or college girls sports teams and in all athletic events to those it defines as female, according to “the sex listed on the student’s official birth certificate.” It moved quickly through the Iowa Legislature with support from only Republicans. Every Democrat in the Iowa House and Senate, and one House Republican, voted against it.
Reynolds had been publicly calling for lawmakers to pass such a ban since an appearance on Fox News in April 2021. The governor is apparently going to campaign on her success in keeping transgender girls from the support and comfort they would experience in playing sports in accordance with their identities as she runs for reelection this year.
“We’re preserving girls’ sports for girls,” Reynolds said on Wednesday in the speech that marked the official kickoff of her reelection campaign. That line was loudly cheered and applauded by the governor’s supporters gathered at the Iowa State Fairgrounds for her speech.
Reynolds confirmed to reporters last week that she had not spoken to any transgender individuals before signing the bill. Because of a special provision inserted in HF 2416, the ban went into effect as soon as the governor signed it. In almost every other case, a new law does not go into effect until the beginning of the next fiscal or calendar year.
One notable aspect of the ban quick movement through the legislature is that the Republicans who spoke in favor of it claimed HF 2416 had nothing to do with undermining the rights of transgender Iowans, but was about the protecting women’s rights, even though none of the have previously been known for supporting women’s rights. Every Iowa legislator with a record of defending women’s rights opposed HF 2416, as did every medical and education professional who testified on the bill.
None of the speakers at the protest on Friday believed the sudden interest conservative Republicans were claiming, or their assertions that they were simply protecting the interests of female athletes, were genuine.
“People defending this bill always say something along the lines of: it’s because if trans girls can play they’ll dominate the sport,” one of the protest organizers said, standing on the steps of the Old Capitol. “I was thinking about this, and you know what I realized? None of the people saying this can actually name any trans athletes… These arguments they make, things like protection and preventing domination, are in reality just a way of covering up blatant transphobia.”
“I, for one, am sick of it.”
Speakers shared personal experiences of being bullied because of their identities and some talked about the refuge they found in sports. Others shared statistics about rates of depression, suicidal ideation and other issues caused by the marginalization and other problems transgender kids face. Along with the junior high and high school students, some adult supporters addressed the crowd. Despite temperatures in the mid-20s with strong and brutally cold winds, the speeches continued for more than 90 minutes.
“My name is Puck, I’m 15 and I’m trans,” said a City High 10th grader, who spoke from the steps about an hour into the protest.
“I have it hard enough already,” Puck said. “It’s hard enough to transition, without a legislature that is so blatantly transphobic.”
Puck’s story shows some of the impact HF 2416 has beyond its stated target of transgender girls and women.
“I’m a trans guy and I’m on the girls’ golf team,” he told Little Village after his speech. Because the ban only addresses transgender girls and not transgender guys – rhetoric around the 11 transgender sports ban bill that have been enacted in states around the county always focuses on the need to protect girls – it would not prohibit Puck from joining the boys’ golf team.
But Puck said he was already aware some transphobic attitudes on the boys’ team, which influenced his decision, and now that the governor was openly embracing anti-transgender attitudes and had enshrined discrimination against transgender girls and women in state law, he was concerned things would get worse. No matter how much Puck would prefer to be on the boys’ team, it doesn’t seem safe to him.
“Golf is good for me,” Puck said. “I’ve struggled with depression in the past and I take medication for it. And one of the things that has really been helpful is exercising more consistently. I think it would mean a lot to me to be able to compete on the boys’ golf team.”
“Because the sport is good for me, it would mean a lot to me if it could also be something good for who I actually am, and not something where I have to sort of play the role of someone that I’m not.”
Both the Cedar Rapids Community School District and ICCSD issued statements last week declaring their strong opposition to the new law.
“We want to make clear our ongoing support for transgender students and student-athletes,” ICCSD said in its statement. “Our District has in place one of the most robust policies in the country to protect our LGBTQ+ youth. This legislation will not detract [sic] us from our commitment to ensure every member of our school community is valued and respected regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation.”