Iowa House Republicans approve ban on transgender girls in girls’ sports, extending the ban to colleges and universities

The State Capitol Building in Des Moines. — Drew Tarvin

The Iowa House approved a bill to ban transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports at schools on Monday night, after amending it to extend the ban to community colleges and public and private universities.

HF 2416 only received support from Republicans when it was passed by a subcommittee and the House Education Committee, but that wasn’t quite the case with the House floor vote on Monday. One Republican, Rep. Michael Bergan of Dorchester, joined all of the House’s Democrats in voting against the bill.

Bergan was also the only House Republican to vote against the so-called “sanctuary cities” bill in 2018. That election-year bill passed on a series of party-line of votes, and addressed widespread fears among Republicans regarding immigrants, even though there were no sanctuary cities in Iowa and no plans for any city to become one. (Gov. Reynolds cited her support for that bill in fundraising emails during her 2018 campaign.)

At each stage of its progress, opponents of HF 2416 have pointed out that there have been no reports from Iowa schools, parents or student athletes of any problems caused by allowing transgender girls to participate in girls’ sports. But Rep. Skyler Wheeler of Orange City, one of HF 2416’s authors, made it clear that its proponents weren’t relying on facts.

“There are fears out there that women’s sports are under attack,” Wheeler said.

Proponents of the bill have attempted to present it not as an anti-LGBTQ measure targeting trans students, but as a defense of the gains made by female athletes since the passage of Title IX in 1972. But all the lawmakers who have established records defending and promoting the rights of girls and women strongly opposed HF 2416.

“Transgender girls are girls. Transgender women are women,” Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, a Democrat from Ames and a retired teacher, said during the floor debate. “Transgender women’s rights are women’s rights. We need to treat them just like every other girl and woman, and that includes sports.”

Another retired teacher, Rep. Mary Mascher of Iowa City, denounced the bill as “state-sanctioned bullying.”

Mascher and other bill opponents pointed out that transgender kids are already marginalized, and are at heightened risk of depression and suicidal ideation, and a far more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. Rep. Jeff Shipley, a Republican from Birmingham who spoke in favor of the bill, suggested those problems could be solved by the Holy Spirit.

“There are a lot of Iowans who suffer from gender dysphoria and related illnesses, so I would like to start by calling the Holy Spirit to be upon us and guide us during this discussion for the benefit and uplifting of all Iowans,” Shipley said during the floor debate.

Unlike the other Republicans defending the bill, Shipley freely indulged in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, claiming that an individual who embraces their identity as a transgender person is suffering from a mental illness — an antiquated, misguided and deeply harmful falsehood. He also asserted that supporting transgender individuals is analogous to supporting a cancer killing a person.

“If a person had a malignant sarcoma would the proper treatment be affirmation?” Shipley asked during his floor speech. “No, a sarcoma would be treated with aggressive therapies to remove or heal the cancerous growth and that same medical framework should be applied to the epidemic of identity disorders.”

Shipley proposed an amendment that would eliminate legal protections against lawsuits brought against schools because those schools recognize a student’s gender as anything other than what is listed on their birth certificate. The proposed amendment was overwhelmingly rejected.

HF 2416 does allow any student to sue a school or district for “direct or indirect harm” suffered as a result of the ban on transgender girls participating in girls’ sports not being enforced. Since the bill appears to violate federal civil rights laws, it also requires the Iowa Attorney General’s Office to defend “at no cost” any school or district sued over the ban.

Rep. Jeff Shipley speaks during Informed Choice Iowa’s rally against vaccine mandates at the State Capitol on Oct. 5, 2021. — video still via Informed Choice Iowa on Facebook

The bill moved quickly through the House, receiving its floor vote only 11 days after it was first introduced (as HF 2309). Its companion bill in the Iowa Senate is also moving quickly. SSB 3146 was introduce on Feb. 16, and passed both the subcommittee and committee on party-line votes the following day. It is eligible for a floor vote this week.

During an appearance on Fox News in April last year, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Iowa Republicans were working on legislation banning transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports.

In an appearance on Fox News in April last year, Reynolds said “we’re working on legislation” to ban transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports at school: “I should have that to my desk hopefully by the end of this legislative session and we’ll be signing that bill into law.”

At the time, no such bill was under consideration. The governor has declined to say if she would sign the bill that passed the House on Monday, but it is unlikely Reynolds would reject a bill she called for on Fox News during an election year when she will be on the ballot.

Many Iowa civil rights, LGBTQ, youth sports and education organizations condemned the passing of HF 2416