A “bathroom bill” that would force transgender individuals into using the school bathroom that corresponds with their biological sex is now eligible for debate in the Iowa Senate.
The bill, Senate File 224, would prohibit a person from entering a single or multiple occupancy bathroom in elementary, secondary and nonpublic schools that do not correspond with the person’s biological sex.
A bill similar to the bathroom bill has been proposed several times, but Wednesday was the first time one of those bills received a subcommittee hearing.
Karen Kedrowski, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center, said a reason this bill received a subcommittee and is moving on to the Iowa Senate is because they have the votes this time.
“I think that [the bill] speaks to a larger ongoing culture war that has been in the United States since the 1980s,” Kedrowski said.
Since 2007, gender identity has been protected under the Iowa Civil Rights Act, making it illegal in Iowa to discriminate against a person because of their gender identity. This act has allowed transgender individuals to use the gender bathroom they identify with.
This bill calls into question whether it goes against the Iowa Civil Rights Act.
Kedrowski said there are two issues with this.
“First, children have fewer rights than adults, so it’s an open question whether gender orientation and identity is a protected class for children," Kedrowski said. "Second, the legislature may pass a law that conflicts with another law and they both would stand unless and until a case is brought to the Iowa Supreme Court.”
Sen. Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City, who sponsored the bill, said during the virtual subcommittee that the bill was not intended to be hateful.
“It’s important to note that the concern is not so much with transgender individuals likely to be sexual predators, but that sexual predators would exploit such laws for posing as transgender in order to gain access to women and girls,” Carlin said.
Kedrowski said this bill is “couching in a language of safety” with the idea that somebody shouldn’t have to share a bathroom with somebody that might make them uncomfortable.
“In a sense what they’re doing is saying that the concerns about trans people for their own health and safety are less important than the concern that we have about women and girls,” Kedrowski said.
During the subcommittee, a representative from the LGBTQ advocacy group One Iowa said there have been no incidents in school bathrooms since 2007 when the Iowa Civil Rights Act was passed.
“We do know that trans children, especially trans women, are subject to horrific bullying and so their safety is certainly not secured by this as well as it being just downright hostile,” Kedrowski said.
Teddi White, a freshman in world languages and cultures, speaks from his experience as a closeted trans guy throughout high school.
“I think it is going to have a negative effect, I always hated the idea of going into the women’s restroom when I don't identify as a woman, it just feels wrong,” White said. “I know that I'm not the only one who has that experience.”
There is rising concern over the effect this bill will have on transgender individuals in school.
“This bill would certainly make a hard life harder,” Kedrowski said.
Kedrowski said this bill would force transgender students to endure more than the challenges they already face.
“We know that they are bullied and that there’s a high suicide rate, this is simply going to force them to confront those issues,” Kedrowski said.
White said he doesn’t like the idea of people being forced into something they don’t want to do.
White said the best solution to this problem would be gender-neutral bathrooms.
“A solution to this whole thing is to just have a gender-neutral bathroom, places have them everywhere, so why is it so hard to turn one bathroom into a gender-neutral bathroom,” White said.
Iowa is not the first state to introduce a bill like this. In 2016, North Carolina passed a bathroom bill into law. The bill caused massive backlash from businesses, celebrities and sports affiliations. The NCAA and NBA moved all major events out of North Carolina in protest.
The backlash caused major economic issues for North Carolina and was repealed a year later.
“The cities, especially those that were a major tourist or convention hubs, really suffered,” Kedrowski said.
Kedrowski said South Carolina and other states would have passed this bill had they not seen the economic damage that occurred in North Carolina.
“I would not be surprised that if this bill passes in Iowa that it would end up being repealed because of similar boycotts,” Kedrowski said.
White said he hopes if the bill were passed that it would receive backlash, but with the Iowa Legislature leaning more Conservative he isn’t extremely hopeful.
The bill has received criticism from organizations and lawmakers such as LGBTQ advocacy group One Iowa and Rep. Dustin Hite, chairman of the Iowa House Education Committee.
It is unclear whether this bill will be passed in the Senate and when the vote will take place.