Human Rights Campaign Statement on Iowa Betraying Its History as a Leader on Equality for LGBTQ+ People

by Delphine Luneau

Iowa is the first state to have passed non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people to also pass a ban on transgender student-athletes playing sports consistent with their gender identity

DES MOINES – For the past 15 years, Iowa has had non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people in education, employment, public accommodations, housing, credit, and more. Today, however, Governor Kim Reynolds has made Iowa the first state in the country to have passed statewide non-discrimination protections that include LGBTQ+ people to reverse course by prohibiting transgender women and girls from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity.

Long considered a leader on LGBTQ+ rights, Iowa was the fourth state in the country to recognize marriage equality and one of the first to enact comprehensive non-discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Governor’s decision to sign a discriminatory bill into law today undermines decades of progress that pro-equality advocates in Iowa have fought tirelessly to achieve and endangers some of the most vulnerable Iowans at a time when anti-equality forces are attacking transgender youth across the country.

Human Rights Campaign Senior Vice President, Policy & Political Affairs, JoDee Winterhof issued the following statement in reaction to the Governor signing this bill into law:

“This is a shameful moment in Iowa’s history. With the stroke of her pen, and without even bothering to meet with transgender kids or their parents, Governor Reynolds has reversed years of progress and moved our state backwards. After years of moving closer towards equality of opportunity, Iowa is now the first in the country to make life harder for LGBTQ+ people who work, live, and go to school here.”
“I was fortunate to grow up in Walnut where I learned lifelong lessons that I wouldn’t have learned anywhere else. Chief among those were the values of camaraderie and teamwork that I picked up playing high school basketball with my friends. Every girl in Iowa should have the same opportunities that I did to grow up in a safe and nurturing environment. But thanks to Governor Reynolds, that will no longer be the case for transgender girls and college students in Iowa who just want the same chance that I did to play sports and have fun with their friends.”
“Like anti-equality politicians across the country, Governor Reynolds is attacking some of the most vulnerable members of society in order to gin up her support with the extreme factions of her base during an election year. It’s outrageous. Iowa deserves a Governor who will lift up all Iowans and implement real solutions for real problems. There is absolutely no reason that we should be the first state in the country to move backwards on this important issue. Iowa can do better.”

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds delivered the Republican response to President Biden’s State of the Union Address Tuesday night, saying, “Republicans believe that parents matter.” Today, however, Iowa has enacted one of the broadest bans in the country prohibiting transgender girls and women from playing sports. During debate in the Iowa House of Representatives last month, one lawmaker repeatedly argued that transgender and non-binary youth are mentally ill and compared them to individuals struggling with substance abuse and cancer patients. Since then, Reynolds, who first called for passage of a discriminatory anti-transgender bill last May, has done nothing to distance herself from this incendiary, hurtful language that has a detrimental impact on a vulnerable LGBT population that is already twice as likely to experience anxiety or depression as non-LGBT Iowans.

Transgender youth, like all youth, gain benefits from participating in school athletics: leadership opportunities, better physical and mental health outcomes, self-discipline, self-confidence, teamwork, and, of course, fun – and they shouldn’t be prevented from participating in school athletics because of who they are.

The legislative fight to pass discriminatory anti-transgender legislation has already been fast and furious this year, led by national groups aiming to stymie LGBTQ+ progress made on the national level and in many states. There are so far more than 266 anti-LGBTQ+ bills under consideration in state legislatures across the country. Of those, at least 125 directly target transgender people and nearly half of those (57+ bills) would ban trans youth from participating in school sports consistent with their gender identity.

Caught in the crosshairs of anti-LGBTQ+ elected officials’ divisive political strategy are kids who are simply trying to navigate their adolescence — kids who face relentless targeting and increased levels of discrimination in their community, as evidenced by the record incidents of fatal violence against transgender and gender non-binary people in 2021.

Anti-Transgender Attacks As A Political Talking Point

Legislators in a record 34 states introduced 147 anti-transgender bills in 2021, focusing on discriminatory anti-equality measures to drive a wedge between their constituents and score short-term political points. In 2021, legislators in twelve states enacted anti-LGBTQ+ bills despite failing to provide examples of what exactly they were legislating against.

Merely introducing anti-transgender bills and peddling anti-transgender rhetoric has already had a damaging impact, leading to LGBTQ+ youth resources being surreptitiously removed from a government website, 11-year old kids literally having trouble sleeping, and a school district banning graphic novels with a transgender character after a parent's complaint. 2021 and 2020 were the deadliest and second deadliest years on record for trans & gender non-conforming people respectively, with the Human Rights Campaign tracking at least 50 violent deaths in 2021 alone. A new Trevor Project survey shows that a startling 85% of transgender or gender non-binary youth say their mental health has been negatively affected by these legislative attacks.

Anti-transgender content on social media is also a radicalizing issue all by itself. This is in large part because transgender young people are among the most marginalized, voiceless, and defenseless communities in America, and because right-wing arguments play on long-standing mysoginistic, racist, and sexist tropes about gender roles.

Anti-Equality Forces Are Spending Big

These bills are the result of a concerted effort by right-wing organizations that have been battling against LGBTQ+ progress for years. Across recent elections, one of the key anti-equality groups working to turn back decades of LGBTQ+ progress has been the American Principles Project (APP). APP and its chief underwriter Sam Fieler have invested millions of dollars in support of anti-LGBTQ+ candidates. In 2020, APP spent more than $2.6 million in ad spending in support of anti-equality candidates. In Virginia in 2021, APP spent at least $300,000 on digital advertising in support of Glenn Youngkin’s gubernatorial campaign.

Restoration PAC, run and funded by major anti-LGBTQ+ bankroller Dick Uihlein, spent at least $1.9 million in advertising across Virginia in support of Youngkin and donated $942,000 to the political arm of anti-abortion group Women Speak Out Virginia. Anti-equality group Free to Learn Action launched a $1 million ad campaign spreading widely debunked anti-transgender misinformation in support of Youngkin’s campaign.

Businesses, Advocacy Groups, and Athletes Oppose Anti-Trans Legislation

More than 150 major U.S. corporations have stood up and spoken out to oppose anti-transgender legislation being proposed in states across the country. Companies like Amazon, American Airlines, Apple, AT&T, AirBnB, Dell, Dow, Google, IBM, Lyft, Marriott, Microsoft, Nike, and Paypal have objected to these bills. Four of the largest U.S. food companies also condemned “dangerous, discriminatory legislation that serves as an attack on LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly transgender and nonbinary people,” and the Walton Family Foundation issued a statement expressing “alarm” at the trend of anti-transgender legislation that recently became law in Arkansas.

Many are rightly protective of the legacy of women’s sports in this country, and a robust Title IX is central to that legacy. Importantly, advocates for women and girls in sports – such as the National Women’s Law Center, the Women’s Sports Foundation, Women Leaders in College Sports, and others – support trans-inclusive policies and oppose efforts to exclude transgender students from participating in sports. So do prominent female athletes including Billie Jean King, Megan Rapinoe, and Cheryl Reeve. That’s because while there are real issues facing women’s sports, including a lack of resources devoted to supporting them, transgender participation in athletics is not one of them.

The nation’s leading child health and welfare groups representing more than 7 million youth-serving professionals and more than 1,000 child welfare organizations released an open letter calling for lawmakers in states across the country to oppose dozens of bills that target LGBTQ+ people, and transgender children in particular.

Nearly 550 college athletes have stood up to anti-transgender legislation by demanding the NCAA pull championships from states that have enacted anti-trans sports laws.

Trans Equality Is Popular Across All Demographics

The reality is that however sensational and polarizing this issue may seem, public opinion polling across the country show strong support for trans-inclusive and pro-equality policies:

Recent PRRI data shows a large majority of Americans (82%) favor laws that protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing, and majorities of Republicans (67%), independents (85%), and Democrats (92%) favor nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ Americans.

A PBS/NPR/Marist poll states that 67% of Americans, including 66% of Republicans, oppose the anti-transgender sports ban legislation proliferating across 30 states.

In a 10-swing-state poll conducted by the Human Rights Campaign & Hart Research Group in 2020 showed:

  • At least 60% of Trump voters across each of the 10 swing states say transgender people should be able to live freely and openly.

  • At least 87% of respondents across each of the 10 swing states say transgender people should have equal access to medical care, with many states breaking 90% support

  • When respondents were asked about how they prioritized the importance of banning transgender people from participating in sports as compared to other policy issues, the issue came in dead last, with between 1% and 3% prioritizing the issue.

Another poll conducted by the Human Rights Campaign & Hart Research Group revealed that, with respect to transgender youth participation in sports, the public’s strong inclination is on the side of fairness and equality for transgender student athletes. 73% of voters agree that “sports are important in young people’s lives. Young transgender people should be allowed opportunities to participate in a way that is safe and comfortable for them.”

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. HRC envisions a world where LGBTQ+ people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.

Contact Us

To make a general inquiry, please visit our contact page. Members of the media can reach our press office at: (202) 572-8968 or email press@hrc.org.