Lawmakers consider gender-specific bathroom policies for Iowa K-12 schools

DES MOINES — Iowa lawmakers are considering a bill that would let Iowa schools have policies requiring students use the bathrooms or locker rooms designated for their biological sex.

During a subcommittee hearing early Tuesday morning, Patty Alexander, a teacher from Urbandale, urged lawmakers to pass the bill.  “There is a push to influence our children into something they are not,” Alexander says. “We are pushing them in nihilism and narcissism…We are telling them they are born in the wrong bodies.”

Jill Bjorklund of Ankeny and her seven-year-old transgender daughter Lily urged lawmakers to defeat the bill. “If this bill passes I will not be able to go to the bathroom in the girls bathroom where all of my friends go. I will have to go in the boy’s bathroom which is way more confusing for my friends when I walk in with a dress on,” Lily said. Jill Bjorklund said: “How do you look at her face and think she is a danger?”

Amber Williams told lawmakers she was a concerned mom who supports the bill. “Boys bathrooms are made for boys with urinals and toilets and girls bathrooms are made with toilets and tampon dispensers,” Williams said. “Boys and girls are biologically different, with different needs in the bathroom.”

Chris Patterson, the parent of a non-binary child, says her first grader was forced to adhere to the kind of policy in this bill.  “I watched my confident, curious kiddo going from loving school to climbing into the car afterwards, sometimes wet, because they couldn’t risk one more interaction where someone told them they were in the wrong bathroom,” Patterson said.

Lobbyists representing schools warn districts will risk lawsuits and be forced to decide whether to adhere to federal policy on transgender students’ bathroom use or the proposed state law.

Shellie Flockhart told lawmakers she was the mother of four and her teenage children are opposed to having kids of the opposite sex in their locker room. “Gender specific restrooms, locker rooms and showers are a safety requirement. As a woman, to ask for anything less is offensive,” Flockhart said. “The separation of bathrooms and locker rooms is needed.”

Becky Taylor is executive director of Iowa Safe Schools, which works with 10-thousand LGBTQ students. Taylor says the bill’s accommodation — letting transgender students use the restroom in the nurses office — does not meet the legal standard.  “Let me remind you that Brown v Board of Education found that having separate but supposedly equal facilities was inherently inequitable and illegal,” Taylor said.

In 2021, a gender specific bathroom policy won initial approval from a subcommittees in the Iowa Senate, but Tuesday’s vote is the first time a House subcommittee has advanced a so-called bathroom bill.