Iowa LGBTQ students having a lobby day at the state capitol Thursday were kicked out by police officers for using restrooms for the gender with which they identify.
"Four state troopers forced us out, including myself, they pushed me, forced all the students out," Iowa Safe Schools Executive Director Nate Monson told Iowa Starting Line. "We had some students still in the capitol, we had to find them, it was pure chaos."
Iowa Safe Schools had organized the lobby day, bringing more than 100 students to meet with legislators. A transgender male student who was using the men's restroom told the site that a man in the restroom noticed that he had a small amount of makeup on and told him, "You're in the wrong bathroom." The student wished to remain anonymous.
Police from the Iowa State Patrol then began preventing other students from entering the men's restroom, even though Iowa has an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination law covering public accommodations. About half an hour later, the state troopers said all the students had to leave.
"They started rounding up any kid that was wearing rainbow, essentially," Monson told Iowa Starting Line. "They got in my face and told me I had to be quiet. It was quite intimidating."
Andrew Krischel, a teacher at Southeast Polk High School, said a trooper told him he'd never be welcome at the capitol again. And one of his students was told he'd be at risk for sexual assault in the men's restroom because the student was a "little girl."
Iowa Starting Line posted video of the confrontations on Twitter.
The Iowa State Patrol released a statement defending its actions, saying, "At approximately 12:30 p.m. today, the Iowa State Patrol and Capitol Security received citizen reports of multiple people occupying one of the male restrooms in the Iowa State Capitol. The concerned parties expressed concern because the occupants included both adult and minor females. On three separate occasions, Capitol Security requested the adult and minor females discontinue the use of the male restroom and directed them to the gender-neutral restrooms located in the Capitol should they so desire. The group refused to comply with the requests and were escorted from the Capitol by members of the Iowa State Patrol without incident or arrest."
Monson was not mollified, and he said there will likely be legal action over the expulsion. "The state of Iowa may have about 150 lawsuits on their hands," he told Iowa Starting Line. All the troopers involved should be fired, he added.
Several Democratic lawmakers came outside to offer support to the students who were kicked out. The students had seen some encouraging signs during their lobby day, as a Senate subcommittee advanced legislation to ban the gay and trans panic defenses. The House has already passed it.
The Trevor Project, which advocates for LGBTQ youth nationwide, issued a statement denouncing the state troopers' action. "The Trevor Project joins Iowa Safe Schools in condemning the discrimination and harassment against LGBTQ students that took place at the Iowa State Capitol yesterday," said Casey Pick, senior fellow for advocacy and government affairs. "The Iowa Civil Rights Act clearly protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of gender identity in places of public accommodation, so all transgender and nonbinary students should be able to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity. We urge Iowa officials to uphold the law and to foster the creation of safe, affirming environments for all LGBTQ youth, who are already at higher risk of discrimination and suicidality."
In its National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, the Trevor Project found that 58 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth reported being discouraged from using a bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity and 78 percent reported being the subject of discrimination due to their gender identity. LGBTQ youth who reported experiencing discrimination were more than twice as likely to attempt suicide as those who did not.