Transgender athlete restrictions are now law in Iowa. What comes next?

LGBTQ advocates anticipate more anti-transgender legislation

By: - March 3, 2022 2:42 pm

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law on March 3, 2022, that prohibits transgender girls and women from playing girls’ sports. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Transgender girls may no longer play on women’s teams at Iowa schools and colleges.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed House File 2416 into law Thursday. The legislation prohibits transgender girls and women from playing on women’s teams at Iowa’s K-12 schools, public and community colleges, and colleges and universities that are members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) or the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). 

Reynolds said “nothing could be more straightforward or common sense” than restricting women’s sports to people who are assigned female at birth.

“As a woman, a mother of three daughters and now a grandmother of three young girls, it worries me that this bill is needed at all,” Reynolds said. “It’s hard to imagine how anyone who cares about the rights of women and girls could support anything less.”

Over 30 young, female athletes stood behind Reynolds as she signed the bill into law. The group included Ainsley Erzen, an 18-year-old track champion from Carlisle. Erzen became the face of the movement after writing a Des Moines Register opinion piece arguing transgender girls could threaten the titles and scholarships of high-ranking female athletes. 

“Iowa girls today, and in every generation to come, will be able to pursue the things they love to the best of their ability, whether that’s chasing titles, records or scholarships, or earning a starting position or spot on the team,” Erzen said at the bill-signing. “No girl will be sidelined on their own sport.”

LGBTQ groups condemned the law. Becky Smith, executive director of Iowa Safe Schools, held a transgender flag behind the crowd of supporters around Reynolds, its rainbow-striped pole barely visible above the heads of the athletes. 

“Transgender student athletes are not a threat to girls’ athletics, and we’re extremely disappointed that this law was passed today,” Smith said.

Transgender sports ban comes amid national surge in anti-transgender bills

Iowa is not be the first state to prohibit transgender girls from playing school sports. In 2021, 10 states passed laws or enacted executive orders to limit the participation of transgender girls: Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Florida.

Similar bills are surging through state legislatures in 2022: The Wyoming Senate passed a similar bill on Wednesday, and the Indiana Senate passed one Tuesday.

The Human Rights Campaign, a nationwide LGBTQ advocacy group, reported 147 anti-transgender bills introduced across the U.S. in 2021, including 81 bills pertaining to school sports.

Keenan Crow, policy director at LGBT advocacy group One Iowa, said there were 19 anti-transgender bills active in the Iowa Legislature, including proposals introduced in 2021. (Not all of those bills will be taken up by lawmakers – many pieces of legislation are introduced every session that never receive a subcommittee hearing.)

“There has been an absolute explosion of these anti-transgender pieces of legislation, not just in Iowa, but also on the national stage,” said Crow.

What comes next for Iowa transgender laws?

LGBTQ advocates raised concerns that the transgender sports legislation would open the state up to more restrictive laws.

Damian Thompson, communications director at Iowa Safe Schools, said he “absolutely” expects more legislation related to transgender people.

“As we’ve seen in other states, attacking trans inclusion in sports is the first step,” Thompson said in an email. “Afterwards, the goal is to systematically marginalize trans children from other areas, including but not limited to, public accommodation, health care, and education.”

Crow pointed toward Texas, which passed transgender sports legislation in 2021. Then, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in late February ordered state agencies to investigate parents who provide gender-affirming care to their transgender children, deeming it child abuse to do so.

But Iowa Republican leaders said Thursday they are not considering any other legislation on transgender Iowans.

Reynolds said she was not aware of the Texas order. She did not respond to a question about whether she was interested in other laws pertaining to transgender people.

“This is something I said last year that I was anxious to take a look at the legislation,” she said of the transgender athlete bill. “I believe it was the right thing to do.”

House Speaker Pat Grassley said the law on athletes was prompted by constituent concerns and not part of any broader push on transgender rights.

“From my perspective, there has not been any conversations going on on any other (transgender-related) bills beyond what the governor just signed,” Grassley, R-New Hartford, said. 

Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Orange City, led the passage of the transgender athletes bill through the House. Wheeler echoed Grassley, saying issues like the transgender sports bill were born of a “groundswell of support” among constituents. 

“If people are trying to say this is step one… I don’t know what step two is,” Wheeler said.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.