Nikki Haley criticizes transgender influencer, talks LGBTQ topics in Iowa

By: - April 12, 2023 2:38 pm

Presidential candidate Nikki Haley kicked off her “Women for Nikki” campaign at the Temple Theater in Des Moines Wednesday, April 12. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley said Wednesday in Des Moines that transgender women participating in women’s sports is “the women’s issue of our time.”

Haley, former ambassador to the United Nations, launched her “Women for Nikki” campaign Wednesday at the Temple Theater in Des Moines. She said transgender women – being “glorified” on social media and participating in sports events – were putting cisgender women and girls at risk. She specifically criticized the prominence of transgender TikTok influencer Dylan Mulvaney, who was recently sponsored by Bud Light.

“You have this man, dressed up like a girl, making fun of women.” Haley said. “That’s what this is. … And you have companies glorifying this person? What are we doing? Who’s going to fight for our girls?”

The discussion comes after President Joe Biden’s administration proposed a rule prohibiting bans on transgender students from participating in sports corresponding with their gender identity. It’s unclear how the executive order will impact states like Iowa that have laws prohibiting transgender women from participating in women’s sports. U.S. Department of Education officials have not said what will happen in areas where state laws conflict with the federal rule.

LGBTQ issues present other problems in schools across the country, Haley said. She also spoke in favor of laws like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, preventing gender identity and sexual orientation from being discussed with K-3 students. Iowa has a similar bill going through the legislative process to limit instruction and material involving these terms in kindergarten through 6th grade classrooms.

One of Haley’s fellow South Carolina Republicans, Sen. Tim Scott, also was in Iowa on Wednesday, where he announced he is launching an exploratory campaign for president.

Haley launched her 2024 presidential campaign in February, and has already made multiple Iowa trips. She told Iowans in her first caucus trail trip in February that one of the best ways to address problems in public schools is supporting “school choice” legislation, saying she’d like to see programs like Gov. Kim Reynolds’ private school scholarship program nationwide.

One of the ways to address educational problems — and the gaps between what schools are teaching children and what parents want — is to have parents more involved in their child’s education, Haley said. She said as South Carolina governor, she said the issues people have with public education is with “school bureaucrats,” not with teachers.

“Having said that, parents need to be able to see everything that’s happening in the classroom,” Haley said. “We have one job, one job, and that’s to make sure we get our kids right. Teachers have been given way too much. They’re expected to be the teacher, the parent, the guidance counselor, the nurse, the pastor, everything else — it’s too much. If you’re hiring them to teach, let them do their job. … Then, we need to look at how do you bring parents in.”

U.S. Rep. Zach Nunn gave opening remarks for Haley. Nunn said Republican women play an important role in Iowa politics, pointing to Reynolds, fellow U.S. Reps. Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Ashley Hinson and U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst. After giving a speech, Haley answered questions from the crowd on subjects including manufacturing and abortion.

While Haley said she was pro-life, she said she believes decisions on abortion legality should be left to the states, not decided in court. She said she knows people do not agree with the legislation passed by the U.S. House in 2022 “which is abortion up until the time of birth,” but said that Republicans can’t get caught in the political battles over abortion.

A March 2023 Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll found 61% of Iowa adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 70% of Iowa women say abortion should be legal in most or all cases. The poll sampled 805 Iowans between March 5 through 8, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

“We’re not going to let this be a political football,” Haley said. “Let’s let the states work this out. If Congress decides to do it, don’t enter that game of them saying, ‘How many weeks? How many weeks?’ No, let’s first figure out what we agree on, and then move forward.”

The Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday on the enforcement on the “fetal heartbeat” law, a 2018 state law banning abortion typically after six weeks.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.