Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
Washington students protest bathroom bill
WASHINGTON — A handful of students left the Washington High School campus Monday, in a walk-off protest against Iowa’s recently enacted Senate File 482, which requires anyone in a school to use the bathroom of their biological sex, rather than that of their gender identity.
At a gathering in Washington’s square during school hours Monday afternoon, protesters said the bill was harmful to transgender students. While some teachers knew about the protest, students said it was “not condoned” by the district.
“We’re just trying to get people’s attention so that people know we don’t support it, and we want it to change,” said Max Miller, one of the walkout’s organizers, about Senate File 482. “Most of us here are trans … it just seems very unnecessary because we’re just trying to be ourselves and live without judgment, or whatever, and people are kind of all up in our business. We just want to exist.”
Proponents of the legislation said it would protect children’s privacy, citing fears that a more flexible policy would enable abuse by allowing people to intentionally use the wrong restroom.
“Some girls are showering in bathing suits because boys are allowed in the locker rooms,” Scott County Republican Sen. Chris Cournoyer said during floor debates on the bill. “Other students are ‘holding it,’ because they don’t feel comfortable going into the restroom with someone of the opposite (sex.)”
Colten Asbury, a student who helped organize the protests, said that justification was ill-informed, and that students were unlikely to change their gender identity with criminal intent.
“The only thing this bill is protecting is the systematic prejudice within our country,” he said. “It just creates more and more fear … because people think, ‘Oh, there’s a law being passed about trans people, trans people are obviously dangerous, or they need to be hidden or kept away from other people.’”
Others at the protests said enforcement of the bill would make things net worse, as a transgender person in a school would have to use the bathroom opposite their identity, even if they appeared not to belong there.
“There are those that have finished transition, that would now be forced to use a restroom that no longer fits what they look like,” said Shayna Blitsch, an adult who accompanied the group in Washington’s park. “There can be those that see them as either a man or a woman walking into a bathroom that is not fitting with the way they appear … that can cause far more problems than just letting them go in the bathroom that they are comfortable going in.”
An email sent to district parents on Friday, shortly after the bill’s passage, spelled out a new policy for bathroom use, saying students could submit written requests to their building’s principal, for consideration of case-by-case “alternative arrangements consistent with the law.”
Protesting students said that procedure was insufficient to protect trans kids, however. Such reconsideration requires a parent to be on board with their student’s change of identity.
“Some parents are deeply transphobic, and can be very harmful to kids if they find that out,” said Bella Nowel, whose protest started on-campus with a held poster, but later moved to the square.
Others said they doubted the need for SF 482 in tight-knit communities like Washington, where the taboo against using the wrong bathroom was an already powerful force against those seeking to do so in bad faith.
“Everyone here knows everyone, and we — most people here — care about each other,” said one protester, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to prevent retaliation from family members. “They wouldn’t feel all right doing that, and if someone does that … everyone’s going to end up finding out, and people aren’t going to let it slide.”
Participants said they hoped to shine a light on anti-transgender policies, despite Washington’s distance from the state Capitol, and that leaving during the school day was an intentional risk, designed to maximize public attention to their cause.
Participant Nikko Peiffer said events like Monday afternoon’s reminded people that transgender individuals existed in their communities.
“Even though we’re a small town, we still exist and if we get enough attention, it would spread the word,” Peiffer said. “We’re still here, and we’re not comfortable with (the bill,) and we’re not just going to sit around and do nothing about it.”
Washington school district representatives were not immediately available for comments.