Iowa students take a stand against anti-LGBTQ+ laws: ‘We’re not going to listen to your rules’

A person holds up a rainbow LGBTQ+ Pride flag

Students in Northwest Waukee, Iowa are making their voices heard and taking a stand against their state’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws.

Iowa is one of a growing number US states that have recently passed a Republican-backed bill requiring schools to out transgender, non-binary, or gender non-conforming students to their parents.

Every state that has introduced this law so far, has had it proposed under the guise of “parental rights”, suggesting that parents have a legal right to know about their child’s potential name or pronoun change at school – no matter how they might react.

While school boards and politicians in these states are taking “parental rights” very seriously, few have stopped to consider the rights of the children, who would be directly affected by these anti-LGBTQ+ laws.

Students hold LGBTQ+ Pride flag
Students in Iowa are making their voices heard against anti-LGBTQ+ laws. (Getty)

That’s what prompted students like Naomi Pittman to take a stand.

Pittman is the president of their school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), a group that hopes to alert students – LGBTQ+ or otherwise – about their state’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws, and offer support to those who might be affected.

“With the name laws, people don’t realize the point of it. They don’t realize that it’s trying to hurt trans kids,” Pittman told Iowa Starting Line.

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“They don’t see that we’re the people being attacked by this. And so they’ll be like, ‘Oh, this nickname thing is so stupid.’ But they don’t turn around and realize who it’s hurting the most.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet, that’s the thing. I think as we get farther along it’ll hit them more.”

The GSA is spreading the word among their fellow students with events like Pride Outside – an outdoor party with food trucks, music, and information booths that they held on 16 September.

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Pride Outside was more than just a fun party for students. It was a message to Iowa officials that LGBTQ+ youths have a voice, and they’re going to use it.

Pride flag
The GSA is offering students – LGBTQ+ or otherwise – a safe space. (Getty)

“It’s something we can do to show legislators and our state that we’re here. We’re not going to listen to your rules,” said the GSA’s vice president Brett Giltner.

Giltner got a major culture shock when he moved from Illinois to Iowa last year. Just as his home state introduced policies to boost education around LGBTQ+ identities and support students, he came to Iowa, which is moving in the opposite direction and introducing anti-LGBTQ+ laws.

“It’s like you cross an imaginary line and it’s like you’re allowed to be yourself here [in Illinois] and you’re not allowed to do this anymore here [in Iowa].”

The shock inspired Giltner to get involved in his school’s GSA, and now he and Pittman are working hard to help ensure that their fellow students feel safe and supported despite the state’s tense political environment – especially when they might not feel accepted at home.

“We just have to continue to be here for people,” said Pittman.

“We’re doing our best to schedule so that everyone can come because sometimes people just need a place to come and chat.”

The GSA has received funding from the nonprofit It Gets Better Project to hold events like Pride Outside. 

Support like that has been particularly helpful for the GSA, who have noted that they’re probably able to do more for their fellow students than their schools can, thanks to Iowa’s SF 496 bill.

“Teachers have to follow the law. We don’t,” said Giltner. 

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“We can always be there to support our students when our teachers potentially can’t, even though they want to. So that’s the nice thing about having a GSA at the school and having a pretty decent-sized GSA.”

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