Opinion: LGBTQ deadlock in Des Moines endangers vulnerable young Iowans

Our legislature’s inability to ban conversion therapy keeps gay and transgender children in unsafe situations.


Katie Goodale

The Iowa State Capitol building is seen in Des Moines on April 9, 2019.

Elijah Helton, Opinions Editor

The Iowa Legislature has decided it’s still legal to hurt LGBTQ children. Conversion therapy is tragically still allowed in the Hawkeye State.

Subcommittees in our state House and Senate last week spiked almost every bill having anything to do with gay or transgender rights.

It’s good that most proposals were killed in committee, such as a mandate for parental oversight of teaching LGBTQ topics in public schools. But some real progress has also been stopped short, namely a proposed ban on conversion therapy.

In short, Iowa has thrown the breakthrough out with the bathwater.

If the action in question is harmful, it’s not an exercise of freedom; it takes freedom away.

The problems with the bill

The biggest problem with the conversion-therapy ban is that it isn’t really a ban at all. Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, who introduced the bill, left a provision which would allow for religious exemptions, which stopped many LGBTQ advocates from getting on board.

Kaufmann told The Daily Iowan there were “groups that had problems with [the bill] on both sides of the aisle.” But that characterization fails to place where it belongs.

Republicans, in general, wanted it to be OK for religiously homophobic and transphobic parents to subject their children to harmful attempts to unscientifically un-queer-ify their kid.

Democrats, in general, wanted to make the “treatment” illegal.

Is that “both sides of the aisle” failing to get along?

There were other problems with the bill. It had language describing conversion processes as “mental-health therapy,” which implies being gay or transgender is somehow a psychological afflication.

The religious exemption remains the top issue, though, and its inclusion would have inhibited children’s safety.

The problems with religious freedom

Kaufmann’s bill offered marginal protection for some of the most vulnerable young people in our state. It didn’t protect religious freedom; it weaponized zealotry.

This is basic high-school civics. Like freedoms of speech and the press, religious freedom ends when it harms others.

If our legislature wanted to make Iowa safe for LGBTQ people, it would have decided to exclude the religious exemption.

We wouldn’t permit domestic abuse in the name of religious liberty. We wouldn’t even let vandalism get a pass. If the action in question is harmful, it’s not an exercise of freedom; it takes freedom away.

Let’s be clear: it didn’t have to be this way. If our legislature wanted to make Iowa safe for LGBTQ people, it would have decided to exclude the religious exemption.

Maybe Kaufmann knew what he was talking about with his both-sides-ism, understanding his GOP counterparts wouldn’t get on board with an effective ban. He even said “some groups wanted [the bill] weaker,” and that’s the worst part of all this.

The real problem

This is where we make a choice as Iowans. We live in a society where conversion therapy, which undeniably hurts children, is legal. We can choose to right that wrong.

We can make our state a place that accepts people for who they are, without cramming them into boxes that aren’t real or belief systems that disagree. We can choose freedom and safety.

“We” is a bit of a misnomer, though. There are 100 members in the state House and 50 in the state Senate. So, we need to change who “we” are.

I recognize I’m fairly secure as a bisexual guy on a college campus in Iowa City, home to Democrat Rep. Mary Mascher, who was the catalyst for spiking the conversion-therapy bill. But this isn’t about me.

The safety I feel as an adult in a LGBTQ-friendly area shouldn’t be a rarity in the Hawkeye State. Queer kids in Danville should feel as safe as those in Des Moines.

Every legislator of every party in every town must turn away half-measured rhetoric and wide-open loopholes. We must pursue real change.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.