Opinion | Trans students aren’t an academic debate

Trans students and community members deserve to feel safe in Iowa City.


Avi Lapchick

A protester stands on the intersection of Jefferson Street and North Madison Street during the lecture organized by the University of Iowa Chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom for conservative political commentator Matt Walsh’s “What is a Woman?” documentary held at the Iowa Memorial Union on Wednesday, April 19, 2023.

Yasmina Sahir, Opinions Columnist

Transgender people deserve to feel safe at the University of Iowa and in Iowa City. They deserve autonomy over their bodies and lives and shouldn’t have to tolerate hateful remarks and opinions that invalidate their experiences.

As an ally, I attended a protest to support transgender community members that coincided with Matt Walsh’s transphobic lecture on April 19. Being aware of the privileges I held in that space as a cisgender woman, I was shaking at remarks from lecture attendees in the Iowa Memorial Union who yelled they wanted to sterilize or harm us in other ways.

Articles have already been written about Walsh’s presentations, but I felt something was lacking from these discussions: the voices of transgender and LGBTQ+ students who are being forced into debates on their existence and validity.

At the protest, I heard stories about instances that left people terrified of what the night might turn into. Even with threats of harm, Walsh’s lecture continued as planned.

But these threats did not stop a community from coming together with support from their allies. In the middle of Hubbard Park and Madison Street, people danced and chanted through the night. As the sounds of band instruments filled the air, I felt a bit of renewed hope for a better tomorrow.

UI graduate student Amanda Moy attended the protest as an ally of the LGBTQ+ community.

“It’s important to take a stand because trans people deserve empathy, compassion, and rights,” Moy said. “I lost my brother because of transphobia, and I don’t want anyone else to experience that.”

UI third-year student Vicki Thiruthani said as a transgender individual that it is frustrating that students had to protest Walsh’s visit in the first place.

“The UI allows these things to happen. Allowing this behavior shows that the UI sides with Young Americans for Freedom.” Thiruthani said, “[The] UI will continue to fund YAF and allow them on campus while we continue to feel unsafe.”

Hannah Johnson, a fourth-year UI student, co-authored one petition against the lecture.

“I thought Iowa City was a safe space when I moved here,” Johnson said. “People in my hometown are filled with hatred and close-mindedness, and I want nothing more than for young students in town to see what the UI student body cares about.”

Several Change.org petitions against Walsh’s visit circulated and collected thousands of signatures.

“Our feelings and demands were shared with UI leadership and had 4,000 signatures,” UI fourth-year student Tess Paxon said. “The answer was clear. They would not be sending love to the queer and trans communities. The absence of an answer speaks louder than any message UI could have sent.”

Free speech is not the issue here. Safety for trans students, staff, and Iowa City residents is what should matter most. Silence from the UI is a clear choice to uphold ideologies that harm anyone who falls outside the identity binaries our society has created.

Danielle Jackson, a UI third-year student who is transgender, said it is important to make sure everyone has a voice.

“When groups get silenced, that’s when they get discriminated against,” Jackson said.  “We need to speak out to make sure we aren’t silenced or eradicated. People need to hear us and see that we’re here. We exist.”

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.