As anti-LGBTQ legislation proliferates, some Iowans depart


HR King
May 29, 2001
After seven years in Storm Lake High School, the tenure of two symbolic flags came to an end in May as language arts teacher Charlie Carter packed up the last of his belongings.

As his final day as a teacher in Iowa ended, he pulled the rainbow LGBTQ pride flag and its transgender pride companion off the wall, folding up the only signs of life left in the classroom.

Day in and day out, Carter had been that source of strength for LGBTQ students in the small northwest Iowa town, school staff said, taking their personal well-being as seriously as their final class presentations. Even in the last class group discussions, his first question was, “How are you feeling today?”


After the last bell had rung, the lifelong Iowan acknowledged how he felt as he prepared to leave his job and the state — tired. Alongside burnout as a teacher, the political climate of Iowa was one of the biggest reasons he decided to leave the state this year with his husband.

“When we got married (in 2010), Iowa seemed like a safe place. Iowa had protections for queer people, marriage equality — it felt like a place we were welcome,” he said. “That’s changed a lot in the last two years.”

Near the dawn of codified civil rights protections for LGBT Iowans in 2007 and the legalization of marriage equality in 2009, they felt the law had their back, even if not everyone did. But now, as the Iowa Legislature has been ramping up the number of anti-LGBTQ bills being considered, their sense of safety and freedom has worn thin.

In 2022, Iowa introduced 19 anti-transgender bills alone to the Legislature — a number matched only by Tennessee. After one of those bills banning transgender girls from playing girls sports became law in March, the English teacher and published author started to see the writing on the wall.

This isn’t happening solely in Iowa. The number of anti-LGBTQ bills in various states nationwide jumped from 35 in 2019 to more 250 this year, according to One Iowa, an LGBTQ advocacy organization.

As LGBTQ advocates say passage has emboldened social conservatives to pursue more aggressive legislation, Carter worries about bills such as Senate File 80 eventually becoming law, too. The 2021 bill, which didn’t leave its subcommittee, would have required schools to notify parents of transgender or nonbinary students who ask to be addressed by their correct pronouns.

After Carter recalled that after he was outed by a relative at 16, he found solace from his abusive, homophobic father through his English teacher.

“It’s just horrifying. I don’t think that I could live with myself if I was forced to comply or work in a system where we are harming kids,” Carter said.

After legislators proposed censorship of books with LGBTQ themes and said teachers like him have a “sinister agenda,” he chose to leave before his voice was personally silenced. He’s not the only lifelong Iowan leaving a home state — a state once seen as a leader in LGBTQ rights — he said he no longer recognizes.

Rachel Dreier, a transgender electrician from Ankeny, made plans to leave in July after 40 years in Iowa — her entire life. As with the Carters, her family chose Washington state.

After socially transitioning to live as a woman over the past five years, she fully came out as transgender earlier this year. She immediately quit her union job because of the “abhorrent” environment in her field, where she said transphobia is inescapable.

There are plenty of practical reasons for her to leave the state.

Her health insurance won’t cover her medical transition and gender-related care, and isn’t required to by law as it is in states such as Washington. She avoids public restrooms “to the point where I become physically ill” because of the fear she will be accosted.

Her son going to school in the suburbs endures a high level of hostility from other students for having a transgender parent — and he’s the only one with an out trans parent.

But Dreier said the political environment in Iowa for transgender women, in particular, has been hard on her psyche, even as she withstands the daily pressures of life.

“My identity is used as a weapon by an entire political party. Always (hearing) over and over again about how people who are trans are predators, that we’re stains on society,” she said. “They really strip your dignity. When every headline about trans issues is directed toward you, it’s hard to not take that personally.”

Some LGBTQ Iowans continue to stay, though — at least for now.

Gus Raymond will be taking over the Gay Straight Alliance at Storm Lake High School for Carter. As a substance abuse counselor and mental health professional, he hopes to rebuild a sense of community in his new role as the director of prevention and intervention.

After starting his transition seven years ago, the transgender man’s gender identity became a matter of public knowledge splashed across local newspapers. After he came out, he saw a dramatic drop in counseling clients.

“It’s not my nature to advocate this loudly, but I can’t seem to shut myself up,” he said. “Lots of (LGBTQ) people are put in that position. Your choices are to stay hidden, quietly leave, or make a big old fuss and fight for it.”

With fears of legislation he sees as increasingly likely to become law in today’s political climate, he waits for his own children to graduate high school before leaving Iowa.

With no other dedicated resources for LGBTQ youth or adults in rural areas such as Storm Lake, he said the school’s Gay Straight Alliance is the last line of defense for queer youth. But resources like that, he fears, soon could be disallowed or banned from schools.

“At this rate, it feels like a possibility and perhaps on the agenda,” said Raymond, who served on the board of One Iowa Action, an arm of the LGBTQ advocacy organization. “Every (legislative) session feels like another round of trauma as we fight these bills and wait with bated breath to hear from committees what will make it through the funnel.”

That exhaustion is a substantial factor in the Wisconsin native’s desire eventually to leave.



HR King
May 29, 2001

The real cost​

Beyond LGBTQ residents, business and tourism leaders have expressed palpable concerns about the effects posed by the proliferation of legislation that makes LGBTQ people feel unsafe or unwelcome in Iowa.

With a long-standing state labor shortage exacerbated by the pandemic, the Iowa Business Council has emphasized the need to make Iowa as accepting as possible.

“We need to make our state the most welcoming and inclusive place as possible for all Iowans and, hopefully, new Iowans that want to come into our state,” Executive Director Joe Murphy said in a March address tied to the Iowa Business Council’s annual report on Iowa’s competitiveness.

Legislation such as the new law banning transgender girls from playing girls sports does not help Iowa appear more welcoming, he said, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch.

In a May statement to The Gazette, Murphy said Iowa must embrace policies to make the state as inclusive and welcoming as possible to counteract sluggish population growth and its status as one of the least diverse states in the nation.

“Focusing on workforce inclusion and advancement is a fundamental element of corporate success and responsibility. It is also crucial for the long-term health of our state,” he said.

This legislation “may not be a catastrophe in the next year,” but effects will be seen over time as talent leaves Iowa, said Keenan Crow, director of policy and advocacy for One Iowa.

“I continuously talk to business leaders who say they are struggling to attract and retain incredible talent,” said Courtney Reyes, One Iowa executive director. “Yes, this law (affects) trans kids, but trans kids have families, and those families are (companies’) employees.”

In tourism, offices such as Think Iowa City may encounter new challenges as they highlight areas like Iowa City to LGBTQ tourists in an increasingly red state. LGBTQ tourism efforts at their office started with marketing Iowa City as a wedding destination for same-sex couples after Iowa became the third state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2009.

Today, over half their travel writer budget is dedicated to LGBTQ marketing for a population that has more disposable income and tends to spend more money than the average tourist, according to Nick Pfeiffer, vice president of public affairs for the office.

Selling Iowa to them involves overcoming perceptions the state is just cornfields with nothing to do.

“The LGBTQ population won’t think people like them are here. (They might think) that this is a red state that’s going to overlook them or be unkind to them,” Pfeiffer said.

Their messaging focuses on making those travelers feel welcome by focusing on Iowa City’s history of diversity, with one of the longest running Pride celebrations in the country.

“The stories, history, hospitality and people of the Iowa City area are far too compelling to allow this legislation to overshadow our message of our community as a welcoming and accepting place,” Pfeiffer said.

‘Common sense’​

Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of the Family Leader, a socially conservative organization, said the law passed in March was a “common sense” issue rooted in fairness.

The Family Leader started to advocate for the new law when other schools approached them about the possibility that “a boy would compete in a girl’s athletic competition because of saying they’re transgender.”

Vander Plaats and others who have advocated for the law have not cited specific examples in Iowa where transgender girls have dominated athletic competitions or displaced cisgender girls, referring to girls whose identity corresponds with their sex at birth.

Vander Plaats said the issue of transgender girls playing in girls sports is directly related to the legalization of same-sex marriage, when he believes foundational “laws of nature” were eroded.

He called the new law a “net positive all the way around, culturally,” and did not anticipate any negative consequences.

“That victory was celebrated by the vast majority of Iowans,” he said.

Several state senators and House members — all Republicans — were sought for comment on various pieces of LGBTQ-related legislation they’ve proposed or for which they’ve advocated. None replied.


As LGBTQ Iowans look for a future in which they can exist comfortably in Iowa’s current political climate, there are few concrete solutions.

Raymond, of the Gay Straight Alliance, fears the literal loss of queer kids, who are four times as likely as their peers to attempt suicide. He said relationship building in the Legislature will be key to survival.

“Across Iowa, we’ve learned that advocating from a demanding, bully-ish type of standpoint doesn’t get anything done,” he said. “Iowa is a state with values that require relationship building. … Clearly this is not going to be a quick fix.”

Through events such as small workshops — creating personal bonds, telling personal stories and demonstrating the negative impact to young children — appears to be the only way to avoid more anti-LGBTQ laws, he said.

In the next legislative session, One Iowa anticipates bills to restrict inclusive curriculum in schools and restrictions on public accommodations for gay or transgender people. The advocacy organization hopes to build bridges with Republicans who recognize that “discrimination isn’t good,” Crow said.

They also hope supportive business leaders will speak up more with voices that legislators may take more seriously.


Feb 20, 2006
"Vander Plaats said the issue of transgender girls playing in girls sports is directly related to the legalization of same-sex marriage, when he believes foundational “laws of nature” were eroded.

He called the new law a “net positive all the way around, culturally,” and did not anticipate any negative consequences..."

Would love to hear more about the foundational laws of nature and how they apply to our constitution.

Common sense says the values Christian's believe America was founded on are inherent in all men and are found within every religion. Christianity doesn't hold the patents on those values.

Nothing hates our constitution and country more than Christian national fascism.


HR King
Gold Member
Jan 30, 2008
Small government, and the rights of the individual turned into a never ending culture war. Ask any exec in iowa how hard it is to get talented people to move to Iowa. It’s getting harder and harder.
One of my wife’s co-workers and her partner packed up and moved to Colorado. Both native Iowans. With them went a law degree and an advanced medical degree. One of my best friends from high school does high level pharmaceutical research. He has a PhD and was recruited to come back to IC and take over a lab in the building the Carver’s donated a pile of money to. He passed. Three of his top assistants are gay and said they wouldn’t move to Iowa. He wanted to come back to help with his aging parents, but losing three researchers would have set his project back a good ways.


Apr 28, 2015
Iowa City
I can point to 2016 as the year Iowa trended the wrong way. Trump wins the state but more importantly the Democrats lose the state Senate and the moderating force in statewide politics is gone.
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HR Heisman
May 24, 2011
Protecting girls sports and involving parents is not "anti" anything. It's a sham.

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