Iowa's 'bathroom bill' for transgender students is law. How schools say they'll react:

For transgender students like Ames High School freshman Min Williamson, Thursday marked the first day Iowa required them to use public school bathrooms that don't align with their gender identity.

Williamson had been feeling more confident about socially presenting as a woman and using women’s restrooms.

Then came Wednesday, when Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill restricting which public school bathrooms transgender students and adults can use. At the same time, Reynolds signed a bill banning Iowa doctors from providing gender-affirming care to transgender children.

"My trust that the government will respect me as a human and do so in the future is dwindling rapidly," Williamson said.

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Senate File 482 prohibits people from entering a school restroom or changing room that does not align with their sex at birth. That means a transgender girl may not use the girls restroom, and a transgender boy is barred from the boys locker room.

Students will need parental consent to request a special accommodation, such as using a faculty or single-occupancy restroom. Schools are not permitted to grant transgender students access to a multiple-occupancy restroom that does not align with their birth sex.

The UCLA School of Law's Williams Institute — a center for research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy — in September 2020 estimated 9.5% of American youth ages 13 to 17 were LGBTQ — nearly 2 million youth.

That included an estimated 19,000 LGBTQ youth in Iowa ages 13-17, about 800 of whom are transgender.

Across Iowa, school districts have pledged to comply with the new law — even as several, including Des Moines, Iowa City and Ames public schools — have also said they will continue to support LGBTQ students.

Des Moines Public Schools' policy, as well as those at state and federal levels, prohibits "discrimination and harassment on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation," interim Superintendent Matt Smith said in a statement following Wednesday’s bill signing.

"As a public school district, DMPS is required to comply with the law, including those over which people may have strong feelings or be deeply divided," Smith said. “However, nothing has changed in our commitment to welcome and serve our LGBTQ+ population with respect and dignity."

A poster is held at the Iowa Queer Student Alliance "We say gay" rally inside the Iowa State Capitol on Wednesday, March 8, 2023.
A poster is held at the Iowa Queer Student Alliance "We say gay" rally inside the Iowa State Capitol on Wednesday, March 8, 2023.

How Iowa districts say they will comply with bathroom law

DMPS schools officials were finalizing guidelines and planned to meet with school representatives Thursday, officials said in a release.

“Serving the most diverse community in Iowa, Des Moines Public Schools is committed to providing a safe and supportive learning and working environment for all students and staff," Smith said.

Earlier this week, Urbandale Community School District stated it would revisit its policy on "transgender and students nonconforming to gender role stereotypes" once the bill was signed to ensure it is in compliance. That policy states that "transgender students will not be required to access and use only the locker rooms and other changing areas that correspond to the biological sex that the student was assigned at birth."

When the policy "was being drafted, some parents raised concerns and requested access to a single-stall restroom," said Urbandale schools spokesperson Dena Claire. "These requests were granted."

Ankeny schools spokesperson Samantha Aukes said Thursday the district is required to comply with the restroom bill, which took effect immediately.

She said the district is working with staff, students and families to ensure understanding and compliance with the law, and officials will create a plan for students and families who make individual requests while aligning with the law.

"Ankeny Community School District is committed to ensuring all students have the opportunity to learn, grow and thrive in an environment that fosters inclusion and support," Aukes said.

Every school in Ankeny has at least one private, single-user restroom.

Van Meter Community School District "has several family-style or individual restrooms throughout the building that provide more privacy as needed," Superintendent Deron Durflinger said.

Officials have not received any complaints about students using bathrooms that match their gender identity, rather than their sex assigned at birth, Durflinger said.

The Linn-Mar school district said in a statement it will comply with the law, but school principals will review parent or guardian-signed written requests for greater privacy.

“The district is committed to responding to all requests in a manner that respects and honors the dignity of each individual,” adding that “protections against discrimination, bullying and harassment on the basis of sex or gender identity remain in full force and effect.”

West Des Moines Community School District spokesperson Laine Mendenhall-Buck declined to answer questions from the Register earlier this week and did not respond to a follow-up message Thursday.

A handful of school districts in the days leading to the bill signing voiced their support for LGBTQ students, but some did not provide further information about how the law will impact students in their districts.

Ames and Iowa City school districts each posted on social media a picture depicting rainbow colors and the words "Protect LGBTQ+ youth."

"As the Ames Community School District, we are concerned for the wellbeing of our LGBTQ+ students and staff in our community whose voices may feel forgotten or lost," a Monday Facebook post stated. "To these beloved members of our school community, we want you to know that we see you, you are loved, and we are making clear our ongoing support."

However, on Thursday, Ames schools spokesperson Amy DeLashmutt did not answer questions related to how the school district would handle the implementation of the bill beyond saying the district would "comply with the law."

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Iowa City Community School District stressed its ongoing support for its LGBTQ+ students and staff in an Instagram post.

"We are committed to ensuring every member of our school community feels valued, safe, respected and welcome regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation," a March 8 Instagram post states.

District officials were working on guidelines that comply with the law change, said Superintendent Matt Degner in a message to families Thursday.

"We remain committed to the amazing diversity of our students and staff, which makes our district great. We will continue to look for ways to bring our community together rather than letting it be divided," Degner said.

Degner also noted that federal law and Iowa City Community School District policies "prohibit discrimination and harassment on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation."

"We will strongly enforce all anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies to protect all students and staff," he said.

Lawmakers: Districts still must provide accommodations

School districts are still required to provide accommodations for transgender students, lawmakers say.

“I don’t think (it) should be missed, that school districts do need to make an effort to provide accommodations,” House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, told reporters Thursday. “I think a lot of school districts have already been doing that, but also I think that they need to have some guidance from the state.”

The law went into effect immediately because school officials requested guidance, Grassley said.

The law creates a process for individuals to complain if they believe a school is breaking the law. If someone believes a school is allowing people to use facilities that do not align with their birth sex, that person may file a written complaint to the school. The school has three days to address the violation.

If the school does not act, that citizen could file a complaint with the attorney general. The attorney general would investigate and, if necessary, pursue legal action.

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, called the bill signing “cynical” and said families in Iowa “woke up heartbroken” when they learned the measure had become law.

“Imagine being a kid who has identified as a girl throughout elementary or middle school who woke up this morning and found out that now all of a sudden they’re less safe at school than they were when they went to school yesterday,” she said.

House Democrats will fight for transgender students’ rights, Konfrst said.

“I have a message first for Iowa kids, for trans kids across the state: You belong here, you are welcome and you deserve to be safe at school,” she said. “You deserve the same rights as every other kid in the classroom.”

Gender-neutral bathrooms reduce stress, trans student says

Williamson the Ames freshman, said she was in the process of starting hormone replacement therapy through a gender clinic. That's not happening now because of the new law banning gender-affirming care for trans minors.

That means Williamson will struggle through more body and gender dysphoria and "overall mental pain," she said, with little hope of change before she's 18.

The bathroom ban is "ridiculous," said Rayla Madsen, an Ames High School sophomore who is trans.

"For a party that advertises wanting to have little to no government in our lives, they sure are interested in the genitals of minors," Madsen said.

She said trans people using the bathroom that aligns with their gender at birth could make the other people in that restroom uncomfortable, and a bathroom ban will harm people who are not trans if someone still accuses them of being in the "wrong" restroom.

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Madsen said her school fortunately has gender-neutral bathrooms. Without them, she and other students would experience unnecessary stress, or have to wait to use the restroom until they get home.

The law is not a "magical barrier" against predators who would want to cause harm, Madsen said.

Register reporter Katie Akin contributed to this story.

Samantha Hernandez covers education for the Register. Reach her at (515) 851-0982 or Follow her on Twitter at @svhernandez or Facebook at

Phillip Sitter covers education for the Ames Tribune, including Iowa State University and PreK-12 schools in Ames and elsewhere in Story County. Phillip can be reached via email at He is on Twitter @pslifeisabeauty.

Chris Higgins covers the eastern suburbs for the Register. Reach him at or 515-423-5146 and follow him on Twitter @chris_higgins_.

How to get help

There are several state and national resources for those experiencing a mental health crisis, as well as resources for family or friends who may be concerned about a loved one.

  • The Trevor Project provides crisis counseling for young LGBTQ people. All conversations are confidential. Counselors are available for free 24/7, by texting “START” to 678-678, calling 1-866-488-7386 or at

  • Your Life Iowa — call 855-581-8111 or text 855-895-8398 for free 24/7, confidential support. Other resources are available online at There also is a live chat function on the website.

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — Dial 988 for free 24/7, confidential support in English or Spanish. Other resources are available online at

  • Foundation 2 Crisis Center — call 800-332-4224 from anywhere in Iowa for free, 24/7 confidential support. Other resources are available online at

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: DMPS, Iowa schools vow to comply with new transgender bathroom law