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(Thursday) I got onto the elevator at the Capitol, expecting to leave, like normal. The elevator stopped at the next floor, and three students got on. They were crying and said they had been kicked out of the Capitol for who they were. This seemed so mind-blowing, that I thought there must be some miscommunication. Pages had been sent home, so maybe in light of COVID-19, visitors were being asked to leave.

I stepped out of the elevator with them, and it became apparent that the entire group was, indeed being asked to leave, while other groups were going about their business. I approached a public safety official who looked like he might be in charge and asked what was happening. He told me that there had been three occurrences of kids using the restroom that matched their gender identity, that the students were told they couldn’t, or that they had to go to the family restroom on the third floor. He also stated that at least one kid had a panic attack, that this was a building disturbance, and that the entire group was ejected from the Capitol.

I proceeded out to the front steps to find out more and be there for the kids. At least a quarter of the group was crying. They came to the Capitol as citizens of the State of Iowa to learn about the process, and were subjected to State Troopers kicking them out. You can imagine how frightening that would be for a middle schooler, or even a high schooler.

Several Democratic Representatives including Minority Leader Todd Prichard as well as Senate Minority Leader Janet Peterson came to check on the situation and speak with students.

At one point, Minority Leader Prichard, in a very calm manner, attempted to speak with two troopers because there were still at least two kids missing and still in the building. One teacher said all of her students were missing. No teachers or Iowa Safe Schools staff were allowed back in to round up remaining students. Leader Prichard attempted to de-escalate as the troopers became agitated. One trooper walked away, and I witnessed the other say, “You need to show some RESPECT.” He kept his hand on his taser for the rest of the conversation. I was a little scared, honestly.

If two representatives, including the House Minority Leader were spoken to this way, I cannot imagine how the kids were spoken to and how scary that must have been.

Iowa Civil Rights Code has protected gender identity for 13 years, and this includes using the restroom matching one’s gender identity.

These students’ civil rights were violated today and there is no excuse for how this played out.

Leadership has requested an incident report and I will be reviewing this. I will be requesting a meeting with Public Safety and the Governor. This occurrence indicates that law enforcement working in the Capitol have not been trained on civil rights and this is unacceptable. This should NOT have happened today and I will do everything in my power to make sure it never happens again.

Author: Liz Bennett