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Transgender Iowans Speak Out After Governor Signs Bill Restricting Funding for Sex Reassignment Surgery

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill that stops the use of public funds for gender reassignment surgeries. Lawmakers say the budget bill will generate $1.9 billion for things like children's mental health and veteran care, but it also has lasting impacts to the LGBTQ community.

“I finally decided that the unhappiness I felt inside of myself and the unfulfilled of my life just became [too] strong. I knew I needed to make a decision before it really started to harm me inside,” Michelle Kell, a transgender woman living in Des Moines said.

Kell is a transgender woman, a disabled veteran, and someone who relies on Medicaid. She now won't be able to afford sex affirming surgery.

"What I felt is all of a sudden my life, my reality, my existence, was no longer valid,” Kell said.

The new law does not require Medicaid or any other insurance funded by taxpayers to cover gender reassignment surgery, calling it cosmetic.

“If you’re going to say, ‘well you’re having mental issues because you want to have sex affirming surgery,’ then it's not elective is it?” Kell questioned. “It’s something that I need to help me deal with depression, with my self image, with just how I live my everyday life.”

Back in March, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled Medicaid was required to cover reassignment surgery. State Republican Sen. Jacob Chapman said that could cost the state over $20 million.

“The reality is that I think Iowans feel very strongly that their taxpayer money should not be going towards these types of surgeries. If people want to have these surgeries, that's totally fine. That’s up to them to do that, but [Iowans] feel very strongly that it shouldn't be with taxpayer money,” Chapman said.

Kell says this is more than a money problem but also discrimination against gender identity.

“This was never about drinking fountains back then and it’s not about bathrooms right now. This is about pitting people against other citizens, their neighbors, their family, other people in their community based on complete ignorance and a lack of empathy and a lack of love,” Kell said.

The law also cuts off nearly $260,000 in federal money to Planned Parenthood of the Heartland for their sex education programs.

The ACLU of Iowa calls this law unconstitutional but couldn't confirm plans to file a lawsuit.

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