DES MOINES, Iowa– In 2009, Iowa became the first Midwest state to legalize same-sex marriage.
Nearly a decade later, some Iowans still feel like they are fighting an uphill battle.
The halls of Norwalk High School are loud. Away from that noise, junior Jaden Deals takes to his trumpet.
“I would get angry, but I would be angrier at myself for letting it happen,” Jaden Deal said. “Mentally I would be taking a test and would see some kids out of the corner of my eye snicker at me”.
The snickering wasn’t because of the instrument he plays or how he looks.
“I came out when I was 11, so I spent my last year of grade school losing all the guy friends I had,” Deal said.
Jaden said he received little to no support at school and teachers were not quick to react to the bullying.
“I would be in classes and kids would make fun of me for it. Teachers would know that stuff is going on and they would say cut it out, but it really just kept going some days,” Deal said.
Deal turned to Joshua Merritt, LGBTQ Youth Advocate for Iowa Safe Schools.
“I worked with a school recently who they’ve got the bathroom, the names and all the pronouns down, but it was more how do we intervene in the moment when bullying instances happen against LGBTQ students,” Merritt said.
Iowa Safe Schools is a non-profit that works with LGBTQ youth, educators and parents. It was founded in 2002.
“Using literature in the classroom to promote and embrace all identities is one book called Introducing Teddy. It’s about a teddy bear who is trans. The book never mentions trans and gender, but it’s just one day Teddy wants to wear a bow tie instead of a bow,” Merritt said.
“We don’t get to make up those rules. The court doesn’t get to decide that,” Pastor Michael Demastus said. “In fact, that’s the silliest way to decide something.”
Pastor Michael Demastus preaches at Fort Des Moines Church of Christ. His message: love people, God, and be kind to everyone.
“I believe that it is always wrong, it is always wicked to disparage a person. Personally, we never are given the right to treat another human being created in the image of God disrespectfully,” Demastus said.
The church is clearly conservative. Back in 2012, while Jaden was being bullied for coming out, the church’s message was “gay is not ok,” and it drew protest.
“I have come under fire for messages of marriage. I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, not a man and a man or a woman and a woman. It is what God says it is,” Demastus said.
Pastor Demastus says he doesn’t hate gay people, but rather the physical sin that comes along with it.
“It’s a dangerous way to live if you look at the statistics of men who die early because of diseases that can come on with just living that lifestyle, it’s a hard lifestyle,” Demastus said.
Demastus welcomes homosexuals into the congregation and believes those who do will change their ways.
“A person that lives that way and chooses to come in here to want to learn about God and worship about God would be compelled to ultimately not stay in that condition,” Demastus said.
West Des Moines city officials said, regardless of religious or personal beliefs, all cities must serve all residents equally.
Nine Iowa cities use the municipal quality index. The MEI rates cities on how well they perform on human rights. Back in 2016, West Des Moines scored among the lowest, 42 out of 100 with a zero in areas like municipality services. The MEI found the city did not provide services for LGBTQ youth, homeless, people with HIV or AIDS, and transgender individuals.
In 2017, West Des Moines spent nearly $3,400 of tax payer dollars to improve its rank, starting with law enforcement.
“Health care in our first responders, if someone were to have an accident. If you are a trans male and you have belly pain, it’s important for them to have an understanding on the types of hormones that are taken, so it could be a life or death concern,” Jane Pauba-Dodge, HR Director for West Des Moines said.
Jaden thinks Iowa in general, he wants to be a part of the solution and hopes one day his voice will be heard loud and clear. He says he hopes to one day work at the state capitol, where right now Iowa legislators are fighting for LGBTQ rights. On the list is banning conversion therapy, which is used to change a person’s gender identity. The APA has already banned it, citing the effects can lead to depression and suicide.
Expanding transgender hate crimes to include not only sexual orientation but also gender identity is also on the list.
Democrat House Representative Liz Bennett says one in four transgender people will be targeted for bias-driven assault in their lifetime.
“It’s a political issue. Protecting Iowans from violence should not be a partisan issue, this should be something we can all recognize the statistics on. We should recognize transgender Iowans are targeted,” Bennett said.
Republican lobbyists who oppose same-sex marriage were not able to comment on any of these pieces of legislature.