On Saturday, June 16, the Iowa Democratic Party State Convention stood strong and unanimouslypassed the resolution on gender identity and gender expression nondiscrimination. You can find the full text of the resolution here.
The Convention body officially took a bold progressive position on transgender and gender non-binary equality.
The Iowa Democratic Party officially supports the following:
the passage of laws and policies protecting the rights, legal benefits, and privileges of people of all gender identities and expressions;
full access to employment, medical and mental health care, housing, education, and restrooms regardless of gender identity and expression;
encourages legal and social recognition of transgender and gender non-binary individuals consistent with their gender identity and expression, including access to identity documents consistent with their gender identity and expression which do not involuntarily disclose their status as gender non-binary or transgender;
calls upon public and private insurers to cover gender transition treatments for appropriately evaluated individuals; and
amending the Charter and Bylaws of the Democratic Party of the United States to ensure the full inclusion and non-discrimination of gender non-binary and transgender people so that they are not forced to choose between a binary gender of man or woman to run for Party offices such as State Central Committee or Democratic National Committee person.
The Convention also amended the Party Constitution to include all persons regardless of gender identity or expression. Specifically, the Convention amended the State Party Constitution to provide for the election of non-binary, agender, and genderqueer persons to Party offices.
Before the amendments, only people who identify as man or woman were allowed to be elected to Party offices. This does stand in opposition to the Charter and Bylaws of the Democratic Party of the United States.
Additionally, the Convention adopted a platform that endorses LGBTQIA+ and progressive issues.
The following are the progressive platform planks that were adopted at the Convention:
Paris Climate Accords
“living wage” replacing minimum wage
expanding Davis-Bacon Act to include publicly-funded projects
21st Century Glass-Steagall Act
national universal basic income
eliminating Social Security wage cap
taxing high-frequency trading
breaking up “too-big-to-fail” banks
minimum 6% Supplemental State Aid (SSA) for PreK-12 education
post-secondary programs tuition and debt free for at least 4 years, including vocational programs, regent state universities, and community colleges
state mandates requiring all public schools include instruction in physical, mental health, and sex-positive and comprehensive and research-based sexual and health programs (including LGBTQIA+)
100% tax-deductible interest on post-secondary loans
automatic and same-day voter registration
an updated version of the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, restricting: silencers and suppressors, bump-stocks, high capacity magazines, and fragmentary-rounds
mandatory safety and proficiency training
firearm transfer universal background checks
state and federal DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors), DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans), DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), TVDL (Temporary Visitor’s Driver’s License), and UAFA (Uniting American Families Act)
undocumented immigrant Driver’s License and vehicle registration
comprehensive, universal, single-payer healthcare for all
medical end-of-life options
full-service VA healthcare for LGBTQIA+
equal rights for LGBTQIA+ residents in all areas
protection of all genders’ rights from discrimination/harassment/retaliation
expanding gender options, including opt-out, on government forms
ending violence against woman and sexual/gender minorities, including genital mutilation/honor killings/forced marriage/rape/property confiscation
equal human rights/health/welfare for Palestinians and Israelis
right to return/just compensation for displaced Palestinians
rights of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions)
Palestinian statehood/UN membership
peaceful efforts to achieve separate secure Israeli and Palestinian states respecting the rights of all persons
discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people
sex-assignment surgeries at birth for intersex people
religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws, including LGBTQIA+ protections
Iowa has a long history of leading the nation on social issues and civil rights including interracial marriage, admitting women to the University of Iowa, the right to free speech (e.g., John and Mary Beth Tinker in their protest of the Vietnam War resulting in Tinker v. Des Moines), Senator Tom Harkin fighting for the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Democratic Majority General Assembly amending the Iowa Civil Rights Code to ban discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, and the Iowa Supreme Court unanimouslyruling that civil marriage is a right regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation.
In Iowa, we have made great progress on civil rights FOR ALL, including for transgender and gender non-binary people. It is illegal here in Iowa to discriminate against transgender and gender non-binary people in the areas of employment, housing, education, public accommodations and services, and credit practices. This is in addition to civil marriage.
Nevertheless, and unfortunately, we (transgender and gender non-binary people) still face serious discrimination and stigma in our daily lives. Especially when it comes to accessing health care and updating our identity documents. Frequently we are denied appropriate gender transition-related medical and mental health care despite evidence that appropriately evaluated individuals benefit from gender transition treatments.
Additionally, we face harassment and discrimination when it comes to using a restroom. However, contrary to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC) which has consistently held that people must be permitted to use the facilities in accordance with gender identity, a judge here in Iowa ruled that the Iowa Civil Rights Codedoes not require allowing a transgender person to use the facilities that match their gender identity.
Therefore, we have work to do and Iowa Democrats are in a position once again to lead the nation.
the passage of laws and policies protecting the rights of people of all gender identities and expressions,
full access to medical and mental health care and full access to restrooms regardless of gender identity and expression,
legal and social recognition of transgender and gender non-binary individuals consistent with their gender identity and expression, and
full access to identity documents consistent with their gender identity and expression that do not involuntarily disclose their status as transgender or gender non-binary.
Furthermore, that we support amending the Charter and Bylaws of the Democratic Party of the United States to ensure the full inclusion and non-discrimination of gender nonbinary and transgender people so that we (gender non-binary and transgender people) are not forced to choose between a binary gender of man or woman to run for Party offices such as State Central Committeeperson or Democratic National Committeeperson.
A child lays in a hospital bed with tubes running into her allowing medications to flow into her. This child is very sick, and the doctors do not know what she is suffering from or how to treat it. Her family is there waiting, not knowing what to do or how to help their daughter.
After hours of waiting, the many doctor’s visits, and multiple hospital stays they have an answer to what their daughter has and a possible treatment. The doctors informed her family that she has cystinosis, a metabolic disease that causes cells to crystallize causing early cell death. The disease slowly destroys the organs in the body including the kidneys, liver, eyes, muscles and brain. They tell them that their child has an incurable disease that will eventually take her life.
I am that child. I, Mika Jayne Covington, am the daughter that lives with that fatal illness. I am 25 years old and still living thanks to the doctors and researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). I am still alive.
Cystinosis has been a struggle, and it has been a challenge for me including those who care about me. Yes, perhaps I’m a survivor. However, I’m still living with it every day. There is no break, and I do fall apart from time to time because of it.
When I was a kid, I was always seen as different. Every day, I would go to the nurse’s office to take medications. Many days I had bad breath and body odor from my medications, and I felt sick to my stomach, which usually ended in me vomiting.
Elementary and middle school were particularly challenging for me because of this. Not to forget all the doctor appointments and hospitalizations that I had which caused me to miss a lot of school. Growing up with cystinosis is challenging and quite the journey.
Cystinosis is not the only thing that defines me. I am more than my diagnosis. I am a progressive democrat, a feminist, a human rights activist, an organizer, and a student, beyond all of this, I am a person.
However, cystinosis is part of everything. It is with me every day and intersects everything I do. Because I must take medications daily and I must make sure that I have health insurance no matter where I go to school or work. I even cannot leave for a weekend vacation without packing medications, and it is not just a couple, it is thirty different drugs. Because of them, I am reminded of the disease every several hours.
In the second grade, there was a boy in my class; we would go to his house and play games together. We frequently played at school during our recesses. I was drawn to him. He always stood up for me against the big bad bullies. He would hug me and tell me, “Don’t cry, I won’t let’em hurt you.”
At that age, I did not think that I was different or see that there was anything wrong with me. I had no idea what being gay was. I was me, and he was my best friend, that was all I saw back then.
Later, my family moved to Wahoo, Nebraska and I never spoke to him again. I was in the third grade when I first heard the word ‘gay.’ I did not understand what it meant and I was too busy playing and being a kid to worry about it. Until my classmates started calling me gay and a sissy because they saw me as weak and I did not do or like what most of the other boys did. There were also these feelings that I did not quite understand. I thought that they were normal, so I did not pay much attention to them.
I was busy trying to be ‘normal’ while living with cystinosis. Taking medications and dealing with side effects. Making up school work from missed classes because of hospital stays and doctor’s appointments. I just did not have the time or want to deal with another thing that made me seem different from everyone else.
Around the end of third grade, someone called me a ‘faggot.’ I cried that day for hours. I could not understand what it meant but knew that it hurt me that people would call me these names. I began to realize that I was different and I had no idea what they saw in me that was bad or wrong with me.
It was in the fourth grade when I began having sexual feelings and started to think that I might be gay. I tried to push them away and tell myself, “No, it’s wrong to think like that.” I believed that I was sick and depression set in. I had no idea what to do. I wanted to go back to second grade and be with my friend; he would make all the bad things go away. I tried to pretend that I was sick all the time so I would not have to go to school or be able to leave early to get away from the bullying.
In 2010, my senior year in high school, I turned 19 and lost my health insurance. In Nebraska, a person becomes a legal adult at age 19 and per Medicaid rules, one must re-apply for coverage. I did just that and was denied. I was told that I was not eligible for coverage for having a pre-existing condition (cystinosis). I tried applying four times with the same results.
Thus, while attempting to be a regular high school student and completing my senior year, I needed to figure out how in the world I was going to get health insurance. I needed the insurance to cover all my medications that kept me alive and keeps the disease at bay.
At this point, I was working at J.C. Penney, but not nearly making enough money to cover private health insurance. Not to forget, I was beginning my process of coming out as transgender. And finding my political affiliation as a Democratic Socialist.
While many of my friends were talking, and laughing about who they were dating, talking about what college they planned to attend, and what classes they would take, I wasn’t, no not me. They made me feel angry, hurt, and mad at the world and God. Nevertheless, I understood that perhaps I saw the world a bit more clearly than they did. I guess they all may have made me stronger, and that they made me into the person I am today. I was even forced to make sacrifices that I did not want to make, but I knew I needed to so that it would protect me and get things done.
With no avenue to appeal their decision, I decided to focus on graduating high school and going to college until my scheduled trip to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that fall. I went most of that year without any medications, which resulted in me going into end stage renal or kidney failure and it probably cut a few years off my life. I went from needing a kidney transplant in 2-4 years to needing one in six months to one year. If I had had health insurance and access to the medications, I might have been able to wait until after college to have a kidney transplant.
After I had graduated from high school, I knew I wanted to contribute to society in any way possible and work to create the change I seek. Unfortunately, having cystinosis and going on dialysis forced me to stop working. To stay busy, I volunteered on issue and political campaigns, such as fighting for full federal LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual) equality, voting rights, and healthcare for all. I am passionate about these because I look forward to a future where everyone has the right to vote, has full and equal human rights, and access to high-quality health care. For me, these causes are important because I know first-hand how not having access to health care can cause a chronic disease to get worse like mine did.
In 2011, I faced more challenges that made it more difficult for me to attempt to put cystinosis in a box as just one detail of who I am because my kidneys failed. I would need a kidney transplant or start dialysis. Therefore, my doctors put me on hemodialysis and at the time I did not have an organ donor.
Hemodialysis is a form of kidney dialysis that can be done with a catheter (a plastic tube) placed in the chest into the superior vena cava (a very large vein right about the heart) that is used to cycle blood into a machine that cleans it and returns it. I was on this form of dialysis every other day for four hours in a medical center for about ten months.
I knew that I would need to look for a kidney donor because I could not indefinitely live on dialysis. After a couple of months of searching, I found one, and her name was Erika von Kampen. She was a match, and we had the transplant scheduled at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (Nebraska Medicine). Unfortunately, the operation was unable to happen there, and I had to move on.
Therefore, in February 2012, I switched to peritoneal dialysis. This form of dialysis uses my body, the peritoneal membrane in my abdomen as a filter to clear wastes and extra fluid from my body and returns electrolytes.
I was on peritoneal dialysis for fifteen months. This form can also be continuous, which I did go to when I had a cycler so that it could cycle the fluid at night while I slept. I was on it from 2012 to May 30, 2013, when I received a kidney transplant from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC).
Sophomore year at Wahoo High School was sort of the best and worst year I had ever had in Wahoo. I decided that I could be ‘normal.’ I worked to open up to people and put myself out there. I just wanted to be like everyone else, to be normal. I decided that to be normal, and I should find a girlfriend. My cousin had a friend who I also knew, and we had several things in common. I asked her and my cousin to go to the homecoming dance. I thought it would be a safe way to attempt to belong.
New Year’s Eve, I was with my older sister and cousin, we were celebrating the promise of the New Year, and I told them that I was indeed bisexual. Both my cousin and sister said, “Yea, we know.” They poked fun for a bit, in a loving way, and we continued chatting as we always had. I finally felt like I could be myself.
The next day was a new year; I felt it was time to live openly, and I experienced firsthand what living honestly meant. Including the pain of being different in a small town high school in the United States, and especially in Nebraska where it was legal to bully and harass a fellow student based on their sexual orientation. To this day, there are no state or federal laws banning bullying or harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
As an openly ‘gay’ student, I experienced bullying and harassment in a new way, but I decided I would have to live with what was thrown at me. Soon the bullying escalated to the point where I needed to leave Wahoo. I became very depressed and angry. I didn’t completely understand why I felt that way. Especially since I just came out and from my research, I should be feeling better. Nevertheless, I didn’t feel any better. I still felt wrong in my body.
One Summer day, after watching my older sister have her nails done, something happened. It was like a light went on. I started to wonder what it would be like to have my nails painted. Thus, when I went back to school a couple of my friends, and I painted my nails, and I liked it.
Soon, I felt more comfortable and started looking at expanding my gender expression. I looked at wearing tighter jeans from Hot Topic. I knew that guys were not ‘supposed’ to paint their nails or wear so-called ‘girly’ clothes. However, I wanted to wear them, and they made me feel more safe and comfortable. They also scared me to death. Then, I became active in other things to express myself such as choir, drama, and activism.
As I’ve said, cystinosis is only a part of my life, and peritoneal dialysis changed my life to make it a smaller part of it. It was like I had some of my freedom again. I was able to follow my passion and fight for what I believed in again. I was able to become active in politics, and I met many wonderful people including Amber Bordolo a Field Organizer with Organizing for America (OFA).
While I went to college at Iowa Western Community College (IWCC), working on my Associate’s degree in psychology, Amber invited me to a couple of her events. I finally attended one of them, became friends with her, and she recommended that I apply to become a Summer Fellow (intern) at OFA. Little did I know how big of an impact that was going to have on my life.
In the beginning, I worked to organize house parties and other events to get supporters together, fired up and ready to go to work to get the President re-elected. Soon, I moved into a different stage of the campaign where I made many calls to convince voters to support him. Additionally, on the campaign, I had the chance to go to Des Moines, Iowa to see the President speak to a crowd of supporters at the Iowa State Fairgrounds where I was able to stand on stage behind President Barack Obama.
While I worked with OFA, I considered going to UIHC to get on their transplant list and perhaps have a living donor transplant.
In September of 2012, I went to Iowa City, Iowa for medical tests and evaluations at UIHC Transplant Center to see about being placed on their list. I passed and was placed. Additionally, I went out to find a living donor. This included me sharing my story and health condition with people. Then I sent out packets of information and forms to eight individuals who were interested. However, only three were returned to the transplant center, and one was a match, but had complications and could not donate. I had to make a choice, spend more time sending out packets or see if Erika was still willing to donate her kidney.
I was lucky because Erika was still interested in donating. Once she filled out the forms, and they were returned to the transplant center, they immediately scheduled her for an appointment to be evaluated since we already knew she was an excellent match. The operation was scheduled for May 30, 2013, which I dubbed adoption of Serenity because I named the new kidney Serenity.
I wake up feeling pain and choking on the dryness in my throat. The nurses around me are talking and doing things with my iv lines. I couldn’t understand exactly what they were doing.
One of them asks me, “Mika, what is your pain level?” I don’t respond, and I just groan because I still am fighting the hoarseness and dryness in my throat. I try to swallow the saliva that isn’t there and fall back asleep.
I wake again hearing someone ask me, “Mika, can you tell me what your pain level is?”
I clear my throat and say, “I feel pain. A lot of pain.”
The person replies, “Yes, what is the pain level? One to ten.”
I reply, “It is an 11.” I then feel someone touching my arm, and I fall asleep once again.
The next thing I remember is people talking and being in a different room but I was not wearing an oxygen mask. Someone in the room was speaking but not towards me. I ask, but to no one in particular, “Water, I need water.”
At one moment of my consciousness, before I was fully awake, I turned to my grandmother and weakly said, “No more dialysis.”
I am a bit more conscious and aware, and I see that I am in a private patient room with family around. A nurse is trying to talk to me about the surgery, the morphine pump, only being allowed ice, and needing to get up to walk by 10:30 pm.
I am living with full kidney function thanks to Erika and the staff at UIHC. The transplant gave me my life back literally and figuratively. I started the journey to kidney transplant on November 22, 2010, to May 30, 2013. Those were three very long years of two types of dialysis, doctors’ visits, and hospital stays. All I must deal with now is immune – suppressants, cystinosis medications, blood thinners, transgender hormones, and fighting to continue to have health insurance.
But, it is still hard. I don’t know what it is like to just live. To live without there being a struggle or some challenge to overcome. Ever since I graduated high school, I have been living from one struggle or challenge to overcome to the next. No time to breath, no time to relax or get comfortable. Or at least the moment that I start to relax something new happens, another challenge confronts me. I know how to survive but do not know how to live.
Nevertheless, cystinosis and most of the challenges that I have faced have not halted my endeavors. I wanted to do more for society, and I have done that. Therefore I volunteered with the Iowa Pride Network and volunteered to be on their College Leadership Team.
On their team, I organized and ran the IPN Southwest Regional Gay-Straight Alliance Coalition. This Coalition was a great way for LGBTQIA youth and students to come together and have a safe space. Additionally, the coalition consisted of one meeting a month, and the meetings were educationally based on filling the education gap on LGBTQIA studies and issues.
While I was a member of the College Leadership Team, I was a college student at Iowa Western Community College, and in the summer of 2012, I had my first taste of political campaigning.
As I spoke about before, I became a Summer Organizer for Organizing for America (OFA) or the Obama campaign. In that position, I had many responsibilities including working closely with volunteers and talking with Iowa voters. I recruited, managed, and trained volunteers to organize their communities and neighborhoods into teams that registered, persuaded, and motivated voters. I organized my turf, which included most of Iowa House District 16. I planned and successfully organized one of the largest Equality Nights in Iowa.
During that Equality Night, I lead a discussion on the accomplishments of President Barack Obama and the Democrats for the LGBTQIA community. Additionally, I worked to grow neighborhood teams on a grassroots level and managed team leaders.
For me, this was an excellent experience to develop as an adult, learn how to handle several tasks at once and focus on total goals. It was also fun. I loved talking to voters and making connections with them about what is important in their lives and how Democrats can work with them to better their lives.
In 2007, I left Wahoo, Nebraska with my family. Most of that summer we lived in a subdivision of Omaha, Nebraska. When school started, I moved in with my cousin and her family, that way I was able to attend school with her at Millard South High School. There I met many new people. People were finally accepting of my sexual orientation and gender expression. I even met other openly LGBT students. Millard South was a safer environment for me. I was able to open up and become the person who I truly was all along.
Millard South even offered many additional academic opportunities than the small-town school. I was able to take part in the German program at Millard South. I was able to thrive there, and I gained some confidence.
Students and teachers at Millard South thought something of me. They believed that I could accomplish some awesome things in my future. I had a couple of teachers who believed in me especially when I did not believe in myself. They kept giving me encouragement. They told me to keep fighting for what is right. They believed in me when I needed someone, even when my family was not there for me. I will never forget all that they have done for me, and I hope I can repay them.
My new pride and confidence did not help me at home. As I become more open about myself, my mother and her boyfriend became negative towards me. My mother not only did not understand who I was, but she also seemed not interested in trying to learn. Both thought that I needed mental help for who I was.
On that particular issue, perhaps they were right. I needed help dealing with the damage that they were causing. I also needed someone who could help me understand myself. I’d known for years that I was different and my time at Millard South allowed me to develop and embrace parts of my identity. But, I felt that there was something more. I could not piece together why I felt that I was incomplete.
The therapist that I did see understood that the problems at home were multifaceted and did have a lot to do with my mother and her boyfriend. She understood that some of the challenges I faced were related to being queer and dealing with bullying and harassment in my life. These sessions helped me begin to accept a fact about myself that I had previously been unable to come to terms with. I could identify the roots of some of the problems and discovered more about my identity. I realized that the only way to overcome the feelings of injustice I had was to continue to fight for my rights.
At one of the sessions where my mother and I were at, I remember yelling, “Well, I am sick of listening to you cry about your problems! We are here about me! I am transgender!”
That day forward, I began coming out to people. On October 11, 2009, I told the store manager at J.C.Penny that I was transgender. I told her that from that moment on I would be identifying as female, using female pronouns, and prefer being addressed as Mika. This is the time I began the process of coming out at school and requesting my teachers to address me the same.
Coming out as transgender was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I was terrified. I knew my family didn’t like me being queer. I was concerned about how my friends at school and work would treat me. I even expected to lose my job.
It has been a long journey. I wonder why I did not notice or understand sooner. Coming out opened my mind to new possibilities. It helped me accept myself, and I could improve my academics and work beyond what I thought I could.
After nearly six years of living openly as myself, I have started the medical transition to assist me in confirming my gender. I recently started transgender hormone therapy. The hormone therapy helps in establishing my secondary gender characteristics.
During the hormone therapy, I take two medications spironolactone (Aldactone) and estradiol (Climara). The spironolactone is used to suppress the male sex hormone (testosterone), and the estradiol is used to add the female sex hormone (estrogen).
Furthermore, I have hypogonadism, which causes my body’s sex organs not to produce healthy levels of testosterone. Because of the hypogonadism, my body was never exposed to large amounts of testosterone. Therefore, I could transition into my real gender much easier socially.
Coming out as transgender, has abled me to become a full person. I can be who I was all along. Yes, there were many challenges that everyone including myself faced. For example, many of us cannot access high-quality health care, find health insurance, change of identity documents, fair housing at colleges and universities.
In my case, I had numerous experiences of health care providers refusing to recognize my gender identity. This led to many occasions of embarrassing moments where a nurse would call my name, and I would walk over. The nurse would then ask me who I was, and I would tell them. They would say, “You aren’t a male, I am looking for a male.” Yes, that kind of occasion. There were also those events where the doctor comes in and asks me, “Where is Mika at?” I would tell them, that I am the patient. Then, I would get, “Oh! Well, I guess I have the wrong room.” Yeah, it was wonderful!
In regards to gaining health insurance, transgender individuals can get health insurances regardless of their gender identity. Despite that, most insurance policies do not cover any gender confirming treatments, and they are unlikely to include gender-confirming surgeries. Consequently, transgender individuals do not get the health care they need and in many cases or must pay out of pocket.
Thus, many transgender people are not getting the health care they require. Hence, why I waited six years to start any form of gender confirming treatments. Only recently did government policies change to allow Medicare and Medicaid to pay for some gender confirming procedures. At the moment, all of my gender confirming procedures are covered under Medicare part D. I am lucky because many transgender individuals do not have cystinosis that qualifies them for Medicare and Medicaid.
Furthermore, changing your identity documents is not a walk in the park either. It costs money and if you do not have that money you just cannot change them. As a transgender person, it destroys you every time you must show that card to someone, and it doesn’t represent who you are.
Imagine, how would you think you feel if you go to an airport to go on a vacation and going through security you must show a card that says you are male. But you apparently look like a female, and on top of that, you must use a name that isn’t you. This is the situation for many transgender individuals.
Additionally, transgender individuals face many difficulties when applying for on-campus housing at colleges and universities. Many college and university housing policies say that they make placement decisions based on the legal or biological sex of a student. This is unfair and a problem.
In my case, I first applied to live on campus at Iowa Western Community College, and the campus housing administration had to have a discussion with me on my “trans issue.” They told me during that conversation that I could live on campus if I lived in a male dorm, and they said I would probably need to dress as a male.
Ever since getting involved in politics in 2012, I stayed involved because I felt that it was an important endeavor. Therefore, I became more active within the local party and learned more about Iowa politics, my new home. I stayed involved in Nebraska as well, where several Nebraska citizens were interested in fighting for second parent adoption.
It was in the winter of 2012, and I worked with these residents who did not have the ability to secure their families through second parent adoption or join adoption in their state. After we had done extensive research, we began working with Nebraska State Senator Sara Howard (District 9) to introduce a bill in the state legislature.
Senator Howard introduced LB380 in February 2013 to correct Nebraska law. I then ran a grassroots campaign for the bill that consisted of an online petition, emails, and calls to State Senators. And I organized postcard making parties in several cities throughout eastern Nebraska, which was sponsored by MoveOn.org. Unfortunately, the bill did die that session, but Sen. Howard continues to fight for families in the state legislature.
While, I was working on the second-parent adoption bill, I was the field director of Forward Equality. The organization was formed by myself, several friends of mine including a former professor of mine. Forward Equality worked on progressive issues ranging from workers’ rights to civil rights. I worked (non-paid) at Forward Equality from April 2010 to April 2014 when it dissolved.
As I said, I continued to be involved in the Iowa Democratic Party. I was elected to serve as the Pottawattamie County Affirmative Action Chair, and I served from February 2014 to October 2015.
As the Affirmative Action chair, I organized an Affirmative Action Committee in Pottawattamie County for the County Democrats. We worked to ensure that our party was following the Democratic Party’s rules and regulations on the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and their diversity requirements. This included organizing our involvement in several Pottawattamie County events such as Celebrate Council Bluffs and Heartland Pride LGBTQIA Parade and Festival. We also assisted in ensuring that the Pottawattamie County 2016 Caucus locations were ADA accessible to the best of our abilities, and we worked to bring those who historically felt unwelcome back into the party.
Moving forward, I have been involved in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. I supported Senator Bernie Sanders for President, and I first met him back in September 2014 at an event he was speaking at in Des Moines, Iowa.
From that moment on I knew that he was a person that I was willing to fight for and put in long hours campaigning for. Sen. Sanders wasn’t running for president at that moment, though. He was only considering it. I decided that I had to work to get him to run. Thus, I volunteered with the Run Bernie Run campaign to convince the Senator to run for President as a Democrat.
On May 26, 2015, Sen. Bernie Sanders surprised many people including myself by announcing that he was indeed running for president and that he was going to run as a Democrat. I knew at that moment that I had to learn how I could help him while living in Council Bluffs, Iowa. However, I was still the Affirmative Action Chair, and I was forced to make a choice. I had to decide if I wanted to throw my full public support behind him.
The decision was thrust upon me the last week of June when I received a call by the Sanders campaign asking me if I would be interested in introducing the Senator at his town hall in Council Bluffs on July 3rd. I felt overwhelmed with excitement and terror. I have never spoken publicly to over 2,000 people. Thus, my first response to the staffer who called me was to give me some time to think about it. I said this even though in my heart I was screaming to go and do this.
On July 3, 2015, I gave one of the first speeches kicking off the Bernie Sanders campaign in Iowa. I was nervous, but I did my job and did it well for Bernie. That day forward, I began volunteering for the Senator. I did this for his campaign for months until December when I was hired on to the campaign as an Organizing Fellow. I was officially on the Bernie Sanders campaign payroll.
I was an OF for two months before I was promoted Field Organizer. I that position, I recruited managed and trained volunteer. I built and led several volunteer canvass and phone banks.
On the campaign, I worked in Iowa and Nebraska on their caucuses. While in Nebraska, my turf included Lincoln but I also knew people in three other counties. Thus, I helped to organize them as well. Two of the three counties went for Bernie.
After the Nebraska caucuses, I was sent back to Iowa to work on our county conventions making sure that Sen. Bernie Sanders got a fair representation by having all his delegates show up.
Between working on the Iowa conventions, I was sent to Kansas to help organize the campaign’s participation at their state district conventions. Afterward, I went back to Iowa to work on the district conventions. Nonetheless, I was sent to Colorado to assist with organizing for their State Convention. In Colorado, I helped in several ways including monitoring the official ballots and observing the counting of those ballots. I also signed off on the initial hand count of the official ballots as the Sanders, campaign staffer.
I am proud to have worked for Senator Bernie Sanders and voted for him in the Iowa caucuses. I worked for him as an FO from February 2016 to May 3rd, 2016. Nonetheless, I was not finished working for and representing the movement for a progressive future and the political revolution started by the Senator. At the 3rd Congressional District convention, I ran for national delegate to represent Iowa at the Democratic National Convention. I did not win enough votes to go.
Later at the State Convention, I ran for Democratic National Committee member to represent the movement of progressive voices and the youth voice of Iowa. I won a significant number of votes to make me a strong challenger against the party establishment. Unfortunately, I did fail to gain a majority of the votes. Moreover, we did show the establishment that their politics are no longer what many in the party want and they should begin to listen to us otherwise, they may lose their power.
Today, I am living my life. I am out and open about who I am. This is who I am, a human being who has a tremendous passion for making this world a better place for all. I am a person who lives with cystinosis and who is a transgender woman. I am a sexual assault survivor, a human rights activist, a feminist, a student, and a fighter.
Senator Bernie Sanders has been with us for years. As Mayor of Burlington, VT in 1983 Bernie signed the city’s first Gay Pride Parade proclamation and later he signed a city ordinance banning housing discrimination.
One can even look further in Bernie’s past and see that he supported equal rights. In the 1970s when he was a student and a member of a third party called the Liberty Union he wrote, “Let us abolish all laws which attempt to impose a particular brand of morality or ‘right’ on people.”
As a student in the 1960s, Bernie was an activist, he was a front-line champion for equality. Bernie was even arrested while protesting the segregation of schools, he organized against segregated housing in Chicago, and he marched on Washington, D.C. with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand was not on the same track. On the Senate floor in 2004, debating a marriage amendment which she voted ‘no’ on would have put a ban on marriage equality in the Constitution Hillary still said the follow:
the fundamental bedrock principle that marriage exists between a man and a woman, going back into the midst of history as one of the founding, foundational institutions of history and humanity and civilization, and that its primary, principal role during those millennia has been the raising and socializing of children for the society into which they are to become adults (Biddle).
Personally, I find her statement hurtful. First, it tells me that she believes that LGBTQIA+ individuals cannot have families and are not competent to care for children. Second, it tells me that she is a traditionalist and that means that no matter what is right on the basis of civil rights she will hold true to her tradition.
On the Rachel Maddow Show (RMS), Hillary said this while speaking about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) and “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA),
a line that was drawn that was to prevent going further.” She said this while attempting to tell us that these measures where passed to stop the Republicans (she says they are one of her enemies) from passing something worse (Johnson).
Hillary also had this to say,
I think that sometimes a leader in a democracy you are confronted with two bad choices and it is not an easy position and you have to try and think what is the least bad choice and how do I try and cabin this off from having worse consequences (Johnson)?
However, when Bernie Sanders served in the House of Representatives during the same time, he voted against both “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 1993 and the “Defense of Marriage Act” in 1996. Bernie stood up for what was right when he faced a fork in the road to do what was easy and go with the majority or take a stand. He chose to take a stand.
Recently, at the Iowa Democratic Party Jefferson-Jackson Dinner Sen. Sanders said this on the issue,
It was called the Defense of Marriage Act – brought forth by a Republican – led Congress. Its purpose was to write discrimination against gays and lesbians into law. […] I’m sorry to tell you that the bill won by an overwhelming majority of 342 to 57 in the House and 85 to 15 in the Senate.”
Senator Bernie Sanders is a fighter for the least of these and he has proven that throughout his lifetime. He is fighting for the working class and young adults. He continues to speak truth to power.
As he says,
I’m not running for president because it’s my turn, but because it’s the turn of all of us to live in a nation of hope and opportunity, not for some, not for the few, but for all (Johnson).
Bernie knows that in many states you can get married in the morning and in the afternoon get fired for putting up a picture of your partner. He knows that in many states you can still be denied housing or public accommodations just for being transgender or gender non-conforming. Bernie believes that this is unacceptable and must change.
As Senator, Bernie is a cosponsor of the Equality Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He has even kept a lifetime perfect 100% score from the Human Rights Campaign and has consistently supported legislation that would guarantee LGBTQIA+ Americans would be treated as equal citizens (www.berniesanders.com)
As President, Senator Bernie Sanders will:
Sign into law the Equality Act, the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, and any other bill that prohibits discrimination against LGBTQIA+ individuals.
Work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to ensure LGBTQIA+ Americans have access to comprehensive health insurance which provides appropriate coverage and do not have to fear discrimination or mistreatment from providers.
Continue the work of President Obama’s State Department’s Special Envoy (which was enforced by Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary) for LGBTQIA+ Rights and ensure the United States helps protect the rights of LGBTQIA+ individuals around the world.
Advance polices to ensure students can attend school without fear of bullying, and work to reduce suicides.
Require police departments adopt policies to ensure fairer interactions with transgender individuals, especially transgender people of color who are often targeted by police unfairly, and institute training programs to promote compliance with fair policies.
Bar discrimination against LGBTQIA+ individuals by creditors and banks so that people will not be unfairly denied mortgages, credit cards, or student loans.
Veto any legislation that purports to “protect” religious liberty at the expense of others’ rights (www.berniesanders.com).
Senator Bernie Sanders believes that,
we need a political revolution to transform American politics. I am talking about bringing in the voices of millions who have given up on the political process. When that happens everything that I talk about will be passed. If it does not, virtually nothing will (Johnson).
Thus, I ask all of my fellow LGBTQIA+ sisters, brothers, friends, neighbors to join the political revolution and stand with Senator Bernie Sanders as he runs for the Democratic Party nomination for President!
In second grade, there was a boy in my class, we would go to his house and play games together. At school, we played frequently during our recesses. I seemed to be drawn to him. He always stood up for me against the big bad bullies. He would hug me and tell me,
“Don’t cry, I won’t let’em hurt ya.”
At that age, I did not think that I was different or see that there was anything wrong. I had no idea what being gay meant. I was being me and he was my best friend, which is all I saw at the time.
Later, my family moved to Wahoo, NE, and I never spoke to him again. I was in the third grade when I first heard the word ‘gay.’ I did not understand what it meant, I was too busy playing and being a kid to worry about it. However, kids started calling me gay and a sissy because I was weak and I did not like what most of the other boys liked. I guess I seemed girly. In addition, I had feelings that I did not quite understand. I thought they were normal, so I did not pay much attention to them.
Around the end of the school year, someone called me a, ‘fagot.’ I cried and cried that day. I could not understand what it meant, but it hurt that people would call me these names. I started to feels as thought I was different. I did not know what they saw was bad or wrong with me.
In the fourth grade, I began thinking that I might be gay. I started having sexual feelings about boys. I tried to push them away and tell myself, “No, it’s wrong to think like that.”I started believing that I was sick, and depression set in. I had no idea what to do. I wanted to go back to second grade and be with my friend; he would make all the bad things stop. I tried to pretend I was sick all the time so I would not have to go to school or to leave early to get away from the bullying.
Fifth grade, my last year of elementary school, and first year at the new building in Wahoo, I was so happy. Everything was new, I was excited to have a chance to start over. I thought I could lose those feelings I’d been having. I was so hopeful.
As much as I tried not to be myself, I could no longer hide it. Somehow, my fellow classmates knew. I looked to the teachers to help, but they were very reluctant. I must be sick, I constantly told myself.
Sophomore year at Wahoo High School, was sort of the best and worst year I had ever in Wahoo. I decided I could be ‘normal.’ I worked hard to open up to people and put myself out there. I very much wanted to be normal, to be like everyone else. I decided to try to find a girlfriend.
Thus, I knew my cousin had a friend who I also knew, and we had several things in common. I asked my cousin’s friend to go to the homecoming dance with me at my high school, along with my cousin herself and one other of my friends. It felt like a safe way to attempt to belong.
On New Year’s Eve, I was with my older sister and cousin, while we drank that evening, celebrating the promise of the New Year, I told them that I was indeed bisexual and that there was a guy I liked. My cousin and sister said,
“Yeah, we know.”
They poked fun for a bit, in a loving way, and we continued chatting as we always had. I finally felt like I could be myself.
The following day was a new year and I decided to live openly. I began to experience what living openly means. Including the pain of being gay in a small town high school in the United States and especially in Nebraska, where it was legal to bully and harass a fellow student based on their sexual orientation. To this day, there are no state or federal laws banning bullying or harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
As an openly ‘gay’ student, I began to experience bullying and harassment in a different way, but I decided I would have to live with what was thrown at me. At the same time, I was beginning to feel the hurt manifesting from the fact that I really liked the boy I told my sister and cousin about. I knew the feelings I had for him would not be returned. I thought at the time that he was too perfect. During this time, I was learning for the information I had at hand, that gay and bisexual people do not get ‘perfect,’ and knew they never would.
Soon the bullying and harassment escalated to the point where I needed to leave Wahoo. I became very depressed and angry. I did not completely understand why. I just came out and learned from my research that I should be feeling better. Coming out always makes things better. Nevertheless, I did not feel much better. I was not happy many days. I still felt wrong in my own body.
One day after watching my older sister get her nails done, something happened. I felt that I would like to see how my nails would look painted. Thus, a couple of my friends and I painted my nails. I learned that I did love it.
Soon, I felt more comfortable and I started looking at the tighter jeans from Hot Topic. I knew guys were not ‘supposed’ to pain their nails or wear girly cloths. However, I wanted to wear them. I wanted to wear those things, and they made me feel more comfortable when I did. They also really scared me. I began having problems sleeping and could not stop thinking at night. I also became interested in other things to express myself such as choir, drama, and activism.
In drama class, while still living in Wahoo, I learned that I really like to do make-up, read plays, and act. My drama teacher was the most supportive. She taught me that it was okay to be myself and that included my sexual orientation and gender expression. Because I could not sleep at night, that is when I would end up staying up all night practicing for speech competitions, reading the poems aloud, and allowing the words to connect with my own emotions. Perhaps not the best for my academics, but it may have helped me psychologically.
In 2007, my family and I left Wahoo. Most of that summer we lived in a subdivision of Omaha. When school started, I moved in with my cousin and her family so I was able to attend school with her at Millard South High School. I met so many new people there. People there were finally accepting of me for who I was regardless of my sexual orientation or gender expression. I even met many other openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and asexual (LGBTQA) students. Millard South was a safer environment for me. I was able to open up and become the person who I truly was all along.
Millard South even offered many more academic opportunities than the small town school did. I was able to take part in the German program. I was able to thrive there, and I soon gained confidence in myself. I was even somewhat popular, although I attribute that to the fact that I was openly queer and ‘different.’ In many aspects different was good. I might not have been ‘normal,’ but I was accepted for who I was.
Students and teachers at Millard South actually thought something of me. They believed that I could do some awesome things in my future. I had a couple of teachers who believed in me especially when I did not believe in myself. They gave me encouragement. They told me to keep fighting for what was right. They believed in me when I really needed someone, when even my own family was not there for me. I will never forget all that they did for me and I hope I can repay them.
Junior year at Millard South flew bye and the next thing I knew, I was a senior. I was terrified of what would be in my future. However, I could not wait for the end of the year because I wanted to move on to college.
My new pride and confidence did not help me at home. My mother and her boyfriend acted as if they hated me. They probably did. She not only did not understand who I was, she seemed not interested in trying to learn. Her boyfriend, who had been living with us since we lived in Wahoo, had said he wanted me dead. He truly hated me then and will always. He has never told me why and I do not care. They both thought I needed to see a psychologist.
On that particular issue, they were right. I needed to see someone who could help me understand myself. I had known for years that I was different and my time at Millard South allowed me to develop and embrace certain parts of my identity. I knew there was more, but I could not figure out what. I could not piece together why I felt that a part of me was incomplete.
Finally, I did see a psychologist, one that was at Boys Town. She was very nice and LGBTQIA+ friendly. I spoke with her about my research on LGBTQIA+ matters and laws that affect them. I spoke with her about my classes and the many issues. She understood that the problems at home were multi-facet and did have a lot to d with my mother and her boyfriend. She understood that some of the problems I was facing were related to being queer and dealing with the bullying and harassment. The sessions with her helped me to begin to accept a fact about myself that I had previously been unable to come to terms with. I was able to finally come out as transgender. I was able to identify the roots of some of the many problems and discovered more about my identity. I also realized that the only way to overcome the feelings of injustice I had was to continue to fight for my rights, as I had done in high school the year before.
At one of the sessions where my mother and I were at, I came out to her. I remember yelling,
“Well, I am fucking sick of listening to you cry about you cry about your problems! We are here about me! I am fucking transgender!”
That day forward, I began coming out to people. On October 11, 2009, I told the store manager at J.C. Penney that I was transgender and from that moment on, I would be identifying as female, using female pronouns, and prefer being addressed as Mika. I also began the process of coming out at school and requesting my teachers to address me the same.
Coming out as transgender was one of the hardest things I have ever done. It was so difficult because I was so scared. I knew my family did not like me being queer. I was worried about how my friends at school and work would treat me. I fully expected to be fired from my job.
Now, I wonder why I did not notice this sooner. Coming out actually opened my own mind to new possibilities. It helped me accept myself and I was able to improve my academics and work beyond what I thought I could.
It has been a long journey. Now, after nearly six years I am starting medical transition to assist me in confirming my gender. I recently started transgender hormone therapy. The medications I take are to assist in secondary gender characteristics. I take spironolactone (aldactone) to suppress the male sex hormone (testosterone) that my body does produce. Having hypogonadism my body’s sex organs do not produce much testosterone. I also use estradiol (climara), which adds the female sex hormone (estrogen) to my body. Because of the hypogonadism, my body was never exposed to large amounts of the testosterone. Therefore, I was able to socially transition into my true gender much easier.