Meet Liz Bennett
Iowa State Representative House District 65
By Tim Nedoba
GG: DescribeHouse District 65 for our readers.
LB: I represent House District 65, which includes most of the Southeast side of Cedar Rapids, Coe College, The NewBo District, and Czech Village. The district is fairly Democratic, progressive, and politically active.
GG: What most important issues for your constituents?
LB: My constituents most frequently contact me about issues such as education funding, climate change and water quality, Medicaid, income inequality, and civil rights.
GG: You’re the first out LGBT woman to serve in Iowa’s state legislature. This is a major milestone. Was it the opportunity to be the first a consideration when you chose to run for office? Do you see yourself as a role model for other women and the overall LGBTQ+ Community?
LB: I was not necessarily motivated by being the first out LGBTQ+ woman to serve in the legislature. In fact, while I was out and many people knew me from my work on LGBTQ issues, my motivation centered more around my perspective as a young professional. I hoped to work on issues such as attracting and retaining young professionals, continuing the growth of green energy in Iowa, raising wages, and advocating for quality public education. In addition to this, I believed (and still do believe) that I would have the courage to lead the way on issues that others may be uncomfortable standing out on such as justice reform.
Interestingly, during my first run, while I was out, I did not emphasize my LGBTQ+ status because even being part of the community can cause people to reduce a person to this status. For example, when I ran, I was a trainer for a technology company, and I was consistent in my messaging of preparing students for the jobs of the future. Some supporters of my opponent were known to say that I only knew about “the gay stuff,” diminishing my professional experience and reducing me to one aspect of my identity (that I wasn’t even really talking about.)
I began to speak more about it in my second term because I began to understand how important representation is. Now, every year, I have at least one school counselor arrange for students to meet with me, and I’ve had a dad reach out to me to thank me after his daughter told her that she didn’t feel like she belonged somewhere like the Capitol, but after seeing me speak she felt like she had power. That’s why I keep talking about it.
Regarding the question of being a role model, my hope is that women, LGBTQ+ folks, or other folks who might not think they fit the mold of “politician” might feel more represented and might consider public service.
GG: This session began with an unusual amount of anti-LGBTQ+ issues being proposed by the majority party. Fortunately, these proposals did not make it out of committee but the sentiment remains. ]What is your take on this development? Should the LGBTQ+ community be concerned?
I hope that the number and nature of bills this session inspire LGBTQ+ and allies to stay involved or get involved for the first time. Some people believe that the swell of bills means that we are reaching a tipping point, and that if we keep working to educate our friends, neighbors, and family, these types of bills may become untenable or sufficiently politically unpopular as to discourage them in the future. Other people are concerned that the advances of the past 10-12 years such as the end of Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell and full national marriage equality may lull some into a false sense of security. Whatever your perspective, it’s important for LGBTQ+ folks and allies to make it clear to legislators that they are watching and that they vote.
GG: What do you see as the most important items for this session of the Iowa legislature?
Here are a few things: 1: There is a critical shortage of childcare in the state of Iowa. One thing we could do would be to raise reimbursement rates to childcare providers to increase the number of providers and open spots. 2: Develop and advance water quality legislation with meaningful goals and accountability for polluters.
GG: Elections have consequences. What can the LGBTQ+ community do to organize and elect more LGBTQ+ candidates and LGBTQ+ friendly candidates?
Which of your friends most inspires you? Who is the leader of your group or someone that people seem to listen to? This might be a great candidate for public office. Take a look around you and talk to these people about running. There are a lot of ways to make a difference and people can often see change more readily at the local level. It seems like everyone wants to run for Congress, Senate, or State House: Leaders like Soil and Water Conservation Board Members, School Board Members, County Supervisors, City Councilors, etc. can enact good policy on issues from climate change to civil rights. Starting at the local level with these policies can also help change public opinion and pave the way for larger scale policy change. Follow The Victory Fund to learn more about running for office as an LGBTQ+ person, and to learn about folks who are running.
Regarding organizing: People often express to me that they feel overwhelmed by the number of issues and perspectives. A college professor advised me to think of the 3-5 issues most important to me, decide what I believed, and then support candidates who would fight for me on these issues. This was great advice. Reach out to a candidate’s campaign to volunteer, invite candidates to your local meeting space—be it a local LGBTQ+ youth center or the library. Plan fun events centered around LGBTQ+ issues and voting. Recognize the intersectionality of LGBTQ+ issues, and be willing to learn and show up for causes not explicitly identified as LGBTQ+. Show up at candidate forums and submit questions about LGBTQ+ issues. These are just a few ways to get involved and make your voice heard.
LB: One more thing re:legislative priorities. Let’s ban conversion therapy!