MUSCATINE, Iowa — Hiawatha City Council member Aime Wichtendahl visited Muscatine High School's Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) club on Wednesday to talk about her experiences in local politics and as a transgendered Iowan.
Originally from Newhall, Wichtendahl spent eight years in Hiawatha before she decided to become involved in city government. She holds a Bachelor's degree in political science and journalism from Mount Mercy University, and was elected to the council in January.
She is the first transgendered person to be elected in the Iowa government, according to her introduction from Jackie Haller, an adult adviser for the Muscatine High School's GSA.
"I am transgendered, it was one of those things I knew my entire life," Wichtendahl said, "but of course it wasn't always easy being in rural Iowa or watching the negativity in the media."
Wichtendahl said her 11-year-old son Steven has always been an inspiration for the open dialogue she tries to keep with her constituents and others in the LGBT community.
"I have always been very open with my son, and that is what I do with others. If you have a question, I am more than willing to talk about it," she said.
Jacey Goetzmen, the president of MHS GSA, asked if she is working to help transgendered people in her role on the city council.
"I really focus on city government right now," Wichtendahl said, saying that sometimes fighting for transgender rights can feel like shouting into the wind, or banging one's head against a wall.
"Our job won't be done until we can talk and be in public openly without any negativity coming back at us," Goetzmen responded, "it is exhausting, but we have to keep banging our heads against the wall until that changes, and it is important to keep an open dialogue."
Wichtendahl agreed, and said that although legally, rights for transgendered people are good in Iowa, the culture isn't always that way.
Haller asked how transgendered youth can support other people who do have to fight legislation.
Wichtendahl answered that the Internet is "the best tool in our arsenal," and although trying to affect legislation in other parts of the country may not be possible or easy, blogs and other Internet communication can reach there and much farther.
When asked about the future, Wichtendahl said that she would like to run for the the state legislature, but it will depend on the political climate in years to come. She said she still wants to focus on green energy, small businesses, and other issues that caused her to run for the council, and will look forward to running for the legislature if that is what the future holds.