An ambitious idea Jemma Bullock had during a Zoom meeting with fellow students snowballed into 50 school walkouts and thousands of Iowa students showing their opposition to anti-LGBTQ legislation.
“I’ve lived in Ankeny my whole life,” she said. “The day of the walkouts, I learned that there are a lot of people out there who agree with me and support the LGBTQ community. I learned that when I step out of my comfort zone, I can do amazing things.
Jemma, 18, of Ankeny, is one of two winners of the Robert Mannheimer Youth Advocacy Award. She is being honored for organizing student walkouts against SF 496, along with other accomplishments.
That legislation, signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds, bans most books depicting sex from grades K-12, bans teaching and materials referencing gender identity and sexual orientation through sixth grade, and requires school administrators to out students to parents or guardians if the student asks to use a name or pronouns other than those assigned at birth.
As support for the bill grew in the Legislature in March 2023, Jemma and other students planned school walkouts. Originally the walkouts were going to be only in central Iowa, but soon Jemma was fielding requests from students around the state for help in organizing their own local protests. In total, 50 walkouts were held and thousands of students made their voices heard.
“A lot of politicians think that students have nothing important to contribute or just don’t know what we’re talking about—but we do because we’re the ones who are impacted by this legislation every day,” Jemma said. “No matter what happens, we will be here fighting for a seat at the table. Our voices need to be heard even if it doesn’t make legislators change their minds.”
Jemma is currently a freshman at Iowa State University, where she studies architecture and political science. She continues to be involved in advocacy work through Iowa WTF, Iowa QSA, and Iowa March for Our Lives.
If you know a young person or group of young people in Iowa who should be nominated for the Mannheimer award in 2024, click here. Nominations will next open in early fall 2024.