Media Contact

Veronica Lorson Fowler, ACLU of Iowa Communications Director

For photos of Hailie and Jemma and an ACLU of Iogo, click here.

January 4, 2024

Des Moines, Iowa — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa is pleased to announce that Hailie Bonz, 17, of Urbandale, and Jemma Bullock, 18, of Ankeny, are the winners of its Robert Mannheimer Youth Advocacy Award.

Hailie and Jemma are both 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 acts 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.

Hailie organized a walkout at Urbandale High School to oppose the law through her role as a co-facilitator for CORE (Community of Racial Equity), a student-led advocacy group.

She’s also the only student plaintiff in a new lawsuit filed by publisher Penguin Random House and the Iowa State Education Association, challenging the book ban provisions of SF 496. Other plaintiffs include teachers, librarians, and well-known writers like John Green, Jodi Picoult, and Laurie Halse Anderson. The ACLU of Iowa with Lambda Legal is also challenging SF 496 on behalf of eight Iowa students and the LGBTQ+ youth group, Iowa Safe Schools. 

“Books are a bridge that connects everything and everyone,” Hailie said. “Students need access to these resources.”

The law almost prevented Hailie from being able to read 1984 by George Orwell for one of her classes after Urbandale came up with an initial list of 374 books to remove from shelves. After public outcry sparked by Hailie herself and others speaking out in the press, Urbandale reduced the list to 64 books. While Hailie was ultimately able to read the dystopian tale, she continues to fight the law that bans hundreds of titles statewide, asking a federal court to recognize her—and her fellow students’—First Amendment rights.

Jemma also organized student opposition to SF 496 as part of the Iowa Queer Student Alliance and as a co-founder of Iowa WTF. Both advocacy groups are student-led.

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.

The ACLU of Iowa Robert Mannheimer Youth Advocacy Award is a $500 cash prize given to a young Iowan aged 14 to 19 who has demonstrated a passion and advocacy for civil liberties. It is named as a memorial to Des Moines attorney and civil liberties advocate Robert Mannheimer.

Mark Stringer, ACLU of Iowa Executive Director said, "Hailie and Jemma show how young Iowans are making our state a better place by fearlessly fighting against book bans and anti-LGBTQ laws. We’re proud to be able to recognize them with the Mannheimer Award.”

Read more about Hailie and Jemma.

For more information on the Robert Mannheimer award, click here.

For photos of Hailie and Jemma and an ACLU of Iogo, click here.