DES MOINES, Iowa — Vivek Ramaswamy — the Ohio biotech executive, best-selling author and Republican presidential candidate — told WHO 13 that transgender rights discussions could be a result of the country losing its national identity.

“When kids do embrace a different gender identity or whatever, that’s often a symptom of something else that’s gone badly in their lives,” Ramaswamy said. We should have the empathy to get to the heart of that. But we can’t any more because that’s considered transphobic. I think we need to get rid of all these labels and superficial labels and name calling that we engage in…transphobic, homophobic, whatever it is. Put the name calling to one side.”

This past week, Governor Kim Reynolds, a Republican, signed into law restrictions on transgender students’ use of restrooms in public and private schools. Transgender students will only be allowed to use the restroom that reflects their gender assigned at birth. They can, with their parents’ permission, request that the school district make special accommodations that would allow them access to a single occupancy facility or faculty restroom.

Ramaswamy said, “let’s actually ask what’s going on here. There’s a deeper national identity crisis where we lost our sense of who we are as a people, lost our sense of who we are as individuals, and back when we used to believe in God, have faith in God, believe in a country, when we used to believe in our family as a source of identity, when you used to believe in hard work as a sense of our identity. When those things disappear, that’s when we start to look for new forms of identity instead.”

In response to Ramaswamy’s comments, Iowa Safe Schools Executive Director Becky Tayler sent a statement to WHO 13 saying “trans people have been present throughout human history. Only recently have far right actors, like Mr. Ramaswamy, arbitrarily decided that trans rights are a wedge issue – purely to advance their own political careers. Medical and mental health organizations are aligned on this issue – supporting transgender youth saves lives. Gender affirming care saves lives. Equitable facility access saves lives.”

Ramaswamy had campaign events scheduled in Glenwood Friday night, Treynor and Denison on Saturday and Denison again on Sunday.