Republican Lawmakers Target Transgender Iowans’ Rights

By Nikoel Hytrek

January 29, 2020

[UPDATE 8:00 PM: The bill is already dead in the House]

Today, nine Iowa House Republicans proposed a bill endangering the rights of transgender Iowans.

The bill, HF 2164, removes gender identity as a protected class under the Iowa Civil Rights Act, which would allow anyone, from private employers to public schools, to discriminate against a person based on their gender identity.

HF 2164 was introduced by state Reps. Dean Fisher, Anne Osmundson, Terry Baxter, Tedd Gassman, Thomas Gerhold, Phil Thompson, Tom Jeneary, Skyler Wheeler and Sandy Salmon. The lawmakers represent conservative districts across the state.

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If passed, the bill would leave biological sex and sexual orientation as protected classes, leaving lesbian, gay, bisexual and pansexual Iowans safe from discrimination, for now.

The news prompted swift condemnation from civil rights organizations in the state.

“Stripping gender identity from the Iowa Civil Rights Act would greatly endanger LGBTQ youth,” said Nate Monson, executive director for Iowa Safe Schools, in a statement. “The Iowa Civil Rights Act for thirteen years has protected LGBTQ youth, and this bill would remove those protections.”

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“What these representatives are doing is cynical political theatrics at their worst,” said Courtney Reyes, executive director of One Iowa Action, in a statement. “Allowing transgender Iowans to be fired from their jobs or denied housing simply because they are transgender is a new low, and they should be ashamed of themselves.”

“The Interfaith Alliance of Iowa is disappointed in those legislators who insist on taking away people’s rights as demonstrated with the introduction of HF2164 today,” said Connie Ryan, executive director of Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, in a statement.

The organizations also pointed out how the legislation would harm Iowans.

“The current legislation removing gender identity is mean-spirited and harmful. Iowans understand our state provides civil rights protections to ensure the rights of those who have historically faced discrimination are not infringed,” Ryan said. “Iowans also know that our state should never be in the business of taking away civil rights protections.”

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“All youth need to feel safe and supported in their communities,” Monson said. “This could increase the risk of self-harm and suicidal behavior amongst LGBTQ youth.”

“Transgender Iowans deserve to be protected against discrimination and most legislators know that, which is why the Iowa legislature established such protections in a bipartisan vote well over a decade ago,” Reyes said.

There is no legislation at the federal level protecting LGBTQ Americans from discrimination, though the Civil Rights Act has generally been interpreted to extend protection to those groups on the basis of sex discrimination. The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling addressing that interpretation this year.

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The legislation could also harm Iowa economically, like it did for North Carolina when the state passed a law requiring trans people use the bathroom of the sex they were assigned at birth. That law was repealed a year later, in 2017.

“We urge the Iowa legislature to focus on keeping Iowa a premiere destination for residents and visitors alike,” Reyes said. “These bills do not accomplish that goal and will be an impediment to Iowa businesses attracting, recruiting, and retaining the top talent needed for our state to succeed.”

Reyes also accused Republicans of attacking Iowans’ rights for political purposes.

“Instead of concentrating on jobs, infrastructure, or education they are using the transgender community as a wedge issue in what will be a failed attempt to win votes in the upcoming election,” she said.

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State Sen. Zach Wahls of Coralville tweeted his disapproval, vowing to oppose the legislation if it made it to the Senate.

“It’s my sincere hope that the House resists this awful proposal,” Wahls told Starting Line.

Republican lawmakers also have drafted a bill to limit the type of flags that can be flown at public buildings, in response to a flag supportive of the transgender community flying for five minutes last November at the Iowa Capitol.

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By Nikoel Hytrek
Posted 1/29/20

  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].

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