Guest op-ed from J.D. Scholten and Courtney Reyes, Executive Director of One Iowa.
Being yourself shouldn’t put a target on your back. It shouldn’t cut your life expectancy. It shouldn’t limit your ability to get a good education, buy a home, adopt a child, or keep your job. Yet, the rights of those in the LGBTQ community are once again on the chopping block because of their identity and who they love.
Recently, several bills were introduced in the Iowa Legislature that would wipe away Iowa’s civil rights progress and undermine virtually every protection for LGBTQ Iowans. Iowa now has the most amount of bills introduced in the nation that attack the LGBTQ community. Not only do these bills fly in the face of our history and values as Iowans, but they’ll also certainly kill jobs and hurt our local economy if passed into law.
Iowa has a rich history of protecting, celebrating, and expanding civil rights for the LGBTQ community. Our state added gender identity and sexual orientation to the Civil Rights Act in 2007 and was the third in the nation — and the first in the Midwest — to allow same sex marriage in 2009. Since then, we’ve passed non-discrimination laws when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, education, insurance, credit, and colleges and universities. It’s clear that the hate rooted in these newly introduced bills doesn’t reflect the values of the Iowa we know.
These bills also put our economic future in jeopardy. The anti-LGBTQ bill passed in North Carolina in 2016 cost the state at least $3.76 billion in everything from cancelled concerts and sporting events to redirected vacations and rescinded business expansions and investments. We cannot afford to let that kind of catastrophic economic bust happen to Iowa, especially as our state is still hemorrhaging from losses due to the trade war.
Our state has already suffered decades of population loss. In fact, between 2010 and 2017, 71 Iowa counties lost residents — we cannot give folks any more reason to leave, especially if it’s because they don’t feel welcome and safe in their communities. If these bills pass and businesses pull out of our state, tourism dries up, and folks start moving away in droves, it will severely limit the prospects for the remaining small businesses.
Whether it’s on a farm in Northern Iowa or working in tech in Des Moines, Iowa needs a workforce. We’re fortunate to have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, but that means our economy is dependent on retaining our current workers and attracting new workers to our state to fill empty jobs. In this competitive economy, we cannot risk alienating workers and their families and give them a reason to live, work, shop, and raise their families elsewhere.
Giving a free pass to discriminate also hurts members of our own community, like Sidra, a bisexual high school student, who made the painful decision to change schools after facing discrimination from teachers and a threat from her peers due to her sexual orientation. These bills hurt Megan Kissel, a transgender woman who lived in Northwest Iowa before harassment and discrimination from her coworkers and HR forced her to quit her job and move away. As we evaluate and debate legislation, these faces should be at the heart of the discussion. These bills will take away civil rights from real people who are our students, teachers, cashiers, truck drivers, farmers, and family members.
No gay Iowan should be refused a loan to start a business because of who they love; no trangender Iowans should be denied serving in our National Guard because of how they identify; and no LGBTQ individual should be prohibited from getting the medical care they need.
Stopping these bills alone won’t bring about full lived equality for the LGBTQ community. We must actively keep working every day to uphold our ideals and values as Iowans without fail until we secure real justice and equality for all.
by J.D. Scholten and Courtney Reyes