In recent years, some Republicans in the Iowa Legislature have set their sights on legalizing discrimination against LGBTQ Iowans by removing parts of the Iowa Civil Rights Act.
LGBTQ advocates and Republican officials themselves have hinted these efforts may go even further in the 2022 legislative session.
Nine GOP lawmakers generated national headlines last year by introducing a bill to remove gender identity from the Iowa Civil Rights Act, targeting the rights of transgender Iowans. It failed to get a committee hearing. Now, Republicans may expand their push to allow discrimination of all LGBTQ Iowans by backing legislation to eliminate sexual orientation from the civil rights law as well.
Gender identity and sexual orientation were both added to the civil rights act in 2007.
Reps. Sandy Salmon, Terry Baxter, John Wills, and Henry Stone indicated earlier this year they would support removing both categories.
“I do support removing sexual orientation and gender identity from the Iowa Civil Rights Code,” Wills told the Iowa Standard. “Our constitution guarantees the same protections for each person no matter skin color or gender or whatever they feel they are and I believe that to create ‘protected’ classes is the opposite of what the constitution guarantees.”
Throughout the summer, The Iowa Standard, a far-right blog closely read by the Legislature’s most conservative members, ran a series of fear-mongering stories about transgender Iowans using local pools. That brought up the issue anew with several legislators.
Salmon said sexual orientation and gender identity are choices, and the civil rights protections shouldn’t protect choices.
“When choice is involved, people should not enjoy ‘special rights’ that others do not have,” she told the Iowa Standard. “It is important to remember that even if sexual orientation and gender identity were not in the civil rights code, those people would still enjoy the same rights and liberties under our constitution that everyone else has—they would not lose those rights.”
Sens. Jesse Greene and Tom Shipley also agreed in the summer the civil rights act should be scrutinized.
“It would appear that part of the Code needs a deep look. Those that will howl the most have brought it on themselves,” Greene told the Iowa Standard.
More recently, an Iowa judge’s decision in November that the state cannot block Medicaid from covering transgender Iowans’ medically-necessary gender-transition surgeries drew more far-right scrutiny to the law.
“[T]he Iowa Legislature should remove the sexual orientation and gender identity language from the Civil Rights Code, which is being used by courts to manipulate and subvert our state constitution,” The Family Leader, a social conservative group, said after ruling on Medicaid was made.
“It’s always a worry, whether it’s editing or removing entire protected classes from the Civil Rights Act or the plethora of other attacks on the LGBTQ community and especially LGBTQ youth in Iowa,” said Damian Thompson, the director of public policy and communications at Iowa Safe Schools.
According to survey data collected by the University of California-Los Angeles School of Law, 45% of LGBT workers reported unfair treatment at work at some point in their lives. About 34% said they left their workplace because of the way they were treated.
In 2020, the House introduced a bill to remove gender identity and it was sponsored by Reps. Dean Fisher, Anne Osmundson, Tedd Gassman, Thomas Gerhold, Phil Thompson, Thomas Jeneary, Skyler Wheeler, Baxter, and Salmon.
It was referred to the judiciary committee and went no further.
This year, the House introduced another bill to remove gender identity from the text of the civil rights act. It was sponsored by Reps. Salmon, Wheeler, Fisher, and Mark Cisneros.
It was also referred to the judiciary committee and stopped there.
Damian Thompson said his conversations with lawmakers and lobbyists suggested little broad support for this move.
“It’s a pretty serious distinction to remove an entire protected class out of something like the civil rights act. That’s a pretty big move,” he said.
Legislation that targets specific issues such as bathroom access or who can play sports are more likely to gain wider Republican support, Thompson said.
And even if the laws don’t make it through, these conversations could have negative effects on LGBTQ Iowans who hear their leaders debate their rights.
Thompson also pointed out that moves such as this would harm the state’s efforts to attract and retain much-needed workers in Iowa.
For one thing, he said the business community in Iowa has been firm in opposing legislation such as this. Lobbyists for labor unions and religious groups filed against a 2021 bill, as did companies who employ thousands of Iowans such as Wellmark and the Principal Financial Group.
“If they want to make their platform to remove the rights of entire populations that have been protected for 15 years, I mean, that’s their hill to die on,” Thompson said. “But the majority of Iowans and the majority of Americans absolutely do not support that.”
by Nikoel Hytrek