Iowa joins lawsuit against feds over protections for LGBTQ students

Left: Kim Reynolds in a pink jacket, clapping and smiling before at the signing ceremony for the voucher bill. Right: portrait of Brenna Bird smiling outside of the Iowa Capitol

Left: Reynolds at the signing for the voucher bill. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) Right: Brenna Bird portrait in front of the Iowa Capitol

By Nikoel Hytrek

May 7, 2024

New Title IX rules clarify that “sex discrimination” applies to discrimination based on gender identity. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and Attorney General Brenna Bird are suing the US Department of Education because of it


Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Monday she was directing Attorney General Brenna Bird to sue the US Department of Education because of new federal rules to protect LGBTQ+ students from discrimination.

Last month, the department announced an update to Title IX rules for schools that receive federal funding. According to a summary of the changes: the update “protects against discrimination based on sex stereotypes, sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics.”

“For more than 50 years, Title IX has promised an equal opportunity to learn and thrive in our nation’s schools free from sex discrimination,” said US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “These final regulations build on the legacy of Title IX by clarifying that all our nation’s students can access schools that are safe, welcoming, and respect their rights.”

Iowa joined the Arkansas and Missouri-led lawsuit, which is also joined by Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. There are four other coalitions of states suing over the rules, for a total of 17 states. All have passed or attempted to pass laws discriminating against LGBTQ+ students and/or adults.

The lawsuit argues the rules “will impose significant, irreparable harm” on the people and groups behind the lawsuit.

Reynolds, who signed laws in 2022 and ’23 discriminating against trans and nonbinary youth by restricting their ability to play school sports, use their preferred names at school, and use bathrooms that align with their identities, issued a press release Monday accusing Biden of “marginalizing girls and women” and “caving” to extremists.

“I will continue to protect the rights of women of all ages,” she continued. “We already have laws on the books to do that.”

Reynolds signed a near-total abortion ban last year, which restricts the freedom of thousands of Iowans, predominantly women, and will put their health at risk, according to OB-GYNs.

Bird, who is also opposed to LGBTQ+ rights, said in a press release, “With Biden’s radical gender ideology mandate, he has not only robbed young women of the opportunity to safely compete and succeed in the sports they love, he has violated their privacy.”

Both used anti-trans language in their releases. The term “gender ideology” is often used to dismiss trans and nonbinary people’s identities.

The rules do not address bans on trans girls competing on girls’ teams, but they do protect students from being treated differently based on their sex if that treatment leads to significant harm for the student, like having their identity denied.

As written, the rules could apply to bans on using a student’s preferred name and banning trans students from the appropriate bathrooms. The new rules don’t eliminate single-gender spaces. The rules are set to go into effect August 1.

The department will issue a separate rule about sports teams.

The reasoning for the new rules is based on a 2020 Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v Clayton County, which found that it’s impossible to discriminate against someone on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation without taking their sex into account.

That ruling was focused on employment discrimination, but other federal courts have applied the reasoning to Title IX cases since the Supreme Court’s decision.

On the day he took office in 2021, President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing all federal agencies to review their sex-based non-discrimination policies to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. That included the Department of Education and Title IX.

Response from LGBTQ+ advocates

“Governor Reynolds can’t simply ignore federal protections, nor can she ignore the existing protections already afforded to Iowans under the Iowa Civil Rights Act,” said Keenan Crow, director of policy and advocacy for One Iowa in an emailed statement.

“All students deserve safe, inclusive spaces at school. What they don’t deserve is politicians trying to take away their basic protections in order to score political points,” they continued.

  • 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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