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Lawmakers kill bill that would remove gender identity from Iowa Civil Rights Act

 Iowans gathered at the statehouse to protest a bill that would remove gender identity from the Iowa Civil Rights Act.
Madeleine King
Iowans gathered at the statehouse to protest a bill that would remove gender identity from the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

Republican lawmakers declined to advance a bill Wednesday that would have reduced legal protections for transgender Iowans.

The bill proposed removing gender identity from the Iowa Civil Rights Act and adding gender dysphoria and “any condition related to a gender identity disorder” to the disability category.

Hundreds of Iowans came to the Statehouse to oppose the bill. Those who didn’t fit into the subcommittee hearing room chanted, “Trans rights are human rights,” out in the hallway.

Several transgender Iowans testified against the bill. They said they feared it would lead to being denied housing, loans, and the right to shop or eat at a restaurant based on their gender identity.

 Jocelyn Krueger testified against the bill during a subcommittee in the Iowa House of Representatives.
Madeleine King
Jocelyn Krueger testified against the bill during a subcommittee in the Iowa House of Representatives.

Jocelyn Krueger of Poweshiek County said when she lived in Indiana, she was denied service at a grocery store because she is transgender. She said lawyers couldn’t help her because that state didn’t have legal protections like Iowa’s.

“I regularly faced discrimination because of my gender identity, and I was told that I was hated and that people could get away with it because gender identity was not a protected class,” Krueger said.

Terry Pearce of West Des Moines said he supports the bill, and he does not think it would take away people’s human rights.

“I’m definitely in favor of this bill because how can you identify what that [gender identity] class is? There’s no way to identify that,” he said, echoing bill sponsor Rep. Jeff Shipley’s claim that anyone can get civil rights protections by saying that they are transgender.

Annie Sarcone, director of the Des Moines Queer Youth Resource Center, said transgender Iowans like them deserve protection.

“Shame on the Iowa Legislature for trying to pull something like this, for being the only state to take things this far,” they said. “Iowans will suffer because of this. The fact we are sitting here debating this is already causing so much suffering.”

Geralyn Jones of Linn County said her school board made a policy decision she disagreed with because the board was afraid of being sued by a transgender student under the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

“Passing this bill would protect all students from discrimination,” Jones said. “It would allow the schools to have the necessary provisions to adopt policy that ultimately protects every single student.”

Republican Representatives Charley Thomson of Charles City and John Wills of Spirit Lake declined to move the bill forward, but they did not express support for civil rights protections for transgender people.

Thomson saidthe way transgender Iowans’ rights intersect with other Iowans’ rightsneeds to be examined. But he said this bill isn’t the right vehicle to address that, and he thinks it would cause legal problems.

Wills said he has a lot of problems with the civil rights law in general, and he believes all people are created equal.

“The way I look at the civil rights code right now, it actually gives extra rights to people,” he said. “With that said, I don’t think this bill is the right way to move this forward.”

Rep. Sami Scheetz, D-Cedar Rapids, opposed the bill for different reasons.

“We as legislators should not be taking away civil rights for people in our state, especially from some of the most marginalized communities that we have,” he said.

Scheetz said this type of legislation will keep young people from wanting to live in Iowa and make the state’s workforce shortage worse.

Republican lawmakers considered dozens of bills in recent years, and passed several, to put restrictions on transgender Iowans.

The Iowa Legislature amended the Iowa Civil Rights Act in 2019 to state that its anti-discrimination provisions do not apply to transgender Iowans seeking Medicaid coverage for their gender-affirming surgery. That provision was ruled unconstitutional.

Republicans in the Iowa Legislature banned gender-affirming medications and procedures for transgender youth, barred transgender athletes from competing in girls’ and women’s sports, prohibited transgender students from using school bathrooms that align with their gender identity, required school officials to notify parents if a student asks to use different pronouns, and banned instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation before seventh grade.

Copyright 2024 Iowa Public Radio. To see more, visit Iowa Public Radio.

Katarina Sostaric is an Iowa City based reporter covering Eastern Iowa for Iowa Public Radio.