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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Iowa Gender Identity Legislation Endorsed

From the DesMoines Register:
Iowa lawmakers took the first step Tuesday toward banning discrimination against gays, lesbians and transgender people in the workplace and other areas. With surprisingly little discussion, a Senate committee endorsed legislation prohibiting discriminatory employment, public accommodation, housing, education and credit practices based upon a person's sexual orientation or gender identity. The Des Moines Register's latest poll shows Iowans are virtually split down the middle on the issue. In an Iowa Poll taken in January, 47 percent of the state's adults favored extending anti-discrimination protections to gays and lesbians while 46 percent were opposed. The rest were unsure.

It's interesting, and not surprising, that the poll speaks of gays and lesbians, but not transgenders. People often don't recognize the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity. Sexual orientation, of course, refers to partner choice and gender identity refers to self-identification as male and/or female. This may also explain the text changes found in the definition of "gender identity" in this legislation.

Text of HF 92:
NEW SUBSECTION. 9A. "Gender identity" means a person's various individual attributes, actual or perceived, in behavior, practice, or appearance, as the attributes are understood to be masculine or feminine.

Text of HF 603:
Section 1. Section 216.2, Code 2007, is amended by adding the following new subsections: NEW SUBSECTION. 9A. "Gender identity" means a gender-related identity, appearance, expression, or behavior

This definition is unusual, because it fails to note that it applies regardless of the person's sex.
This is rectified in SF 427:

SF 427 (replacing SF 224) "Gender identity" means gender-related identity, appearance, expression, or behavior of a person, regardless of the person's assigned sex at birth. The rest of the legislation tracks the usual prohibition of discrimination in jobs, housing, credit, etc.

The Governor and Lt. Governor of Iowa seems to be solidly behind this legislation, as shown by this Press Release from the Office of Governor Culver:

Lt. Governor Patty Judge and Senate Leader Mike Gronstal joined the Iowa Pride Network College Coalition at a press conference today at the State Capitol to advocate for the Iowa Civil Rights Code to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons. “Our state’s civil rights code has a glaring omission – our LGBT community is not protected. We know that gays and lesbians are discriminated against in our society, and they currently have no recourse or protection under the law. This simply is unacceptable,” said the Lt. Governor. “Discrimination and intolerance have no place in our society, and that is why the Governor and I are supporting this simple, yet inclusive, change to our civil rights code.”

Other speakers talked about Iowa's "brain drain." The release lists a coalition of students from 38 cities, 18 colleges and 16 High Schools in Iowa.

GayWired notes that three of the six states that border Iowa - Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois - have state statutes that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. (Wisconsin? I don't think so. Hat tip to Babs Casbar.)

HRC's database gives an interesting historical background: In December 2000, Democratic Gov. Thomas V. Vilsack repealed a 1999 Executive Order that he signed into action that protected public employees from gender identity discrimination. Its replacement, Executive Order No. 18, does not explicitly mention gender identity. 23 Iowa Admin. Bull. 1886 (May 30, 2001). Furthermore, in the 1983 case Sommers v. Iowa Civil Rights Commission, 337 N.W.2d 470 (Iowa 1983), the Iowa Supreme Court held that in the context of employment, transsexualism was not a disability.

Here's a few choice quotes from the Sommers case:

Quote: "Thus, even if transsexuals possess the same characteristics as the protected classes, it is for the legislature by statute and not for this court by judicial fiat to provide relief."

Quote: "This is a case of first impression in Iowa. Several federal courts have confronted this issue in connection with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Each court has found that transsexualism is not protected by Title VII's prohibition of discrimination based on "sex." Although we are not bound by federal decisions in construing the Iowa Civil Rights Act, we find these decisions, combined with the paucity of conflicting evidence, and the deference to be given the commission's decision to be persuasive." (Ed. Note: Since this decision was rendered, several federal courts have found that transgender plaintiffs are protected by Title VII.)

Quote: "A person who is anatomically of one sex but psychologically and emotionally of the other sex obviously has a grave problem, but that problem does not necessarily constitute the kind of mental condition that the legislature intended be treated as a substantial handicap to employment under the statute...While we do not approve of such discrimination, we do not believe it is prohibited by the Iowa Civil Rights Act."

It sounds like the court was calling for legislative solutions to this "grave problem." And some Iowans listened. In 1996, the University of Iowa was the first school in the country to add protections based on gender identity. Iowa City also enacted a gender identity policy in 1996. Iowa City also created the only government sponsored video (of which I am aware) that explains gender identity policy and how it applies in a city context. If you want a copy, I've got it. Anyone know how to post to YouTube?

It will be interesting to see how this legislation fares.

1 comment:

Dr. Jillian Todd Weiss said...

There are seven Fortune 1000 companies headquartered in Iowa that would be affected by this legislation:

Principal Financial, Maytag, Rockwell Collins, Casey's General Stores, HNI, Terra Industries and AmerUs Group