Recent federal LGBTQIA+ announcements not likely to affect Iowa State


Attendees at the Des Moines Pride Parade wear flags and face paint to show their support for the LGBTQIA+ community on June 9, 2019. The parade started at the Iowa Capitol Building and traveled down Grand Avenue in the East Village. 

Logan Metzger

This month, the LGBTQIA+ community has received both positive and negative news from the United States federal government.

On Monday the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQIA+ employees from being fired solely based on their identity.

The 6-3 opinion was written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, and was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s four liberal justices.

“An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids,” Gorsuch wrote.

The LGBTQ community is made of up of approximately 1 million workers who identify as transgender and 7.1 million lesbian, gay and bisexual workers, according to the University of California, Los Angeles’ Williams Institute.

“While marriage equality was a big step forward and was very celebrated, not everyone gets married but almost everyone has a job or needs to have a job and that is especially true for the LGBTQIA+ community,” said nicci port, project director for Diversity and Inclusion and gender and sexual diversity initiatives. “Jobs are important for everyone whereas marriage may not be.”

Twenty-two states, plus Washington, D.C., have statutes protecting workers based on sexual orientation, according to the Williams Institute. Twenty-one states plus the district have statutes protecting workers from discrimination based on gender identity.

Iowa is one of those states.

Iowa amended the Iowa Civil Rights Act in 2007 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in public and private employment, housing, public accommodations, education and in obtaining credit.

port said that because of what Iowa has already done in 2007, this ruling does not have a significant effect on Iowa.

“The Iowa state code lists gender identity, sex and sexual orientation as protected classes so the state of Iowa has the protections in place,” port said. “But having a federal ruling from state legislators who would want to change Iowa laws.”

Brad Freihoefer, director of the Center for LGBTQIA+ Student Success, said this ruling is especially impactful for Iowa State students in job searches outside the state of Iowa.

“The place that we will see the ruling be most impactful for students is really around the job search process and post-graduation and for folks coming into Iowa,” Freihoefer said. “Iowa has had some of those protections for a bit but we have students from all across the United States and different countries. This ruling can give hope to many.”

Freihoefer said that before this ruling, students had to look at what protections they had depending on what state they were looking for jobs post-graduation, but now there is consistency and that consistency is good for all Iowa State students.

port said this type of ruling can cause ripple effects for the community in the long run.

“Protections around employment open up a whole host of benefits for our community,” port said. “First of all, you don’t have to be in the closet about who you are for fear of losing your job. We are going to have more visibility of folks being more comfortable being out at work. The more visibility we have, the more understanding we can create for our trans siblings.”

Freihoefer said this ruling is big because it includes gender identity in the conversation at the federal level.

“This ruling is immensely impactful, it begins the conversation around gender identity at the federal level and that is a really important and impactful event,” Freihoefer said.

The other thing to happen to the LGBTQIA+ community recently was when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced it has eliminated an Obama-era regulation prohibiting discrimination in health care against patients who are transgender.

Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, known as the Health Care Rights Law, “prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability in certain health programs and activities.” A rule enacted in 2016 interpreted the ban on sex discrimination to include discrimination on the basis of gender identity, building on similar interpretations in other federal civil rights laws and court rulings, and termination of pregnancy.

On June 12, the HHS said in a statement that it was eliminating “certain provisions of the 2016 Rule that exceeded the scope of the authority delegated by Congress in Section 1557. HHS will enforce Section 1557 by returning to the government’s interpretation of sex discrimination according to the plain meaning of the word ‘sex’ as male or female and as determined by biology.”

HHS also said that the 2016 Rule declined to recognize sexual orientation as a protected category and HHS will leave that judgment undisturbed.

Due to gender identity being a protected class in Iowa, the Iowa Department of Human Services has stated on its website that no one will be denied services based on “protected category status.”

“The Iowa Department of Human Services assures that no person will be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be otherwise subjected to discrimination for any services because of protected category status,” according to the Iowa Department of Human Services website.

The website also stated that no facility operated by the Iowa Department of Human Services may be used to promote any discriminatory practice nor shall the Department become a party to any agreement that permits any discriminatory practice.

port said that because Iowa State follows the state code of Iowa, the university would protect gender identity and she said she does not see a large impact directly at the university due to this statement from HHS.

“We still need to be vigilant, we still need to be holding our doctors and health care providers accountable to treat us with dignity and respect and give us the health care that we deserve regardless of the law,” port said. “Thankfully in Iowa, gender identity is a protected class and gives us that protection.”

Both Freihoefer and port made comments about how the LGBTQIA+ community needs to continue to focus on the transgender community and support them.

“I hope the conversation, especially now, focuses on the experiences of Black queer and trans people across the United State and across the world,” Freihoefer said. “Especially Black trans women who are experiencing an incredible amount of violence, even in the last few weeks horrific murders have taken place.”

Freihoefer said this is a topic Iowa State students engage in, but they said there needs to be more discussion around the epidemic of violence against Black queer and trans individuals.

port said health care is an area that is particularly rough for the transgender community.

“We know that health care is not good for our trans siblings,” port said. “We know that doctors as a whole population are hit and miss on their ability to provide health care for trans folks.”

In 2019, the Human Rights Campaign tracked at least 27 deaths of at least transgender or gender non-conforming people in the U.S. due to fatal violence, the majority of whom were Black transgender women.

2020 has already seen at least 15 transgender or gender non-conforming people fatally shot or killed by other violent means. The Human Rights Campaign stated, “We say at least because too often these stories go unreported — or misreported.”