Sentiment is rarely heard claiming the Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965 is too expansive. A group of lawmakers and lobbyists believe this is exactly the case.
Twelve Republican lawmakers in the Iowa Legislature have proposed eliminating protections for transgender, genderqueer and gender-fluid individuals who wish to utilize housing, restrooms and locker rooms associated with their gender identity.
All 12 lawmakers were asked for comment. Only Larry Sheets, R-Moulton, responded and he did not wish to speak on record.
Currently, students at Iowa State can use restrooms consistent with their gender identity. The bill would allow Iowa State to decide that transgender students could not continue using bathrooms that align with their gender identity. What the passage of this, or a similar law, would mean for students is unknown.
John McCarroll of University Relations said the university had no comment on the bill itself or if the university would change policies if the bill is passed. McCarroll did note that the Board of Regents, which is tasked with legislative relations, is monitoring the bill.
A request for comment from the Iowa Board of Regents has yet to be returned.
The Board of Regents has assigned lobbyists to the bill but are the only lobbyists who have not declared a position. So far, the only lobbyists to support the bill are from The FAMiLY Leader, a group that openly claims the Bible and Christianity should have more influence in laws and government.
The vast majority of the lobbying groups are opposed to the bill, including the Ames Chamber of Commerce, Iowa Annual Conference of United Methodist Church, Iowa State Education Association and the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa.
Drew Kamp, director of business retention/expansion and government relations of the Ames Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber feels bills like this are bad for business, if passed. Kamp referenced the backlash from businesses after North Carolina passed a similar bill in 2016.
“The chamber is opposed to the bill because it is discriminatory,” Kamp said, noting national attention received by other states who have tried to enact similar laws. “The chamber is against the bill because it doesn’t promote the inclusive and diverse environment, not only for communities, but also for business environments that we want to have in Ames and Story County.”
Taylor Collins, president of ISU College Republicans, has a different opinion and voiced it through text message with the Daily.
“Many in the mainstream media have labeled this bill as anti-LGBTQ, or discriminatory against transgender individuals,” Collins said. “That is far from the truth.”
The drafting and support of the bill have been exclusively from Republican legislators, Collins feels that this issue is not one of partisan disagreement.
“What it comes down to is many Iowans, regardless of political affiliation, feel their local school districts should be able to make decisions for themselves,” Collins said. “The decision to limit access to those of biological sex is obviously an issue that is debated frequently across not only Iowa but the entire country.”
Collins said he feels schools “would be best served to make that decision for themselves.”
“Personally, if I had children, I would be concerned if my young son or daughter was forced to be in the situation where they had to share a facility with someone not of the same biological sex, especially in a locker room type setting,” Collins said.
While Collins supports the bill, he is unsure of how it could be enforced.
“I have not given much thought to enforcement of these policies,” Collins said. “I am confident, though, that local communities across Iowa can come to a sensible solution that considers the effects of all parties involved."
Many who question the bill point out that both children and adults are already sharing facilities with people of various gender identities across the spectrum with little or no issue.
“Let’s not pretend like this is a non-issue,” Collins said. “Iowa’s representatives listen to their constituents, and obviously there are many who feel that this decision should be left to their local school districts.”
Taylor Blair, vice president of the Iowa State University College Democrats, feels laws like this are divisive, stupid and unnecessary.
“The things that people cite when supporting these bills don’t exist,” Blair said. “They’re not problems.”
Blair feels bills like this are used to be a distraction and stoke emotion and conflict. Blair felt transgender people being forced to use other bathrooms would present a different issue if they have transitioned in their presentation.
“I would say they’ve been sharing [facilities with transgender people] their entire lives and they wouldn’t notice,” Blair said. “Many trans people, if they were forced to use the bathroom that matched the gender of their birth, that would be odd to people.”
Blair voiced the opinion that the debate should not be happening at this point.
“I think the whole discussion is kind of ridiculous,” Blair said. “Why is it a big point for a trans person to share a bathroom with these people? What is the danger?”
Blair said he believes laws like this increase public anxiety and contribute to violence against transgender people.
According to FBI data, there were 124 hate crimes reported on the basis of gender identity in 2016, including 23 deaths as the result of attacks on transgender people, the most deaths recorded and a 44 percent increase in attacks on transgender people.