The Iowa Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, ancestry, disability, and gender identity.[1] These classes are protected from discrimination when it comes to employment, housing, public accommodations, education, and credit considerations.[2] Even though transgender individuals have these protections, because gender identity was added as a protected class to the Iowa Civil Rights Act in 2007, as of January 30, 2024, 13 bills have been proposed in Iowa to target the transgender community and LGBTQ+ community as a whole.[3] On Wednesday, January 31, the Iowa House of Representatives held a hearing for House File 2802.[4] This bill, proposed by Representative Jeff Shipley, would remove gender identity from Iowa’s Civil Rights Act and would also add gender dysphoria or any condition related to a gender identity disorder as a disability category to the Iowa Civil Rights Act.[5] Shipley believes the Civil Rights Act is very powerful and wants the legislature to address the legal questions regarding accommodations for transgender individuals.[6] For example, Shipley believes lawmakers need to clarify whether people are legally required to use the preferred pronouns of transgender individuals.[7] Shipley believes that regardless of this change to the Civil Rights Act, transgender individuals will not be discriminated against because he claims this bill will expand legal protections for them as disability has tremendous legal protections.[8] Although this bill was rejected, it is still important to highlight the ways these representatives are trying to attack the LGBTQ+ community.

The LGBTQ+ community fights discrimination and its effects daily. Transgender individuals and their rights are continuously being attacked in Iowa as politicians and lawmakers are putting their rights on the line. Some examples of bills that were introduced this year are House File 367 which would allow school staff to misgender students without consequences and Senate File 482 which would prevent transgender individuals from using the appropriate restrooms.[9] Regardless of the push back from the individuals who will be primarily affected by these changes, there is still no consideration for how deeply this change will affect the lives of transgender individuals in Iowa. Since transgender individuals are subject to stigma, discrimination, and violence at disproportionate levels, gender identity must remain a protected class because it will continue to foster and lead Iowa in the direction of promoting equality, so transgender individuals can live happy and healthy lives.[10]

Though transgender individuals in Iowa constantly face adversity, the Iowa Civil Rights Act has recently protected transgender individuals from discrimination. In Good v. Iowa Department of Human Services, the Iowa Department of Human Services (“DHS”) denied Medicaid Coverage for bottom surgery, a medically necessary procedure that would treat two women’s gender dysphoria.[11] In 2019, the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed the District Court’s holding that excluding Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming surgery violated the Iowa Civil Rights Act as amended by the legislature in 2007 when gender identity was added as a protected class under the Act.[12] Just four years later, the issue was relitigated in Vasquez  v. Iowa Department of Human Services, where the Plaintiffs in this suit were told by a physician that gender-affirming surgery was medically necessary to treat their gender dysphoria.[13] The District Court originally held that Iowa’s Medicaid is required to pay for gender-affirming surgery for two transgender individuals. The Iowa Supreme Court dismissed DHS’s appeal as moot.[14] These rulings show the protections from discrimination gender identity enjoys as a protected class under the Iowa Civil Rights Act.[15]

Representative Shipley claims that removing gender identity will not lead to discrimination against transgender individuals because if transgender individuals can be classified as having a disability, they will still receive legal protections.[16] However, this change would be detrimental to transgender individuals. Identifying as transgender is not a disability.[17] Not all transgender people are diagnosed with gender dysphoria or identify with the diagnosis.[18] Additionally, though individuals with disabilities maintain certain rights and protections, individuals with disabilities, as a group, are not their own protected class. If gender dysphoria is classified as a disability and an equal protection case is brought regarding discrimination against an individual with a disability, there is an extremely low threshold the state must meet to show that it is rationally related to a legitimate government interest.[19] Under this change, if the state passes a discriminatory statute against transgender individuals and those with gender dysphoria, the state just must prove that the statute is rationally related to a legitimate government interest “and must be upheld against [an] equal protection challenge if there is any reasonably conceivable set of facts that could articulate a rational basis for classification.”[20] This does not sound like the tremendous legal protections Shipley is claiming they will receive and these individuals can still be subject to discrimination. Additionally, this does not acknowledge the social effects and dangers that labeling transgender individuals as having a disability will have on the trans community and the community of individuals with a disability.[21]

The Iowa Civil Rights Act serves as a protective measure for ensuring rights and for promoting equality for individuals across various protected classes. House File 2802 raises many concerns about potential setbacks for transgender individuals. While Representative Jeff Shipley suggests the need for legal clarification regarding transgender accommodations, keeping gender identity as a protected class under the Iowa Civil Rights Act serves as clarification that these individuals are not to be discriminated against. Good v. Iowa Department of Human Services and Vasquez v. Iowa Department of Human Services highlight the importance of gender identity protections. The Iowa Supreme Court's rulings affirming the rights of transgender individuals against discrimination reinforce how necessary it is for gender identity to remain a protected class. It is important to acknowledge the significance of these protections to help continue the fight for transgender individuals’ rights to live free of discrimination. 

[1] See generally Iowa Code §§ 261.1–261.22 (1965) (prohibiting discrimination based on “race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, disability, or familial status.”).

[2] Id.

[3] Anti LGBTQ Bills 2023, One Iowa Action, [].

[4] Stephen Gruber-Miller, Iowa Republicans Set Hearing on Bill for Removing Civil Rights Protections for Gender Identity, Des Moines Reg. (Jan. 24, 2004, 1:48 PM), []. 

[5] Id.

[6] Katarina Sostaric et al., Bill to Remove Gender Identity From the. Iowa Civil Rights Act Set for Wednesday Hearing, Iowa Pub. Radio (Jan. 29, 2024, 3:29 PM), [].

[7] Id

[8] Id.

[9] OneIowa Action, supra note 3. 

[10] Judson Adams et. al, Transgender Rights and Issues, 21 Geo. J. of Gender and the L., 479, 480 (2020).

[11] Good v. Iowa Dep’t of Hum. Services, 924 N.W.2d 853 (Iowa 2019) (holding prohibition on Medicaid coverage of surgical procedures related to gender identity disorders discriminated on the basis of gender identity, violate the Iowa Civil Rights Act).

[12] Id

[13] Vasquez v. Iowa Dep’t of Hum. Serv., 990 N.W.2d 661 (Iowa 2023) (holding DHS’s appeal was moot and the mootness exception did not apply). 

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Sostaric et al., supra note 6. 

[17] John Paul Cimino, Did You Know that “Gender Dysphoria” May Qualify as a “Disability” Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Disability L. Ctr. of Va. (Jan. 29, 2023),,or%20identify%20with%20the%20diagnosis [].

[18] Id.

[19] Jayne Ponder, The Irrational Rationality of Rational Basis Review for People with Disabilities: A Call for Intermediate Scrutiny, 53 Harv. Civ. Rts.-Civ. Liberties L. Rev. 709, 713 (2018).

[20] Id. at 714.

[21] Robin Opsahl, Iowa House Lawmakers Reject Bill to Remove Gender Identity Protections From Iowa Civil Rights Law, Iowa Capital Dispatch (Jan. 31, 2023 5:37 PM), [].

Sunday, February 4, 2024