Discriminating against transgender people does not make anyone safer

Laura Hessburg is Director of Public Policy for the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence. This commentary is slightly adapted from comments she delivered at the public hearing on House File 2389 on February 12.

The Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV) urges legislators to reject House File 2389, a bill permitting and enabling discrimination against trans individuals. We believe this bill is harmful, unnecessary, and appalling for a variety of reasons. Our remarks address the harmful impact it will have on ensuring crime victims have equal access to support services and emergency shelter.

ICADV supports 22 local victim service provider agencies across Iowa, including eight domestic violence shelters, providing support services to victims of violent crime (domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, human trafficking, homicide). The largest source of funding for this work comes from federal grants. As a condition of receiving federal funding, agencies are required to ensure equal access to accommodations and services as per non-discrimination provisions in federal law under the Violence Against Women Act, the Fair Housing Act, and HUD equal access regulations. This bill puts agencies in direct conflict with federal grant obligations and state law—and for many victims, this confusion creates another barrier to accessing support services.

Shelters are communal living spaces. In the past, shelters turned away mothers fleeing with teenage children due to a misplaced concern for safety, leaving victims with children in greater danger and without access to support. Similarly, they turned away men for the same misplaced safety concerns, leading to most men remaining unwilling to seek services.

Since then, state and federal non-discrimination laws and policies have been enacted to address discrimination—a root cause of violence. It should surprise no one that individuals and communities who disproportionately experience discrimination also disproportionately experience violence. LGBTQ Iowans experience extraordinary rates of discrimination, violence, and homelessness—especially trans individuals.

Iowa’s domestic violence and sexual assault shelters and crisis centers now serve a diversity of people fleeing violence and abuse, including men, women, children, and transgender/nonbinary folks. Service providers are safely serving these victims right now and have been intentionally working to implement practices and protocols to ensure equal access to all as per federal law and regulation in place for over a decade.

Victim service providers are experienced professionals—meeting the needs of the person seeking services and protecting the safety of all individuals in their care is their paramount concern. This bill is unnecessary and undermines their dedication to serving as a source of safety and support for crime victims. This bill perpetuates the myth that protecting transgender Iowans’ access to services or public facilities matching their gender identity endangers the safety or privacy of others. Experience tells us this is ridiculous and dangerous.

Discriminating against transgender people does not protect anyone from violence or make anyone safer. It does nothing to decrease the risk of sexual assault, rape, domestic violence, human trafficking, or child abuse. Discriminating against transgender people does not give anyone more control over their body or security. Assaulting another person in a restroom or shelter remains against the law in every single state. This bill only puts transgender people in harm’s way, erects barriers to seeking safety and support, and speaks volumes about how much we genuinely care about protecting the safety of all crime victims.

Inequity is a root cause of violence. Discrimination impacts how individuals experience violence and how systems and people respond and meet survivor’s needs. If we want to end and prevent violence, we must prioritize policies to advance equity and prevent discrimination. We urge Iowa legislators to reject this harmful bill.

Editor’s note from Laura Belin: House File 2389 is the renumbered version of Governor Kim Reynolds’ bill defining man, woman, and other terms in a way that excludes transgender and binary people. Bleeding Heartland covered this legislation in more detail here.

About the Author(s)

Laura Hessburg

  • so grateful for the good work of LH & co

    call it Patriarchy or toxic masculinity or whatever this kind of state enforced social hierarchy will kill many people and leave many more living lives of fear and suffering. These are the casualties of our losing the culture wars.

  • Wow!

    This article has several persuasive arguments that are not understood by the general public like me. The inability to get grants should defeat this bill alone. It’s hard to understand the reason for the hatred of trans people. As I’ve asked before: “Why does anyone care?” I don’t understand how a person living as trans matters any more. We don’t have gender norm occupations, clothes, or any other women v men in our society. We fought the idea that women couldn’t wear jeans long ago. Why does it matter?

    Freedom means allowing others to be who they want to be. Period. That should be pretty easy.

  • Thank you for this

    The arguments against this proposed bill are beautifully stated here. How could anyone who proposed or supported House File 2389 not feel ignorant and ashamed now?

  • they won't feel ignorant or ashamed

    because that’s not how cognitive-biases work….