The 2007 votes that made 2019 a historic year for transgender Iowans

Only three months in, 2019 is already the most significant year for transgender equality in Iowa since 2007, when state lawmakers and Governor Chet Culver added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes in the Iowa Civil Rights Act. That 1965 law hadn’t been significantly amended in decades.

The crucial Iowa House and Senate votes on the civil rights law happened during the first year since the 1960s that Democrats controlled both legislative chambers and the governor’s office. Support for LGBTQ equality is often taken for granted now in Democratic circles, but the issue was seen as more politically volatile twelve years ago. The bill amending the civil rights act came late in the 2007 legislative session and could not have passed without some Republican votes.

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Former Iowa prison nurse files landmark transgender rights lawsuit

A former prison nurse has filed Iowa’s first transgender rights case since state lawmakers and the governor added gender identity protections to the Iowa Civil Rights Act in 2007, the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa announced today.

Jesse Vroegh is suing the Iowa Department of Corrections, the Iowa Department of Administrative Services, the insurance company Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Iowa, and State Penitentiary Warden Patti Wachtendorf on four counts of discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sex. The plaintiff charges that while employed at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville, he “was continuously denied the use of restrooms and locker rooms consistent with his gender identity, because he is transgender.”

In addition, the Department of Corrections “denied transgender employees the same level of health care benefit coverage that it provided to non-transgender employees,” while the Department of Administrative Services “was involved in the decision to select and offer to employees of the Iowa Department of Corrections only employer-sponsored health care plans which discriminated against transgender employees.”

Vroegh claims the state’s actions violated the Civil Rights Act and provisions in the Iowa Constitution that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex and require equal protection for historically disfavored groups. I enclose below the plaintiff’s initial court filing and a press release providing more background on the case.

Although he no longer works for the Department of Corrections, Vroegh said in a statement he is proceeding with the lawsuit “because I feel I need to fight for the rights not only of transgender people who work for the state but for other Iowa workers as well. I’m not asking for any special treatment of myself or any other transgender person. All I’m asking for is that transgender people be treated the same way as people who are not transgender.”

The ACLU of Iowa noted, “The first transgender employment discrimination case, Sommers v. Iowa Civil Rights Commission, was decided in 1983. But today’s action is the first case we’re aware of to be filed in Iowa District Court that asserts gender identity discrimination in employment since the Iowa Civil Rights Act was amended in 2007 to include gender identity and sexual orientation.” A few state House and Senate Republicans joined almost all of the Democratic lawmakers to approve the new civil rights language during the first year Democrats had controlled both chambers of the legislature in more than a decade. Governor Chet Culver signed the bill into law.

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Farm to School Program slips in under the wire

We environmentalists have been pretty downbeat about the 2007 legislative session. Even with Democrats in power, there was no action on local control over the siting of CAFOs and little progress on other issues related to water and air quality.

Some good news arrived in my in-box today, however. I had not realized that on the last day of the session, the legislature had approved and funded the Farm to School program, which will make locally-produced, nutritious food available in more Iowa schools while increasing the market for farmers using sustainable methods.

Stephanie Weisenbach, program coordinator for 1000 Friends of Iowa (website under reconstruction), fills us in on the details:

Senate File 452, introduced by Senator Joe Bolkcom from Iowa City, was stalled out for many weeks at the  legislature but ended up being amended onto other legislation at the end of the session last week.

Policy language creating the program and establishing a Farm to School Council was added to the “standings bill,” SF 601, the last bill of the session. An $80,000 appropriation to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) was added to Agriculture and Natural Resources budget bill, Senate File 551. IDALS will administer the program with two full-time staff.

The Farm to School program was established to encourage and promote the purchase of locally and regionally produced or processed food in order to improve child nutrition and strengthen local and regional farm economies. A seven-member Farm to School Council will seek to establish partnerships with public agencies and non-profit organizations to foster communication between farmers and schools, and will seek financial or in-kind contributions to support the program.

The Farm to School Program is a wonderful starting point that will address many of 1000 Friends of Iowa’s concerns about how we use our land in Iowa and pass the benefits of that knowledge on to our most precious resource…future generations.

Although I know quite a few people in the sustainable agriculture community, I wasn’t following this bill closely. Last I heard, it wasn’t going anywhere. Weisenbach lets us know who helped the most at the statehouse:

Big thanks should go to Senator Joe Bolkcom from Iowa City and Senator Robert Dvorsky from Coralville for getting the policy language in the standings bill. Representative Mark Kuhn from Charles City advanced the $80,000 appropriation and Senator Staci Appel from Carlisle was a persistent supporter during key times in the legislative process.

To thank these legislators, you can e-mail them at:

firstname.lastname AT legis.state.ia.us

I’m posting the relevant language from the bill after the jump, but I want to call particular attention to one point.

The bill establishes a farm to school council with seven members, one of whom has to be an “Iowa organic meat producer.”

Sounds like the Farm Bureau isn’t going to be able to sabotage this program by putting a CAFO operator on that council!

Also sounds like we’ve got a better chance of getting organic meat products in Iowa schools.

I’m still fairly disappointed in the legislative session overall, but this is a great step for farmers, kids, local economies and the environment.

Wonks who like to read legislative text, you’ll find the relevant portions after the jump.

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House passes Civil Rights bill by large margin

In the end, it wasn’t even close!

Here’s the e-mail I just got from The Interfaith Alliance of Iowa:

Dear Friends and Activists,

I am so thrilled that the Iowa House of Representatives passed the Civil Rights bill tonight, adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the Iowa Civil Rights Code.  The bi-partisan vote was 59 – 37!  What a tremendous accomplishment for this Legislature and what an amazing step forward in making Iowa a truly welcoming state!

Your calls, emails and contacts with Legislators made a difference!  Thank you so much for ALL of your work on this important and historic legislation.  It was so important that Legislators heard our collective progressive voice standing for Civil Rights for all people.

The Civil Rights bill adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the Iowa Civil Rights Code to prohibit discriminatory employment, public accommodation, housing, education and credit practices.  An amendment was added to the bill so it will need to go back to the Senate but it is expected to pass and the Governor is expected to sign the bill into law.

Don’t forget to contact the Representatives that voted yes for Civil Rights and thank them for their vote!  The Yes votes include:

Democrats

Abdul-Samad, Bailey, Bell, Berry, Bukta, Cohoon, Dandekar, Davitt, Foege, Ford, Frevert, Gaskill, Gayman, Heddens, Hunter, Huser, Jacoby, Jochum, Kelley, Kressig, Kuhn, Lensing, Lykam, Mascher, McCarthy, Miller H., Oldson, Olson D., Olson R., Olson T., Palmer, Petersen, Reasoner, Reichert, Schueller, Shomshor, Smith, Staed, Swaim, Taylor D., Taylor T., Thomas, Wendt, Wenthe, Wessel-Kroeschell, Whitaker, Whitead, Winckler, Wise, Murphy

Republicans

Clute, Forristall, Hoffman , Jacobs , Miller L., Raecker, Schickel, Struyk, Wiencek

Thank you for making a difference!

Connie

Connie Ryan Terrell

Executive Director

The Interfaith Alliance of Iowa & Action Fund

“promoting the positive and healing role of religion in public life…”

PO Box 41086

Des Moines, IA  50311

Office: 515-279-8715

Fax: 515-279-2232

www.iowatia.org

tiaiowa@dwx.com

Thanks to everyone who contacted their legislators.

I am so pleasantly surprised that my Republican House rep, Dan Clute, and my Republican Senator Pat Ward both voted for this bill. I honestly didn’t expect it.

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Urgent: contact Iowa House reps immediately on Civil Rights Bill

I just received an e-mail from The Interfaith Alliance of Iowa. The Civil Rights bill hangs in the balance, and the time to e-mail your representatives in the Iowa House is now (Tuesday or Wednesday). Or, you can call during the day on Wednesday.

After the jump, I’ve posted the full text of the e-mail, as well as talking points about the legislation and information on how to contact your legislator by phone or e-mail.

If you believe in ending discrimination against the GLBT community, please act on this appeal.

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