Communities often utilize the same adjectives used to describe climate to illustrate the realities facing certain groups. While perhaps exclusive of those who favor subzero temperatures, this climate metaphor equates warmer weather with a more safe, welcoming, and inclusive environment.
Although still free of the deep freezes that have overcome many other states, the state of Iowa remains chilly towards its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens. A warm front could be in the forecast, however.
The reality of Iowa’s chilly climate for LGBT citizens is shaped in large part through relative comparison. Iowa remains untouched by the ballot measures experienced by some 26 other states that have constitutionally defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. So while the door to the warmth of marriage or civil union equality remains closed in Iowa, it is not yet covered in snow and frozen shut.
The LGBT population in Iowa really begins to feel the arctic nature of the state’s LGBT climate, though, in regards to Iowa’s Civil Rights Act. Generally speaking, civil rights acts exist to provide protection from the hatred and prejudice of unjust discrimination. In Iowa, discriminatory practices on the basis of race, creed, color, sex, national origin, religion, or disability are expressly forbidden in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, and credit. However, Iowa provides no legal protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity; a person can be legally fired for being recognized as LGBT.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, currently 17 states protect against discrimination. Eight states prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and nine other states protect against discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity. Except for municipalities like Ames that are progressive enough to include such protections for LGBT citizens in local codes, individuals with these identities in Iowa can and do experience unjust discrimination without legal recourse.
Fortunately, a metaphorical climate change may already be underway. The November elections marked a shift to a more fair-minded Iowa General Assembly. This has already been demonstrated by the strong bicameral passage of the Safe Schools bill, which explicitly forbids bullying on the basis of perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. Upon signature by Governor Culver, the Safe Schools law will be a significant first step toward a warmer climate for LGBT Iowans and a strong indication of Iowa’s potential for continued progress towards equity and justice.
The LGBT community itself is prompting Iowa’s change in social climate in significant ways. Brad Clark and his Iowa Safe Schools Task Force worked extensively and effectively to highlight the need for and suggest implementation of the Safe Schools bill. The Iowa Pride Network, headed by executive director Ryan Roemerman, is hosting the LGBT and Allied Student Day at the Capitol on March 7. Running from 9:00 am to 3:15 pm, the Student Day is intended to facilitate communication between Iowa’s high school and college students and their legislators, in order to highlight the chilly forecast. The fear of future employment discrimination and the cold reception experienced in Iowa by LGBT students have a huge impact on these students’ plans to leave the state—Iowa’s infamous “brain drain.”
Keep working to make this state a comfortable, safe place to be LGBT, Iowa. It is in your power to part the clouds of the status quo this spring and to welcome in a new and warmer climate for the LGBT community and for all.