Two Iowa transwomen have won the right to use public women’s restrooms, while one transwoman has been denied the use of women’s facilities at the Burlington, IA YMCA.
In 2007 Iowa added gender identity to the state’s nondiscrimination policies. In the fiscal year 2008, there were six complaints filed with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission on the basis of gender identity. That has increased to 51 complaints in the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2013. Beth Townsend, director of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission attributes that to increased awareness about the Iowa Civil Rights Act.
The new law does require … that individuals are permitted to access (restrooms) in accordance with their gender identity, rather than their assigned sex at birth, without being harassed or questioned.
–Sara Stibitz, civil rights specialist with the Commission
Jodie Jones of Iowa City won a dispute over whether or not she could use the women’s restroom at the Johnson County Courthouse.
Civil rights for black people didn’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen overnight for trans people, either. But I feel like we’ve moved the ball forward.
Humboldt County resident Charlene Adams also won the right to use a restroom that corresponds with her gender identity. Both Jones’ and Adams’ cases were decided by conciliation agreements after they filed complaints with the Commission.
Chuck Hurley of the Iowa Family Policy Center is outraged by those agreements. Hurley claims that voyeurs and sex offenders will take advantage of the situation to gain access to areas where women and children are vulnerable.
If a pervert or a stalker or a person who’s wanting to be a voyeur or worse were to decide one day, ‘Hey, I feel I’m a different sex,’ they could use a women’s bathroom – and that’s very problematic. That opens a can of worms for perverts to throw their weight around and make trouble for people.
Donna Red Wing of One Iowa, a civil rights group focusing on the GLBT community, rejects Hurley’s argument.
There is really no record of peeping Toms and predators dressing up to get into bathrooms to look at folks. That’s just a weird and odd response.
Jessica Smalley’s case is the first to have gone to a public hearing. The administrative law judge who heard the case ruled against her.
The Iowa Civil Rights Act cannot be interpreted so broadly to give a biological male, albeit one who identifies herself as a female, the right to change clothes with and shower in a female locker room.
–Judge Jeffrey Farrell
Smalley’s case sets an unfortunate precedent grounded in irrational fears and uneduacated beliefs.
It’s astonishing that Iowa could get this so wrong.
–M. Dru Levasseur, Lambda Legal
Smalley, 52, began living as a woman in 2008. She is on hormaone therapy but has not yet had any surgery. In 2009 Smalley met with Burlington YMCA employees after her doctor advised her to become more physically active to improve her health. She was initially shown the women’s health service center. Even after she voluntarily confided to staff members about her gender identity change, she was given a tour of the women’s locker room to assess concerns about whether she could use the facilities. She agreed to change her clothes behind the curtains in the shower stalls and not expose herself to others. The YMCA’s director, Deb Mulch, asked her if she wished to join.
But Mulch later spoke with YMCA board members who expressed concern that her presence might create a hostile environment. The national YMCA was consulted, which reviewed thweir guidelines and it was decided that locker room usage should be determined by whether or not sex reassignment surgery had been performed. The policy set was that a pre-operative transgender member should either use a private family locker room or the locker room of the gender assigned at birth. Post-operatively, it would be proper to use the locker room of the new gender.
Smalley was given the choice of using the men’s locker room, the gender-neutral locker rooms (with no guarantee of their availability), or change at home. The gender-neutral facility does not contain a toilet or a sink and does not have access to the gender-specific saunas or whirlpools. Smalley decide that none of those options was appropriate and filed a civil rights cmplaint against the YMCA.
I told them: ‘If you send every woman to the men’s locker room to get dressed, then I’ll have no problem with this.’
We never denied her membership. She was only denied access to the (women’s) locker rooms.
There is very little history with respect to the addition of ‘gender identity’ to the Iowa Civil Rights Act in 2007. But surely Iowa’s Legislature did not intend to require all places with locker rooms and restrooms, particularly when they serve minor children as in the cases of a YMCA/YWCA, to allow anyone who simply expresses a gender identity different than their anatomical body parts access to whatever locker rooms they wish.
–Mary Funk, YMCA lawyer
Clearly Ms. Funk didn’t actually speak to any lawmakers. The co-sponsors of the bill say that the intent of the law was to allow people like Smalley to have the ability to use facilities consistent with their gender identity, whether or not they have had surgery.
My feeling is that this is an error in regard to the YMCA as well as the judge who ruled in this case.
–Senator Matt McCoy, cosponsor
Judge Farrell said in his decision that he sympathizes with Smalley, who he said “has honest and understandable concerns with using the male locker room.”
Notwithstanding my sympathies, the Y did not commit a violation of the civil rights act by refusing to allow her access to the female locker room.
—Stephen Sanchez, who identifies as gender queer, Sanchez was crowned homecoming queen in October. This news was. of course, greeted by a host of internet insults.