Written by: ROBIN OPSAHL – Iowa Capital Dispatch
Des Moines, IA – The House Education Committee voted Tuesday to remove language from Gov. Kim Reynolds’ bill that would require transgender people’s gender at birth be listed alongside their current gender on driver’s licenses.
The panel approved provisions of the bill defining sex and allowing for transgender people to be excluded from sex-segregated spaces. The bill also requires a transgender person’s sex at birth to be listed on their birth certificate, along with any gender reassignment.
The requirement of disclosing gender transition on driver’s licenses was one of the most contentious topics discussed in the subcommittee meeting for House Study Bill 649 earlier Tuesday.
Crowds outside the subcommittee room chanted “Trans rights are human rights” and “We will not be silenced” as advocates and members of the public spoke for and against the governor’s proposal. Reynolds’ legislative liaison Molly Severn said the measure “protects women’s spaces and rights afforded them by Iowa law and the Constitution.”
Multiple transgender Iowans said the legislation would harm transgender people by putting them in greater danger of violence and discrimination. Emma Denney, a University of Iowa doctoral student, compared the requirement for transgender people’s gender transition to be listed on IDs like driver’s licenses to the Nazi regime making gay people wear pink triangles during the Holocaust.
“Trans people already face overwhelming employment and housing discrimination in Iowa under existing law, and the governor’s bill would force us to out ourselves and open ourselves up to more violence anytime we have to show an identification,” Denney said. “… This is untenable and we in Iowa will not stand for it. I urge you to vote no for the safety of all Iowans, and for the safety of any trans person in this country.”
Pete McRoberts with the ACLU of Iowa spoke against the ID provision, asking lawmakers to consider the violation of privacy it would entail. The bill would have required anyone who has had gender-affirming health care or surgeries to have that personal medical information publicized on their driver’s license, he said.
He pointed to the incongruence with this proposal versus the state’s other protections against having to disclose personal medical information on IDs, such as a 2021 law that prevented state and local governments from requiring government-issued identification to include a person’s COVID-19 vaccination status.
“This is what you have to show to pick up groceries; this is what you show if you get pulled over,” McRoberts said. “That personal information is there for one reason: to establish identity. The idea that a government-issued driver’s license would require somebody to display the most personal medical history is unconscionable.”
Rep. Brooke Boden, R-Indianola, said she supported “continuing the conversation” on the legislation. Boden said that she believed it was important to have that designation listed on IDs, citing a hypothetical a situation where a police officer would need to incarcerate someone detained after a traffic stop. Many Iowa jails and prisons are segregated by sex.
She said that she was interested in ensuring that designating people as transgender on IDs was done in a “respectful” manner.
“What I hear from the trans community is that they’re proud to be trans,” Boden said. “And I guess that, that would be okay to identify as that, and make sure that your birth certificate represents those things.”
Though the committee voted to amend the bill to remove the driver’s licenses from listing a person’s assigned gender at birth and after transitioning, it kept the provision requiring both gender markers to be listed on a person’s birth certificate.
In the committee meeting, Rep. Heather Matson, D-Ankeny, asked the bill supervisor Rep. Heather Hora, R-Washington, what value having a person’s gender at birth provides to the state of Iowa. Hora said the information is used for statistical and administrative purposes by the state, but also that it is information that should not be available for change from the time of recording after birth.
“Because it is a government document that you should not be able to change,” Hora said. “… It’s valuable to the state of Iowa, because that’s what your sex is.”
The legislation also includes definitions of two sexes, and saying that spaces where “health, safety and privacy” are a concern cannot allow people born of the opposite sex access to single-sex facilities. Under the proposal, transgender people would not be permitted access to bathrooms, locker rooms, domestic violence shelters and detention facilities that do not align with their gender assigned at birth.
The bill includes language stating that “separate accommodations are not inherently unequal.”
Several supporters of the bill said the measure is necessary to protect women’s safety and health. Shelly Flockhart, speaking in support of the bill, said she was a victim of domestic abuse. She said female-only spaces for victims of sexual and domestic abuse — spaces that would not be required to allow transgender women access under the bill — are needed to protect women and provide them a place to recover.
“I want you to protect women to be able to have the groups and the resources that they need, so that they have a safe space,” Flockhart said.
Lobbyists with the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault are registered in opposition to the bill.
Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, questioned during the subcommittee meeting whether the bill’s ID provisions would violate Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protections of personal medical information, as well as questioning what domestic abuse shelters were reporting problems with transgender people’s use of their facilities.
Steckman said she was “appalled” the governor would introduce a bill specifically targeting a minority group in Iowa.
“I can’t see any other purposes than discrimination,” Steckman said. “Trans people account for 0.29% of our entire Iowa population. Somebody said this is an important bill — I can think of a million other things we should be doing besides going after 0.29% of our population.”
Connie Ryan, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, likened the bill’s language on separate accommodations not being “inherently unequal” to the “separate but equal” doctrine established by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case on school segregation, overturned by the court in 1954 through Brown v. Board of Education.
“I know that sometimes the law is passed with the hopes of ending up in the court to set precedent,” Ryan said. “I hope that you would not want Iowa to go down in history as a state that stands on the side of ‘separate but equal.’ Please stand on the side of history that always understands that separate is never equal, and equal under the law always matters.”
Steckman questioned Hora about the bill’s phrasing of “separate accommodations are not inherently unequal,” asking her to define what “equal” means.
“I would assume that equal would mean — I don’t know exactly in this in this context — I would assume that they would have similar accommodations,” Hora said. “Meaning, you know, if you wanted to use the female bathroom, you may not be able to use a female bathroom, but you can use a bathroom.”
The House Education Committee voted 15-8 to approve the bill. It moves next to the full Iowa House. Steckman requested that lawmakers hold a public hearing on the bill, a request Rep. Skyler Wheeler, committee chair, said he would discuss after the meeting.