Almost two dozen Iowa college students gathered in the governor’s office today to speak in favor of a bill that would extend state civil rights protections to homosexuals. Haley Whitlatch of Des Moines, a junior at the University of Iowa, is a member of the Iowa Pride Network’s College Coalition.
“We are here today to use our voices to demand protection in our civil rights code,” Whitlatch says. “As it stands now, we can be legally discriminated against in employment and housing which sends a message that we are second-class citizens in our own state.”
Matt Fender of Glenwood, a freshman at Iowa State University, says once he graduates, he’s hesitant to settle in Iowa because the state lacks civil rights protections for gays and lesbians. “For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students…trying to build a life without the basic legal guarantee of equality and respect would be a gamble, at best,” he says.
Leah Gjerdson, a second-year law student at Drake University, says she doesn’t want to “risk” working in Iowa if there’s no specific state civil rights protection here for lesbians. “When surrounding states offer employment protection for sexual orientation, why would I take the risk of living in a state without it?” Gjerdson asks. “For example, my home state of Minnesota has protected sexual orientation and gender identity from discrimination since 1993.”
Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge told the students she and Governor Culver support their cause. “The fact that you are here, that you are willing to make a stand, that you are willing to help us change Iowa and make it better is a credit to all of you,” Judge said. “…My hats are off to you because we’re going to do it.”
A bill that would extend civil rights protections to gays and lesbians cleared a committee in the Iowa Senate this week and Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs virtually promised the students it will clear the full, 50-member senate.
“This issue is not a political liability. It’s something to be proud of — a state that’s going to say nobody can be fired because of their real or perceived sexual behavior,” Gronstal told the students. The bill’s future remains uncertain, however. The top two leaders in the Iowa House did not attend today’s event, but both support civil rights protections for gays and lesbians. A spokesman says, though, that House Democrats have not even discussed the issue and there’s no way to tell yet if it would pass the House.