The Rural Pride Summit was held in Iowa last week. Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors Foundation co-sponsored the event and Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack was the headliner. The Sioux City Journal has details:
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told participants at a rural pride summit Wednesday he is proud of the “amazing cultural transformation” that has taken place during his seven-plus years at the helm of the nation’s ag agency.
“We are a much more functioning, better department because we represent the entirety of America,” Vilsack told about 125 activists within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community who attended a #RuralPrice Summit to increase visibility and advocate for access to available services for LGBT people living in rural Iowa. According to a 2013 Williams Institute analysis, about 65,835 of Iowa’s more than 3 million residents identify as being LGBT, according to summit organizers.
Media Matters notes that conservative media has been vicious over the summit:
Right-wing media attacked the Iowa LGBT Rural Summit as possibly the “dumbest” “waste” of taxpayer money to date. Conservative radio show host Rush Limbaugh even suggested the summit was a “scam” by the “Obama regime” to “bust up” conservative voting areas of the country by convincing lesbians to become farmers with government subsidies. Iowa’s summit, which was held on August 18, was the 15th in the nationwide LGBT Rural Summit Series, which aims to share information to protect and strengthen LGBT communities in rural areas.
The Fairfield school district has seen a strong debate over gender inclusion in the district, the Des Moines Register reports:
That controversy, which focuses on what facilities transgender students should use at public schools, has divided the school board and the town, known as a hub for transcendental meditation and a bastion of progressive thinking. It caused the last few days of the school year to became what students and activists have called a “political war zone,” marked by an increase in bullying and threats of physical violence. The tension lingered throughout the summer, reaching a fever-pitch Monday, with the start of school less than a week away.
Gender identity, or the gender with which a person identifies, has been included in the Iowa Civil Rights Act for almost a decade, meaning transgender Iowans have legal protections against discrimination in education, employment, housing and public accommodations. And a 2015 Iowa Department of Education guidance said students “cannot be forced to use a bathroom for which they do not identify.”
Iowa’s anti-bullying efforts have gotten zero financial support, the Des Moines Register reports:
Nearly one year after Gov. Terry Branstad announced the creation of a bullying prevention office, the program has no designated dollars and relies on inconsistent funding for its work.
The Governor’s Office for Bullying Prevention at the University of Northern Iowa has received no private grants since launching in September 2015, according to documents provided by the Cedar Falls school. The state also hasn’t provided funding, as Branstad decided in January not to allocate money, citing budgetary constraints.
The small office offers some programming, but the lack of clear or consistent funding raises questions about its long-term effectiveness in addressing statewide bullying and harassment.
“It sounds like bullying prevention is not being treated like the priority that it is,” said Nate Monson, executive director of Iowa Safe Schools, a statewide nonprofit that supports programming for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. “It’s a new school year and I’m already receiving phone calls about kids being bullied or afraid to start the school year. Without a functioning office or without functioning guidance from the state, it doesn’t work.”
The executive director of Iowa’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization is retiring, according to a press release:
One Iowa Executive Director Donna Red Wing has announced she will retire in December 2016 after more than four years leading the state’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organization and three decades of LGBT advocacy and leadership.
“I have been honored to work with the board, donors, staff and volunteers of One Iowa,” Red Wing said. “These are passionate people who invest their time and their expertise to make Iowa a better place for LGBT persons to live and work. I am so proud of the work we’ve accomplished together.”
“After I retire from full-time work, I look forward to staying involved in our movement and our community. I also look forward to spending real time with my wife, my grandson, my friends and my dog. And I hope to pursue some long awaited dreams.”
“I believe I am leaving One Iowa in a position of strength and possibility with a dedicated board and experienced staff. I look forward to the next chapter of One Iowa as they continue their important work engaging people and communities, moving toward full equality through grassroots efforts and education.”
The Gazette takes a look at the growing number of transgender students choosing the University of Iowa:
Thousands of students this week are moving into campus housing at Iowa’s public universities — including about 6,800 at University of Iowa.
That UI total includes the most-ever students identifying as transgender — a population university officials are paying more attention to considering their growing number and new guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice “to help schools ensure the civil rights of transgender students.”
UI students now can choose a preferred name and gender for their official student record, and UI housing and dining officials are working to make that information transferrable to their department.
In the meantime, transgender students can identify as such on separate UI housing applications by choosing “neutral” for gender, rather than male or female, said Virginia Ibrahim-Olin, UI housing and dining assistant director for contracts and assignments. The university’s practice is to house trans students according to the gender with which they identify.
This fall, about 20 UI students who have self-identified as transgender are planning to live in the residence halls. And Ibrahim-Olin said the number of UI trans residents could be higher, as some might have made a change before coming to campus and now identify as that gender.
“That’s exciting,” she said. “It’s definitely more than we had last year.”
Wisconsin’s Attorney General is trying to repeal coverage of medical care for transgender state employees, the Wisconsin State Journal reports:
The state Department of Justice has asked the Group Insurance Board to reconsider its July 12 decision to cover the cost of gender reassignment surgery for state workers beginning next year.
Andy Cook, deputy attorney general, said in a memo to the board last week that the board’s decision was based on “unlawful” federal rules stemming from the Affordable Care Act. The rules “improperly reinterpret” Title IX, which covers discrimination on the basis of sex, to apply to gender identity, Cook said.
Attorneys for the state Department of Employee Trust Funds had previously advised the insurance board to start covering gender reassignment services, saying it was required by the new federal rules.
In response to Cook’s memo, ETF attorneys said not covering the services could jeopardize the state’s ability to contract with health insurance companies and result in the loss of about $36 million per year in Medicare subsidies.
“ETF recommended those changes after careful review of the (federal) rule,” David Nispel and Diana Felsmann wrote.
The debate comes after Shannon Andrews, a transgender researcher at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health,filed a complaint July 26 against the insurance board, the medical school and an insurance company, saying she was unfairly denied coverage of gender reassignment surgery.
The board has received two such complaints, Nispel and Felsmann said.
The River Falls School District is prepared to include transgender students when school starts this fall, the River Falls Journal reports:
The rights of transgender people have become a national discussion in the recent years, leading to President Obama passing bathroom mandates for public schools in May.
The River Falls School District was ahead of the game.
On Oct. 19 of last year, the school board passed a 411, anti-discrimination policy, that addresses the rights of students who identify differently from societal expectations of gender based at birth.
The first part of the policy regards the use of bathrooms.
The policy states, “All students, including transgender students, are allowed to use bathrooms that correspond with the student’s gender identity. District schools are encouraged to provide one or more easily accessible unisex single-stall bathrooms for use by any student desiring privacy, regardless of the reason.”
A lesbian employee of Brown County may have been fired because of her sexual orientation, FOX 11 reports:
The Equal Rights Division of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development has found probable cause that Brown County may have violated fair employment law by firing a gay public works employee, according to documents obtained by FOX 11 Investigates.
Last year, FOX 11 Investigates reported on claims by former snow plow driver Nancy Loritz that she was fired for her sexual orientation. Loritz was fired in January of 2015 after spending 23 years as a snow plow and truck driver with Brown County.
The county let her go, citing misuse of county property.
Loritz claims she was terminated for being opening gay. She filed a discrimination complaint with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development Equal Rights Division.
More than a year after the complaint was filed, the agency now issued a ruling, which FOX 11 Investigates obtained.
It states, “There is probable cause to believe the county of Brown may have violated the Wisconsin Fair Employment Law by terminating the employment of the complainant because of sexual orientation.”
A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit alleging anti-transgender discrimination at a North Dakota hospital, the Associated Press reports:
A settlement has been reached in a discrimination lawsuit brought by a transgender employee at a Fargo hospital, according to court documents filed Wednesday.
Faye Seidler, who was born as a male and identifies as a female, filed the complaint in December against Sanford Medical Center. The suit was seeking unspecified damages and an order to stop the hospital from discriminating against employees who have undergone or are undergoing a gender transition.
Seidler’s attorney, Joshua Newville, says the agreement resolves the matter “to the mutual satisfaction of the parties.” He would not disclose terms of the settlement or comment further.
Sanford’s attorneys, Elizabeth Alvine and Kristy Albrecht, did not respond to requests for comment. Sanford spokesman Darren Huber declined to comment.
Seidler said in the suit that managers did not treat her fairly and she was wrongly denied access to the women’s locker room. She said she was forced to put her coat in the break room and in one instance her $300 down jacket was damaged with ink.