We are angry with the Republican-controlled House and Senate in Iowa, and deeply disappointed in our governor.
House and Senate Republicans, in the waning hours of the recent legislative session, inserted language into a bill intended to ban the use of Medicaid and other public insurance from paying for medically necessary transition services for transgender Iowans. Lawmakers rammed the vote through with no public notice and minimal debate. They passed it, then closed up shop for the year and went home.
It was a shameful exercise in the abuse of power. It was a wrong that the governor could have rectified with her veto pen, but chose not to. Instead she sent a message to those in and outside of Iowa that we are a state where discrimination against transgender citizens is perfectly OK.
Shortly after the bill passed, we met with the governor’s staff and requested she veto the language. We made the following points:
• The language is offensive, discriminatory and poorly written. No doubt lawsuits will be filed and the legislation — after much cost and heartache — will be overturned by the courts.
• Few, if any, legislators who voted for the language know, or have made any effort to get to know, transgender Iowans or their families. They voted based on limited and misinformation, choosing to buy in to offensive stereotypes rather than to seek out and listen to those with knowledge and experience on the issues.
• The last-minute nature of the proposal went against what legislators and the governor have said about the need for transparency in how government operates. By using techniques that limited public notice, input and debate, they ignored their pledge to Iowans.
• Legislators alleged that paying for gender-affirming surgeries for transgender Iowans would cost taxpayers an immense amount of money. They failed, however, to share any documents that backed up their allegation. They ignored data from 17 other states, reputable research from Johns Hopkins University and the experience of the United States Department of Defense that all show these services are affordable and cost effective.
• Lawmakers took the unusual step of making the language effective the minute the legislation was signed. That meant that services already scheduled would have to be canceled, and that plans that had been months, and in some cases years, in the making could not be carried out. It was a petty and cruel approach.
• Legislators ignored respected voices in the medical community (American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, etc.) that have stated transition-related health services are medically necessary for some transgender individuals. Instead, they chose to vote based on their opinion that these procedures were “elective,” an opinion with no basis in medical fact.
We requested the governor veto the language and ask the legislature to come back next year for a more thoughtful and transparent approach to the issue.
Between now and then, there would be time for legislators to talk with and get to know transgender Iowans, review the actual experience of other states, make an analysis of costs and benefits, and have meaningful conversations with their constituents.
Our pitch to the governor was to lead by asking the legislature to do justice to the issue and to the individuals involved. We felt a veto would make it clear that she wanted Iowa to be viewed as a place with a heart — a welcoming and open-minded state that gave thoughtful and fair consideration to difficult issues.
She didn’t agree.
We are saddened by that. We are also motivated to make Iowa a better place by working to elect people in 2020 to the Iowa House and Senate who will listen and care more, and who will work to make Iowa a state that values and supports all of its citizens; including the vulnerable and often marginalized.
• John and Terri Hale are co-owners of The Hale Group, a consulting, advocacy and communications firm located in Ankeny, Iowa. Terri serves on the board of directors for One Iowa, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org