Admittedly, I may have been a little hostile when inquiring, “Are you asking EVERYONE to furnish a marriage certificate?”
I had volunteered to obtain a membership for my partner and I at our new community rec center. I had the waiver completed and I was ready to hand over my credit card in exchange for three months of Single Plus One membership, when I was caught off guard.
In lieu of payment, I was asked by the facility manager, to his credit in an extremely polite manner, if we were married or common-law married. We are not, I told him, taken aback. He explained that the membership was only for married people, otherwise, we would be considered two separate memberships.
Hearing his words sent my brain to a frantic, strange place. I couldn’t fathom why my marital status would determine my access a gym membership. How could a relationship with the person I share a mortgage, business, and life with, be considered ineligible? I felt foolish and flushed, assuming that I must have misread the marketing material. And a tiny voice in my head, nagged that this fallout had something do to with the fact that I am gay.
Listen, I don’t normally make baseless assumptions of discrimination, particularly about people who are pillars of my small-town community, but it had been an acutely difficult week to be a queer person in the state of Iowa. I just wanted to rage elliptical until my legs fell off.
Within a 24-hour period, legislators had introduced five separate pieces of anti-LGBTQ legislation, bringing the state of Iowa to a near tie with Missouri for the number of discriminatory bills introduced this session. Aren’t we all thrilled to see our state engaged in a race to the bottom of the civil rights pile!
All of this was weighing heavy on my mind under the gyms fluorescent lights. I was a bit on edge and paranoid where the next attempt to limit my personhood was going to come from.
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Of the 13 anti- LGBTQ bills introduced since January, the five introduced last week have clearly indicated that queer Iowans are not only seen problems to be dealt with by the current conservative legislator but that we are seen as less than human.
Confirmation of this hunch can be found in three bills: HF2273, SF2193, and SF2194. If passed they would create broad changes to the Iowa Civil Rights Act. Under the guise of religious protection, these bills would disproportionately affect access for women and LGBTQ Iowans to housing, medical care, counseling, marriage licenses, employment, adoption and foster care, among others. These bills serve as another round of relentless attacks to the queer community, coming only a week after a momentary victory, the death of HF2164. A bill that sought to remove gender identity from the Iowa Civil Rights Act.
On top of it, this past week brought internet trolls leaving homophobic comments on a Cedar Rapids brewery’s Facebook page because they were hosting a fundraiser for a local LGBTQ non-profit. In addition, a caucus goer went viral for asking for her preference card back once she learned that Pete Buttigieg is a gay man.
As a queer Iowan, I have found myself wondering if I am safe living here any longer. It is exhausting to defend your rights all of the time. It is heartbreaking to diligently check your surroundings to ensure it is safe to hold your partner’s hand. It is hard to be vigilant and constantly angry, but it is too painful to let sadness overcome us. So, we keep fighting.
I walked to my car, without a membership and wept in the freshly paved parking lot.
A few days later the city administrator called me to apologize. He had thought about the policy over the weekend and decided to make it more inclusive so as to not disproportionately affect queer and unmarried people. I thanked him. I understood that they had not drafted a policy to be intentionally discriminatory towards LGBTQ people, which is more than I can say for the legislators’ intentions.
Marti Payseur (she/her/hers) is the co-owner of Thistle’s Summit Bed & Breakfast located in Mount Vernon, Iowa. It is affectionately called “Iowa’s Queerest B&B.” She is a community activist, organizing around LGBTQ and feminist issues for One Iowa. She also makes a legendary sea salt chocolate chip cookie.