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County addresses transgender restroom policy

BY JULIA TRUSZKOWSKI | JUNE 28, 2013 5:00 AM

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After continued discussions, Johnson County officials have reached a decision clarifying a policy regarding public restrooms.

During a Thursday morning meeting at the Johnson County Administration Building, 913 S. Dubuque St., the Board of Supervisors approved a resolution on transgender use of public restrooms in county buildings.

The resolution states that public restrooms in the county are available for use of people based on their gender identity, regardless of their birth sex.

The decision came as a response to a complaint filed with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission against the county by Iowa City resident Jodie J. Jones.

She was denied access to a public restroom in the Johnson County Courthouse by former employee Sue Henderson in November 2011.

Calls to Jones seeking comment were not returned as of Thursday evening.

The commission determined there was probable cause to believe Henderson was in violation of a state law that prevents the ability to deny someone public accommodations based on gender identity. Johnson County’s human-rights ordinance has similar protections.

In a settlement, in which Jones will receive $7,000, the clarification was established. It states that Sheriff’s Office staff will undergo additional training.

Henderson has retired from her position as a Johnson County sheriff’s deputy since the 2011 incident and is unable to be reached currently.

“[Henderson] had a long, distinguished career and was respected by her peers,” Supervisor Rod Sullivan said.

Sullivan suggested that perhaps the policy regarding transgender use of public restrooms was previously unclear.

“Sometimes, it is difficult to know how to obey the law,” he said. “I hope [our decision] helps to clarify.”

Issues such as these have been brought to the public’s attention occasionally in the past, Sullivan said, which was enough to motivate the supervisors to take action.

Supervisor Terrence Neuzil hopes the policy sheds light on how employees are to treat the public as a whole, he said.

“We as a county decided to create clarity within our policy,” he said. “Our county won’t discriminate.”

Despite recent advancements in ensuring equal rights to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community with the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act, University of Iowa junior Quentin Hill, a member of the GLBT Allied Union Executive Board at the UI, spoke out on the UI Pentacrest rally Wednesday evening stating the importance of not excluding anyone from the LGBT community.

“I don’t want us to forget the T [of transgendered in LGBT],” he said.

Sullivan believes that the supervisors’ decision has been a positive step toward eliminating discrimination to all in Johnson County, he said.

“Anything we can do to clarify the fact that we support human rights is a good thing,” Sullivan said.

He said he believes allowing transgender citizens to use the restroom of the gender they identify with should be a uniform policy across the state.

“This is the law of the land,” he said “Iowa has human-rights protection. This should apply everywhere.”


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