The ACLU of Iowa works for a state free of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Fought for a Medicaid system that treats transgender Iowans fairly

In 2019, we filed a lawsuit on behalf of our clients and Iowa Medicaid patients Mika Covington and Aiden Vasquez. The case sought to block a new, discriminatory law that would amend the Iowa Civil Rights Act to remove protections against discrimination for transgender people who rely on Medicaid in public accommodations.

In 2021, a court ordered the state to stop its practice of denying coverage of medically necessary, gender-affirming surgery to transgender Iowans in Medicaid. This order remains in place. 

Won historic transgender rights lawsuit in Iowa

In 2016, we filed a civil rights complaint on behalf of Jesse Vroegh, a transgender nurse with the Iowa Department of Corrections, after he was denied access to bathrooms, locker rooms, and health insurance on the basis of his gender identity.

In 2019, a Polk County District Court jury ruled the state had engaged in sex and gender identity discrimination, which is prohibited by the Iowa Civil Rights Act. It also found that the State of Iowa’s employee health insurance plan violated the Iowa Civil Rights Act by explicitly excluding coverage for medically necessary gender-affirming surgery.

In a 2022 decision, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the jury award and found that the State had unlawfully discriminated against Jesse.

Challenged discrimination against transgender Iowans in the Medicaid program

In 2019, we succeeded in challenging Iowa's unconstitutional ban on coverage for transgender care under Medicaid. The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Iowa’s Medicaid program may not categorically discriminate against transgender people seeking gender-affirming, medically necessary care.
We brought the lawsuit, filed in 2017, on behalf of our clients EerieAnna Good of southwest Iowa and Carol Ann Beal of northwest Iowa because they were denied coverage of gender-affirming care. This was due to Medicaid's sweeping, categorical ban for gender-affirming medical care for transgender Iowans, even when deemed necessary by their doctors by the Iowa Department of Human Services.

The Iowa Supreme Court recognized that the Iowa Civil Rights Act specifically prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and has done so since 2007. It also affirmed the lower court's decision on this case, which found that “Gender Dysphoria has a biological component and the current medical consensus no longer supports the conclusion that gender-affirming surgery is not therapeutic. Medical thinking and Iowa law has changed." 
The Iowa Supreme Court decision was a historic win for transgender rights in Iowa.

Secured medically necessary care for a transgender Iowan

In 2016, we helped Andrew Evans, a transgender man, get his medically necessary gender-affirming surgery paid for through his Iowa Medicaid Managed Care Organization. Medicaid coverage of gender-affirming surgeries was banned at the time.

Stopped the unconstitutional prosecution of a transgender woman

In 2015, we helped Meagan Taylor get criminal charges dropped and file a civil rights complaint for race and gender identity discrimination after she was arrested when a local hotel called the police to report a "man dressed as a woman" was seeking to check-in. That case was successfully settled to the satisfaction of both parties.

Successfully advocated for the inclusion of same-sex parents on birth certificates

We filed an amicus brief in 2012 regarding the listing of same-sex parents on birth certificates. Heather Gartner and her wife, Melissa Gartner, wanted both their names listed on the birth certificate of their daughter, McKenzie. However, the Iowa Department of Public Health refused to allow Melissa to be listed on the certificate, saying she could not be listed because she was not the biological parent. The department’s refusal was based on a literal reading of an Iowa statute that was adopted decades ago, before same-sex marriage was recognized in Iowa.
In 2013, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the Iowa Department of Public Health must list the non-birthing mother as the second parent on the birth certificate of a lesbian couple's child.

Secured family leave for same-sex spouses

We won family leave for same-sex spouses in 2011. Teresa Heck applied to take leave in order to care for her spouse, Rebecca Andrews, as she battled ovarian cancer. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects many employees, including state workers like Heck, with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for serious family-related problems such as medical emergencies; however, Heck had to take her own vacation and sick time to care for the seriously ill Andrews.

Successfully advocated for same-sex marriage

In 2009, we were proud to have played a part in Varnum v. Brien, the landmark Iowa Supreme Court decision that made Iowa, at the time, one of just three states to recognize same-sex marriages. The ACLU of Iowa worked with a successful coalition and filed an amicus brief in that case.

Supported adding strong protections for transgender people into Iowa law

We were part of a broad coalition that successfully helped pass amendments adding sexual orientation and gender identity to Iowa's Civil Rights Act in 2007. That important legal protection requires nondiscrimination in public accommodations, employment, housing, education, and credit.

Filed one of the first lawsuits fighting for same-sex marriage

In 1976, we filed one of the first lawsuits in the country seeking the right of same-sex couples to marry, on behalf of brave Iowans Tracy Bjorgum and Kenneth Bunch.