Saturday, June 22, 2013

Settlement Reached With Transgender Iowa City Woman; Sheriff Deputies To Receive Training; Johnson County Will Clarify Policy On Public Restroom Use

Sheriff’s deputies will receive new training on civil rights matters, and Johnson County will clarify its policy on public restroom use under a settlement agreement with a transgender Iowa City woman. Jodie Jones had filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission after she was denied use of a women’s restroom while dressed as a female by a deputy in November 2011 at the Johnson County Courthouse. The settlement was facilitated by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission after Administrative Law Judge Heather Palmer concluded earlier this year there was probable cause supporting Jones’ claims of discrimination on the basis of gender identity, sex and sexual orientation in a public accommodation. The Des Moines Register reports that under the agreement, the county’s Board of Supervisors will pass a motion reaffirming its policy that people are permitted access to restrooms in county buildings based on their gender identity and regardless of their gender at birth. In addition, the Johnson County Attorney’s Office will provide 30 minutes of in-person training to deputies assigned to work at the courthouse. And by February 2014, all deputies will receive two hours of training on civil rights and public accommodations with specific emphasis on gender identification and sexual orientation issues. That training will also be made available to officers from municipal police department annually. Jones, 56, will receive $7,000 under the settlement and waives her right to sue the county over the matter. Jones said Thursday she was thrilled with the outcome and that the steps the county will take under the agreement is more important to her than the money. “Civil rights for anyone doesn’t happen all at one time,” Jones said. “We feel like we’ve moved the ball down the field a yard or two, so we feel like we’ve really made a difference. This is a pretty important county in the state, and I think other counties will take note and what the policy is. Hopefully some kind of goodness will come out of it beyond Johnson County.” Jones had alleged that Deputy Susan Henderson followed her inside the courthouse restroom and yelled that Jones, who was wearing a wig and women’s clothing, needed to immediately leave, according to a Civil Rights Commission report provided by Jones to the Press-Citizen. Henderson denied yelling at Jones, and though the deputy had seen Jones in female dress previously, Henderson denied knowing Jones was transgender until she received the civil rights complaint, according to the report. Jones, who had legally changed her last name from Porter to mark her gender transition, had several interactions with the sheriff's department in 2011 and had spent time in court and in jail before the restroom incident; She was arrested for domestic abuse in September 2011 and faced two counts of violating a no contract order earlier in the year, according to online court records. Janelle Rettig, chairperson of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, said the resolution that will be approved by the board is a clarification of the county’s civil rights ordinance and the state’s civil rights code, which both offer gender identity protection. “The most awkward time when someone is transitioning their gender assignment can occur in restrooms, and the state’s civil rights code couldn’t be clearer on how we’re supposed to deal with restrooms,” said Rettig, an activist for LGBT issues on the local and state levels. “Having said that, this was just an unfortunate circumstance of someone who had previously been in the courthouse as a male, was known as a male, and there was a complaint there was a male in the women’s bathroom.” Rettig said Henderson, who is now retired, had a “great career but had no training in this.” “The officer could have handled it slightly different and we would have no problems here,” Rettig said. “But civil rights is always about learning and training, and the county should be at the forefront of educating people about the civil rights laws of both the county and state, and we should provide employees training so situations like these aren’t unfamiliar and people know how to handle them.” Messages seeking comment at the offices of the county attorney and sheriff were not returned Thursday. A phone number could not be located for Henderson and she could not be reached for comment. The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on the resolution next week clarifying its restroom policy.

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