ISSS welcomes all international students regardless of sexual orientation or gender identification. We recognize that students coming to study in the United States come from a variety of perspectives and experiences, and will likely encounter numerous social and cultural ways that differ from home. This website offers an anonymous means for international students to learn more about these issues, read definitions of commonly used terms, learn about local, state, and federal laws, and view links to campus and community resources.
The terminology used by Americans is often confusing to international visitors. To begin with, we’ll start with a list of very basic definitions. We thank the University of Minnesota’s International Student and Scholar Services office for a very comprehensive and succinct list of definitions:
*The terms gay and lesbian refer to socially constructed identities which may or may not be applicable in a new cultural context. There are many cultures in the world that do not equate a social identity to same sex sexual behavior.
To date, laws relating to same-sex unions/marriages, civil rights protections, benefits, etc. are very decentralized in the U.S.
The U.S. federal government passed the Defense Against Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, which prohibited the U.S. government from recognizing same-sex unions but did give individual states the right to decide on their own whether they would recognize same-sex unions/marriages permitted by other states. In 2011 the federal government did take major steps such as repealing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the U.S. military, and in 2013 DOMA was declared by the U.S. Supreme Court to be unconstitutional. This opened the way for same-sex married couples living in states where they are recognized to become eligible for federal benefits and protections; the same benefits are not necessarily available to legally married same-sex couples who reside in a state that does not recognize the marriage.
State of Iowa
Marriage/Civil Unions – Since 2009, Iowa law permits marriage licenses to be granted to same-sex couples. As of December 2013, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington D.C. issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, along with some counties in other states and some Native American tribal governments. Illinois will begin issuing marriage licenses in June 2014. Several other states permit “civil unions,” which provide varying levels of the rights and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples.
Discrimination – In May 2007, Iowa Governor Chet Culver signed a bill prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, education, public accommodations, and credit practices. Iowa is also a state that provides protection to GLBT students from bullying and harassment based on sexual orientation/gender identity. This means it is against the law to fire someone, deny renting an apartment, or providing a bank loan, etc. to someone based on sexual orientation/gender identity.
Adoption – Iowa permits unmarried adults to adopt children; there are no restrictions that prevent GLBT individuals or families from adopting.
Local Laws and University of Iowa Policies
Iowa City Laws – Iowa City included sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in its own civil rights code before the State of Iowa did so. Iowa City also provides same-sex partner benefits to municipal employees
The University of Iowa - The University of Iowa prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation/gender identity. It too offers benefits to same-sex partners. Iowa was the first school in the Big 10 conference to offer health insurance coverage to same-sex partners back in 1992. All schools in the Big 10 conference now offer benefits to same-sex couples, except Nebraska, which recently joined the conference. Discussion by the Nebraska Board of Regents in 2011 has opened the door to possibly adopting same-sex benefits at public higher education institutions there.
As of 2013, same-sex marriage is legal in Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, and Uruguay. Other countries see same-sex marriage available in specific states or cities, such as Mexico and the U.S. Still other countries recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. In some countries GLBT persons and lifestyles are outlawed and imprisonment or even death may be part of the “punishment.”
With the Defense of Marriage Act being declared unconstitutional in 2013, the federal government will now issue dependent visas for same-sex spouses who are legally married in a country that recognizes same-sex marriage. Spouses are also able to obtain a green card.
Attitudes vary considerably across the United States, within individual states, even within individual cities and towns. Certain areas of the U.S. are much more conservative, and in some cases more repressive and even dangerous, than others. Iowa City is not immune to such problems. But overall in Iowa City this is rare, and Iowa City is generally judged to be a fairly safe place to be “out.” Iowa City has always been known as a fairly “liberal” university town. Yet Iowa is changing, as are other places, particularly in the urban areas such as Cedar Rapids or Des Moines. Recent polls of Iowans shows that47% support same-sex marriage. We also recognize the fact that while Iowa City may be “safe” for most Americans, international students may have different reasons to be concerned or hesitate to be “out.” Advisors with International Student & Scholar Services are always available to discuss any concerns students may have; you may also wish to contact some of the local organizations listed below to seek input from group members.
Students may find the UI’s Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender and Allied Union website very useful with suggestions for GLBT students living in the dormitories, how to handle harassment on campus, etc.