Resource Page for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues for International Students and Scholars
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:
- sexual orientation - a person’s emotional, physical, and/or sexual attraction and the expression of that attraction. Most people become aware of their sexual orientation during adolescence.
- heterosexual - a person who is emotionally, physically, and /or sexually attracted or committed to members of the other sex.
- homosexual - -a person who is emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted or committed to members of the same sex.
- gender identity - A person’s sense of being masculine, feminine, in-between or androgynous. It is important to recognize that this is independent from a person’s biological sex.
- gender identity vs. sexual orientation - Gender identity is distinct from sexual orientation. Gender identity, the sense that one is a boy or a girl, is usually manifested by the age of 3 or 4 years. Sexual orientation, the sense of which gender one is emotionally, physically and/or sexually attracted to, does not manifest itself until much later in life, usually after puberty and often not until full adulthood.
- pronoun preferences - Individuals may have preferred pronouns that they want others to use when referring to their identity. For example, she/her/hers, or they/theirs/them. It is possible to indicate pronoun preference in the UI student records system, MyUI.
- LGBTQIA - an abbreviation for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer, intersexed, and allies. While not exhaustive, this abbreviation is often used to represent the community as a whole. The Q can also refer to those who are questioning their sexual or gender orientation. It is common to see variations of this, such as LGBT*, but "LGBT" is usally the core abbreviation.
- gay - a common and acceptable term for a male homosexual, this includes those who identify as male and are emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to or committed to others who identify as male. Not to be confused with men who have sex with men*.
- lesbian - a common and acceptable term for a female homosexual, including those who identify as women and are emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to or committed to others who identify as female. Not to be confused with women who have sex with women*
- bisexual - a common and acceptable term for a person who may be emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted or committed to members of both the male and female sexes.
- transgender - a broad term for all gender variant people, including transsexuals, transvestites, drag kings, drag queens, and intersexed people, and is meant to include anyone who does not identify with the traditional roles of male/female that are imposed by biological sex.
- queer - a historically negative term meaning homosexual; which members of the “queer” community have reclaimed, the term has a positive and/or political connotation. [A hint – you’ll want to be careful about using this term, as some persons may find it very insulting.]
- pansexual - attraction to individuals without regard to gender, sexual orientation, or biological sex
- intersexed - a person born with mixed sexual physiology.
- ally - a member of the dominant majority, in this case heterosexual, culture who works to end oppression in his/her professional and personal life through support of, and as an advocate for the oppressed population, in this case LGBT* people.
- homophobia - the irrational fear of homosexuals, homosexuality, or any behavior, belief, or attitude of self or others, which doesn’t conform to rigid sex-role stereotypes. It is the fear that enforces and is enforced by sexism and heterosexism. The extreme behavior of homophobia is violence against homosexuals. It can occur anywhere- on personal, social, institutional, and societal levels.
- heterosexism - the assumption that all people are or should be heterosexual. Heterosexism excludes the needs, concerns, and life experiences of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people while it gives advantages to heterosexual people. It is often a subtle form of oppression which reinforces realities of silence and invisibility for gays and lesbians.
*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.
Laws, Marriage, and Discrimination
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. Same-sex marriage is now legal in all U.S. states.
State of Iowa
Marriage/Civil Unions – Since 2009, Iowa law permits marriage licenses to be granted to same-sex couples, and was among the first states in the U.S. to do so before the 2013 Supreme Court decision.
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 LGBT* 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 LGBT* 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.
Immigration and Dependent Status
Same-sex marriage is legal in many countries in the world. Others recognize marriages performed in other countries. In some countries LGBT* 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 U.S. 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. This means same-sex spouses of F-1 or J-1 students/scholars may obtain F-2/J-2 dependent visas.
Is Iowa City a Safe Place for Me?
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 show majorities support same-sex marriage.
A Word of Caution
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.” This is true particularly when there is risk that family, friends, or the government at home could "find out" and negative repercussions occur. Whether or not any individual wishes to have their identity publicly known is entirely the decision of that individual.
If you are concerned about others from home knowing, be particularly cautious with social media and online news articles. There have been cases where students have granted interviews including information about their identity, and the articles were viewed online at home. Or information shared on social media has been shared with family/friends at home to "out" someone. 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.
Campus, Community, and Internet Resources
An excellent resource for campus and community programs and support services can be found on the Office of Chief Diversity website. and includes information on:
- the University of Iowa LGBTQ Resource Center
- the LGBTQ Health Clinic
- the Safe Zone project
- student organizations with a special focus on LGBTQ issues
Other useful campus and community resources include:
- (for students) UI Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & Queer Resource Center
- Trans@Iowa resources for trans students and allies
- University Housing and Dining Gender Inclusive housing options
- UI Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Staff and Faculty Association
- University Counseling Service
- Women’s Resource and Action Center
- Immigration Equality
- Lambda Legal
- NAFSA Rainbow Special Interest Group (for international educators with information specifically regarding international students)
What If You Experience Bias or Discrimination?
If you are a University of Iowa student, reach out to the Campus Inclusion Team, who can provide support to you and also assess the situation to see if any campus rules may have been violated and what your options are.
Violence or threats of violence should also be reported to police by calling 911.
If you are a University of Iowa J-1 scholar, you may contact the office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity.