ALTOONA, Iowa --- The University of Iowa is exposed to legal challenge based on discriminatory action because the visiting team's locker room at Kinnick Stadium is pink, conveying a "sexist and homophobic" message.
Attorney Jill Gaulding, co-founder of Gender Justice in Minnesota, shared her opinion during a workshop at the Iowa Governors Conference on LGBTQ Youth that drew about 800 participants.
The locker room was first painted pink in the 1980s during Hayden Fry's run as the Hawkeyes' football coach and redone in 2005.
According to Gaulding, a former tenure-tracked faculty member at Iowa, the locker room is one of a growing number of sports-related traditions that use "pink shaming" and "cognitive bias" to deride opponents. She noted a hockey club in Duluth, Minn.; a minor league baseball team in South Bend, Ind.; and the Bondurant-Farrar High School followed Fry's lead and use a pink locker room theme.
"Most people understand the pink locker room as a taunt against the other team, calling them a bunch of ladies, girls, sissies, pansie, etc.," according to information distributed by Gaulding and law partner Lisa Stratton.
The handout quoted a passage from Fry's autobiography where he said pink represented a "passive" color and might put opponents in a less aggressive mood.
Gaulding said pink is problematic when the message is conveyed by a public university that receives federal funding and is covered by rules prohibiting civil rights discrimination based on gender.
"They could be exposed to a declaratory judgment action where someone would just seek to settle the question legally and have a judge decide once and for all is this OK or not," Gaulding said.
Tom Moore, a spokesman for the university, does not agree with the analysis.
"While the Office of Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Education determines compliance with Title IX, we believe we are compliant," Moore said. "The color was chosen because of the belief that it would have a relaxing and calming effect on the visiting team."
According to Gaulding, no legal challenges have ever been brought regarding locker rooms for male athletes painted pink. But she said a federal court in Arizona ruled the "shaming practices" of having male prisoners wear pink underwear is a form of punishment that lacked legal justification.
"Based on all the things that we've been talking about and what I understand are the civil rights laws that it's actually illegal to have a pink locker room because it's not OK for a public institution to potentially put out a message that people perceive to be based on a sexist or homophobic slur," Gaulding said.