Despite significant progress over the last decade, many states are targeting the LGBTQ community with discriminatory legislation, according to a report released today by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, the educational arm of the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) civil rights organization. The report comes just a week after North Carolina’s Governor Pat McCrory conceded defeat in his re-election bid after signing and championing the notoriously anti-LGBTQ HB2 -- becoming the only incumbent governor to lose this fall.
HRC’s State Equality Index (SEI), issued in partnership with the Equality Federation, the national partner to state-based equality organizations, also reveals that in many states, opponents of equality are ramping up efforts to sanction discrimination against LGBTQ people by proposing state-level laws that would undermine existing protections, erode marital rights of legally-married same-sex couples, target transgender people -- particularly youth -- and limit the ability of cities and towns to pass their own inclusive laws. This coming year, HB2-style, anti-LGBTQ legislation are expected in several legislatures, including Texas, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Arkansas. Potentially dozens of discriminatory bills are expected in the State of Texas alone.
“State governments have a clear choice between sowing the seeds of division and discrimination or building an economy that works for everyone by fostering fairness and inclusion,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “Unfortunately, too many lawmakers have decided to target LGBTQ people for state-sanctioned discrimination and to interfere with local protections for workers, customers, and residents. Now more than ever, it is crucial that legislators across the country stand on the right side of history and ensure full equality for all their citizens - nothing more and nothing less.”
During the 2016 legislative sessions, more than 200 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in states across the country. While the vast majority of harmful bills were defeated this year, states such as Mississippi and North Carolina did adopt discriminatory legislation. Mississippi’s HB 1523 grants a wide-ranging license to discriminate against LGBTQ people and North Carolina’s HB 2 forbids many transgender people from accessing shared facilities in accordance with their gender identity, among other discriminatory components.
In both instances, federal judges have blocked enforcement of parts of those bills. In North Carolina, the backlash against several elected officials who championed HB2 demonstrated that supporting anti-LGBTQ bills is a political liability.
While more than 111 million people live in states where LGBTQ people lack clear state-level protections against discrimination in the workplace, the SEI points to a few encouraging signs -- particularly in areas related to LGBTQ youth, health and safety. States like Vermont and New York took steps to protect LGBTQ youth by banning conversion therapy. Massachusetts expanded the state’s non-discrimination law to include gender identity in public accommodations. Hawaii passed a law to make it easier for transgender residents to update their name and gender marker on a birth certificate or driver's license. Five states, including Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan and Pennsylvania banned transgender exclusions in health care insurance, a sizable increase from 2015.
“Last year our community faced a barrage of attacks on our freedoms, but we are more united and better prepared than ever to continue our momentum toward equality for all,” said Rebecca Isaacs, executive director of Equality Federation Institute. “This report serves as an important tool for advocates to keep pushing forward. We’re not going to stop until all LGBTQ people and their families are able to reach their full potential, free from discrimination, no matter what state they live in.”
The SEI assesses statewide LGBTQ-related legislation and policies -- both positive and negative -- in five areas: parenting laws and policies, non-discrimination laws and policies, hate crimes laws, youth-related laws and policies and health and safety laws and policies. Based on that review, the SEI assigns states to one of four distinct categories.
Nine states and the District of Columbia are in the highest-rated category, “Working Toward Innovative Equality”
California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington
These states and the nation’s capital have robust LGBTQ non-discrimination laws covering employment, housing and public accommodations, as well as protections in the areas of credit, insurance and jury selection. Most allow transgender people to change official documents to reflect their gender identity, and almost all bar private insurers from banning transition-related healthcare. LGBTQ youth are protected by anti-bullying laws, as well as innovative measures in some states that address conversion therapy, inclusive juvenile justice policies, homelessness and sexual health education.
Seven states are in the category “Solidifying Equality”
Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey and Rhode Island
These states have non-discrimination protections and are considered high-performing, but have not yet adopted innovative equality measures. Many of these states allow transgender individuals to change gender markers on official documents and more than half do not allow second-parent adoption. These states have relatively robust anti-bullying laws, but bad laws begin to crop up in this category.
Six states are in the category “Building Equality”
Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Utah and Wisconsin
These states have taken steps toward more robust LGBTQ equality, including passing basic non-discrimination and hate crimes laws. They allow gender markers to be changed on official documents, but have few protections guaranteeing access to transgender health care. Some lack explicit gender identity protections and several lack comprehensive anti-bullying laws. Bad laws are more common, so advocates are working to stop bills that could undermine LGBTQ equality and pass more comprehensive non-discrimination laws.
Twenty-eight states are in the lowest-rated category “High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality”
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming
Most of these states, including Arizona, North Carolina, South Dakota and Florida, have many laws that undermine LGBTQ equality, from those that criminalize HIV and sodomy, to measures allowing religious-based discrimination against LGBTQ people. None have non-discrimination laws that explicitly include sexual orientation or gender identity protections; few have hate crime laws with those protections. LGBTQ advocates largely work to defeat bad bills and pass municipal protections for LGBTQ people.
The full report, including detailed scorecards for every state, as well as a comprehensive review of 2016 state legislation, is available online at www.hrc.org/sei.