HRC’s State Equality Index: Significant State-To-State Disparities In LGBT Protections

by HRC Staff

Despite Historic Marriage Equality Ruling, LGBT People Still Denied Basic Statewide Protections

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court’s historic ruling  establishing nationwide marriage equality masks a stark and persistent reality: a patchwork of state and local non-discrimination laws continues to leave millions of LGBT Americans - including those who are legally married - without reliable protections from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, according to a report released today by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization.

HRC’s State Equality Index, issued in partnership with the Equality Federation, also reveals that in many states opponents of equality are ramping up efforts to sanction discrimination against LGBT people by proposing state-level laws that would undermine existing protections, erode marital rights of legally-joined same-sex couples, target transgender people - including youth - and limit the ability of cities and towns to pass their own inclusive laws.

“Even with marriage equality now the law of the land, the battle for LGBT rights at the state level continues to be a story of both successes and setbacks,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “Though a number of states are expanding access to full equality for LGBT people and their families, a majority of states are still struggling to reach even a basic level of equality for LGBT people.”

“This year will be one of our most challenging yet, with anti-LGBT legislators in more than two dozen states pushing deeply harmful laws that would undermine critical protections under the guise of so-called ‘religious liberty,’” Griffin said. “Equally troubling are disgraceful bills targeting the transgender community -- from preventing trans people from using public facilities, including bathrooms, that correspond with their gender identity, to denying them the ability to make gender and name changes on crucial identification documents.”

While more than 111 million people live in states where LGBT 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 Utah, New York, and Illinois expanded access to equality for LGBT people and their families, while others strengthened existing hate crimes laws, improved access to transgender-inclusive healthcare coverage, and protected LGBT youth from harmful “conversion therapy”.

“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 LGBT-related legislation and policies, good and bad, 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.

Six states and the District of Columbia are in the highest-rated category, “Working Toward Innovative Equality”

California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Oregon, and Washington

These states and the nation’s capital have robust LGBT 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.

Six states are in the category “Solidifying Equality”

Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont

These states have non-discrimination protections and are considered high-performing, but not cutting edge on LGBT equality. 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.

Ten states are in the category “Building Equality”

Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Utah, and Wisconsin

These states have taken steps toward more robust LGBT equality, including passing basic non-discrimination and hate crimes laws. They allow gender markers to be changed on official documents, but have few protections for 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 LGBT equality, and pass more comprehensive non-discrimination laws

Twenty-eight states are in the lowest-rated category “High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality”

Most of these states, including Arizona, North Carolina, Texas, and Florida, have many laws that undermine LGBT equality, from those that criminalize HIV and sodomy, to measures allowing religious-based discrimination against LGBT people. None have non-discrimination laws that explicitly include sexual orientation or gender identity protections; few have hate crime laws with those protections. LGBT advocates largely work to defeat bad bills and pass municipal protections for LGBT people.

The full report, including detailed scorecards for every state, as well as a comprehensive review of 2015 state legislation, is available online at  

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. HRC envisions a world where LGBT people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work, and in every community.

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