You Won’t Believe What Statewide Protections LGBT People Lack

by HRC Staff

HRC’s Inaugural State Equality Index Finds Significant State-to-State Disparities in Discrimination Protections for LGBT Individuals, Families and Youth

Washington - The success of the marriage equality movement masks a stark and persistent reality: a patchwork of non-discrimination laws state-to-state has left millions of LGBT Americans - including those who can legally marry - without reliable workplace protections, 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 first State Equality Index (SEI), 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 passing state-level laws that would undermine minimal existing protections, erode marital rights of legally-joined same-sex couples, and limit the ability of cities and towns to pass their own inclusive laws.

“Despite historic progress on issues like marriage equality, a majority of states still struggle to reach even a basic level of equality for LGBT people,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “Most states lack statewide non-discrimination laws to protect LGBT people - putting countless individuals and families at risk, and creating inequalities in adoption and surrogacy, employments benefits, and youth safety and well-being.”

“Even worse,” Griffin said, “equality opponents continue to push deeply harmful laws forward, including those seeking to undermine critical protections in the guise of  "religious liberty.”

  • Though same-sex marriage is legal in 36 states and Washington, D.C., more than 111 million people - 35 percent of Americans - live in marriage states that lack explicit, fully-inclusive statewide workplace protections for LGBT people.
  • And more than 206 million people - 65 percent of Americans - live in states where LGBT  people have no explicit statewide workplace protections that include sexual orientation and gender identity.

The report points to a few encouraging signs, particularly in the area of LGBT youth, and health and safety. Legislators in Hawaii are among those pursuing more robust school anti-bullying  laws; those in states including Illinois, Oregon, Washington, and Massachusetts are considering bans on dangerous and medically-debunked “conversion therapy.” Several states are also working on policies that would lead to more fully-inclusive healthcare for transgender people.

"Leaders in every state are making enormous progress to ensure equality for all, yet there remains a patchwork of non-discrimination laws and policies that leave many of  us and our families surprisingly vulnerable to unfair treatment,” said Rebecca Isaacs, executive director of Equality Federation Institute. “I know we can do better so that all Americans have the freedom to be our authentic ourselves."

The SEI assesses statewide LGBT-related legislation and policies, good and bad, in six areas: relationship recognition, parenting laws and policies, non-discrimination laws, 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.

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

These states, including California, Washington and Connecticut, have marriage equality, robust LGBT non-discrimination laws that include employment, housing and public accommodations, as well as protections in the realm of credit, insurance, and jury selection. Most allow transgender people to change official documents to reflect their gender identity. Many prohibit private insurers from banning transition-related healthcare. LGBT 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 education.

Seven states are in the category “Solidifying Equality”

These states, including Iowa, Massachusetts and Illinois, have marriage equality and non-discrimination protections, and are considered high-performing but not cutting edge on LGBT equality. Some states, however, including New York, lack explicit non-discrimination protections on the basis of gender identity. These states have relatively robust anti-bullying laws, but bad laws begin to crop up in this category.

Seven states are in the category “Building Equality”

These states, including New Mexico, Maryland and Wisconsin, have marriage equality and have taken steps toward more robust LGBT equality, including passing basic non-discrimination and hate crimes laws. Some lack explicit gender identity protections, and several lack comprehensive anti-bullying laws. Bad laws are more common, so advocates work to stop bills that undermine LGBT equality, and pass more comprehensive non-discrimination laws.

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

Most of these states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, 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. A handful of states have court-ordered marriage equality; none have non-discrimination laws that explicitly include sexual orientation or gender identity protections; few have hate crime laws. LGBT advocates largely work to kill bad bills and pass municipal protections for LGBT people.

"States across the country are facing a challenging legislative session," said Alison Gill, HRC Senior Legislative Counsel and author of the report, "The State Equality Index will allow us to take a comprehensive look at where we have been and where we are going in terms of statewide laws and policies affecting LGBT equality. We hope it will provide a roadmap as state advocates strive to achieve basic legal equality for LGBT people and oppose legislation that would undermine these critical protections."

The full report, including detailed scorecards for every state, as well as a comprehensive review of 2014 state legislation, is available online at On January 29, HRC will host a discussion at its Washington headquarters about the report’s findings, and the status of LGBT-related legislation across the states. The Equality Federation on January 26 will launch a week-long educational campaign to bring attention to state disparities in LGBT protections.  

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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