The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, in partnership with the Equality Federation, today released its second annual national report assessing the status of state legislation affecting LGBT equality across America, including in Hawaii.
The State Equality Index (SEI) reveals that, even with historic progress on marriage equality, there are extraordinary state-to-state disparities in LGBT non-discrimination protections, including in the workplace, and efforts continue by equality opponents to pass state-level legislation that would sanction discrimination and undermine even minimal existing protections.
“Even with marriage equality the law of the land, the battle for LGBT rights at the state level continues to be a story of successes and setbacks,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “Though a number of states are expanding access to non-discrimination protections 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 our opponents in more than two dozen states pushing deeply harmful laws that undermine critical protections in the guise of ‘religious liberty,’” Griffin said. “Equally troubling are disgraceful bills targeting the transgender community — from preventing transgender people from using public facilities, including bathrooms, that accord with their gender identity, to denying them the ability to make gender and name changes on crucial identification documents.”
More than 111 million people, or 35 percent of Americans, live in states where LGBT people are not fully protected from discrimination in the workplace. And more than 206 million people nationwide live in states where every LGBT person lacks fully-inclusive statewide workplace sexual orientation and gender identity protections.
The SEI assesses statewide LGBT-related legislation and policies, good and bad, in five areas: 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.
Hawaii falls into the category, “Building Equality.”
Seven states and the District of Columbia are in the highest-rated category, “Working Toward Innovative Equality”
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 realm of credit, insurance, and jury selection. Most allow transgender people to change official documents to reflect their gender identity. Almost all bar 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. The states are: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington.
Five states are in the category “Solidifying Equality”
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. 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. The states are: Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont.
Ten states are in the category “Building Equality”
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 work to stop bills that undermine LGBT equality, and to pass more comprehensive non-discrimination laws. The states are: Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Utah, and Wisconsin.
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 kill bad bills and pass municipal protections for LGBT people.
“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.”