Nondiscrimination laws and LGBTQ ordinances may exist at the federal, state, city, and county levels. They simply ensure that a person may not be discriminated against based on any number of characteristics, such as race, national origin, religion, sex, disability, age, and more. However, not all state and local nondiscrimination laws include protections based on gender identity (which protect transgender people) or sexual orientation (which protect lesbian, gay, and bisexual people) - and there is no federal law that explicitly protects LGBTQ people from discrimination.
Only 18 states have passed laws that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Two additional states (New Hampshire and Wisconsin) protect citizens based on sexual orientation, but not gender identity. Utah protects transgender people in employment and housing, but does not include public accommodations. However, these laws only cover approximately 48% of the American LGBT population, leaving an unacceptable majority of LGBTQ people vulnerable to lawful discrimination. According to a 2015 poll, 63% of LGBT people reported experiencing discrimination in their personal lives. 47% of these reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace, 19% reported experiencing discrimination while trying to access public spaces, 14% reported discrimination in housing and 8% reported discrimination while in the education system.
The importance of nondiscrimination protections for transgender people
A startling percentage of the transgender population has encountered some form of discrimination. According to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 63% of those surveyed reported facing serious discrimination, while 23% of respondents reported experiencing "catastrophic discrimination," which was defined as being affected by 3 or more life-disrupting events or types of harassment (for example, denial of medical service due to bias, sexual assault due to bias, eviction due to bias, teacher bullying, etc.). Furthermore, since transgender people are represented across every race, religion, gender, age, ability, sexual orientation,and nationality, the type of discrimination they experience may differ depending on the intersections of a transgender person's identities. For example, transgender people of color suffer from poverty, violence, and incarceration at rates much higher than others within the transgender community.
The myth of "bathroom bills"
Public discussions about protecting LGBTQ people under federal, state, and local nondiscrimination laws are often sensationalized. While LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections usually cover employment, housing, and public accommodations, opponents of these protections typically focus on generating fears about bathrooms, falsely claiming that such laws will make it legal for sexual predators to enter women's restrooms. Sometimes, they also imply or overtly claim that transgender women are not women, and therefore they should not be allowed to use the women's restroom. (It is also often implied that transgender women are in some way deviant and predatory.) This is despite a lack of evidence to support their claims that transgender people put anyone in danger while in the restroom that aligns with the gender they live every day.
Indeed, such claims are simply untrue. It is important to note that nondiscrimination protections for transgender people do not change longstanding laws that make it illegal for anyone to enter a public restroom for the purpose of harassing or harminganother person or invading their privacy. Some statewide nondiscrimination laws even expressly state that gender identity may not be asserted for an improper purpose. Police use current public safety laws to keep people safe, make arrests, and hold perpetrators accountable. The oft-repeated claim by opponents of nondiscrimination laws that public safety will be compromised if these laws include and protect transgender people is simply false.
If journalists repeat the characterization of LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination laws as "bathroom bills," or overly focus on the application of these far-reaching policies to the narrow issue of bathrooms, they impair the public's understanding of how these laws protect people from discrimination, harassment, unfair treatment, and more. While these laws often allow transgender people to use the restroom which matches the gender they live every day, the benefits of nondiscrimination laws are much more extensive, typically covering employment, housing, education, jury service, credit, and more.
Additionally, any effort to defame or malign transgender women must be vigorously challenged. Just as many old, ugly stereotypes about gay men (e.g., claims that gay men are pedophiles) have been thoroughly debunked, similar claims about transgender women must be pointed out as false. These gross stereotypes have been refuted by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and other medical authorities. Journalists can hold anti-transgender activists accountable by asking them to verify their statements and by including the voices of transgender people whose lived experiences differ greatly from the defamatory stereotypes used to dehumanize them.
In reality, all people, including people who are transgender, are concerned about privacy and safety in public restrooms. Unfortunately, multiple studies show that transgender people often report experiencing denial of access to facilities, verbal harassment, and physical assault when attempting to use public restrooms. Moreover, focusing on opponents' false claims about bathrooms distracts from other injustices that transgender people face, such as the fact that in a majority of states, transgender people can be fired from their jobs or denied a place to live simply because of who they are - a fact that is often overlooked or unreported when coverage becomes fixated on opponents' false claims about bathrooms. The discrimination that transgender people face in all aspects of their lives has been documented in multiple studies.
For additional resources on how to fairly and accurately report on nondiscrimination protections and socalled "Bathroom Bills," please see "Debunking the Bathroom Bill Myth: Accurate reporting on nondiscrimination."