Media Reference Guide - In Focus: Nondiscrimination laws & the LGBTQ community

In Focus: Nondiscrimination Laws & the LGBTQ Community

This section was created as a collaboration between GLAAD and Freedom for All Americans

Nondiscrimination laws exist at the federal, state, city, and county levels. They simply ensure that a person may not face discrimination based on any number of characteristics, such as race, national origin, religion, sex, disability, age, and more. However, there is no federal law that explicitly protects LGBTQ people from discrimination, and not all state and local nondiscrimination laws include protections based on gender identity (which protect transgender people, and sometimes protect nonbinary and/or gender non-conforming people) or sexual orientation (which protect lesbian, gay, and bisexual people).

Federal protections
The pending federal Equality Act would amend existing civil rights law, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to ensure nationwide, comprehensive protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, including in housing, education, public accommodations, federally-funded services, access to credit, and jury service. The Equality Act states it would allow a chance "for the full participation of LGBTQ people in society."

In June 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark Bostock v. Clayton County decision, affirming that the prohibition of sex discrimination in employment, as outlined in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, includes sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBTQ advocates have called this ruling an important step, while still calling passage of the Equality Act critical because it would enshrine LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections into federal law in areas beyond employment. This would ensure that all LGBTQ Americans are protected and that protections are uniform across all state lines, and that those protections cannot be rolled back by future courts or presidential administrations.

The Equality Act passed the House in May 2019, and again in February 2021, with bipartisan support. The Senate held a first-ever hearing on the bill in March 2021. See the Act here.

State and local protections
As of February 2022, in 21 states and the District of Columbia, state law fully and explicitly protects people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.  (In addition, Wisconsin protects people from discrimination based on sexual orientation, but not gender identity. And Utah protects LGBTQ people in employment and housing, but not in public accommodations.)  However, these laws only cover approximately 49% of the American LGBTQ population, leaving an unacceptable majority of LGBTQ people vulnerable to lawful discrimination. In total, as of February 2022, 27 states have no state-level nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans. Still, there are significant gaps in protections for millions of employees of smaller businesses and religious institutions. That is on top of an ongoing lack of explicit protections under federal law for LGBTQ people in housing, healthcare, education, and public accommodations across the country.

Data on LGBTQ discrimination
According to a 2020 survey from the Center for American Progress, more than 1 in 3 LGBTQ Americans reported facing discrimination of some kind in the past year, with that number jumping to 3 in 5 for transgender people. The survey found that discrimination is higher than average among transgender and nonbinary people, those with a disability, and people of color, most acutely people who are Latinx. Among survey respondents who are nonbinary, genderqueer, agender, or gender non-conforming, nearly 7 in 10 (69%) reported discrimination in the past year. Furthermore, since transgender people are represented across every race, religion, gender, age, ability, sexual orientation, and nationality, the type of discrimination they experience may often be exacerbated depending on the intersections of a transgender person's identities. For example, transgender people of color experience poverty, violence, and incarceration at rates much higher than others within or outside of the transgender community.

Anti-LGBTQ attacks on nondiscrimination laws
Public discussions about protecting LGBTQ people under federal, state, and local nondiscrimination laws are often sensationalized. In the mid-2010s, opponents of LGBTQ equality attempted to put a halt to nondiscrimination protections by overemphasizing and perpetuating myths about public accommodations and bathroom access for transgender people. These lies focused on stoking fears about bathrooms, falsely claiming that nondiscrimination laws would make it legal for men to pretend to be transgender in order to enter women's restrooms — despite a lack of evidence to support these claims. 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 harming another person or invading their privacy. After historic wins at the ballot box and in state legislatures for transgender equality, these harmful tactics largely failed.

LGBTQ advocates are actively engaged in federal, state and local nondiscrimination work, with a number of bills pending. For the latest on nondiscrimination laws, including the Equality Act, visit Freedom For All Americans’ website.

Organizations:
Please reach out to the below organizations — or GLAAD (press@glaad.org) — to learn more and connect with spokespeople:

Equality Federation (statewide LGBTQ organizations)

Freedom for All Americans

Movement Advancement Project (MAP)

National LGBTQ Task Force

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