The 2016 Election: Know the facts about nondiscrimination protections

Background

Federal law protects an array of populations from discrimination in public accommodations and employment, but not based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Employees can be fired on the sole basis of their sexual orientation in 28 states and on the basis of their gender identity in 31 states. This means 52% of the LGBT population lives in states where they can be fired at any moment, simply because of who they are.

While nondiscrimination protections, of course, vary from legislation to legislation, they typically aim to cover public accommodations, which include government-owned/operated facilities, services, and buildings, as well as privately-owned/operated businesses, services, and buildings. Employment nondiscrimination ordinances usually include shielding people from facing firing, not being hired, or other forms of workplace discrimination on the basis of gender identity and/or sexual orientation.

Federal and various state laws already exist to protect people from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, and ability. In a nation where marriage equality is now the law of the land, advocates for LGBT equality are urging for all Americans to be considered fully equal -- not just in relationships, but at work, and in their communities.

To ensure full equality for LGBT Americans, legal protections and cultural acceptance must go hand in hand. In 2014, a GLAAD-sponsored Harris Poll found that 40% of non-LGBT Americans reported they would be either "uncomfortable" or "very uncomfortable" just seeing an LGBT co-worker's wedding picture. As LGBT Americans continue to work towards acceptance in their peers' eyes, the need to include them in legal protections is essential. These rates of discomfort are disproportionately high for trans people and LGBT in the South, as well.

Across the country, legislation has been and will be introduced to ban discrimination on the basis sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Dallas, Jacksonville, Anchorage, California, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arizona are among the cities and states gripped by debate about equal protections for LGBT residents. Such protections do exist in many parts of the country, but are notably, by and large, absent in the U.S. South and across Middle America.

While passing nondiscrimination legislation is vital to move the LGBT community closer to full equality, the narrative surrounding them are often rife with misinformation and even inaccurate anti-LGBT animus. This page is a resource to empower both media professionals and consumers with accurate information when discussing nondiscrimination ordinances.

 

Best practices for reporters

Focus on the need to protect all the members of the community from discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Seek out stories of people who will be protected under the proposed laws. The stories of LGBT people affected by such legislation will give journalists real-life examples to inform their coverage, and are valuable resources when covering the LGBT community. It will be particularly helpful to hear from transgender people, people of color, veterans, people with disabilities, and those who often face discrimination, but are left out of the conversation far too often. Spotlight the personal and professional contributions of LGBT people to their workplaces, neighborhoods, and communities.

Clarify what nondiscrimination laws include and do not include. Describe the range of protections offered under the (proposed) pieces of legislation, rather than just focusing on one aspect of what nondiscrimination ordinances could impact (usually).

Speak to members of the business community about what implications the laws have for them. Challenge claims from anti-LGBT activists and fact check statements that come from opponents.

 

Pitfalls to avoid

Avoid repeating the myth that nondiscrimination equality is a one-note issue; specifically, a "bathroom bill." Nondiscrimination ordinances cover a wide range of public and private spaces, including, but not limited to, bathrooms.

Do not feed into the anti-LGBT "trans panic" tactic, touted by anti-LGBT activists opposed to equal protections. Nondiscrimination legislation does not enable or lead ot acts of violence in bathrooms, or any other space. In reality, such legislation prevents acts of violence often committed against trans people harassed for being in what others deem "the wrong bathroom." Such a protection does NOT make it legal to harass or assault someone in the bathroom; that remains illegal.

Referring to nondiscrimination protections as special rights" for LGBT people is inaccurate. People are already protected federally and from state to state based on a variety of characteristics. The objective is to add sexual orientation and gender identity to existing standards of legal protections. Indeed, nondiscrimination equality would protect ALL people, be they LGBT or non-LGBT, from discrimination based on anyone's sexual orientation and gender identity.

Equating nondiscrimination protections with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and similar pieces of legislation is inaccurate, and may perpetuate the false notion that including sexual orientation and gender identity into existing legal standards of protection is somehow incompatable with religious identity or freedom. Furthermore, such nondiscrimination ordinances typically impact government- and privately-owned/operated spaces, not faith-based ones.

 

Resources for journalists

 

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