WASHINGTON — This week the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and the Equality Federation Institute released their 7th annual State Equality Index. The SEI is a comprehensive report that details statewide laws and policies that affect LGBTQ+ people and their families and assesses how well states are protecting LGBTQ+ people from discrimination. This year, 19 states and Washington, D.C. were recognized in the SEI for prioritizing innovative measures to advance LGBTQ equality, with Hawaii and New Hampshire joining those in the top category for the first time. Michigan was in the lowest category among 25 other states. States that scored in the highest category have robust LGBTQ non-discrimination laws covering employment, housing and public accommodations.
"The 2020 legislative session was one of the most unusual in recent memory, given the COVID-19 pandemic. However, despite the shortened sessions in many states, we saw multiple states pass pro-equality laws to protect the LGBTQ community," said Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David. "Although there were anti-LGBTQ laws passed – most notably in Idaho, where the legislature and governor refused to immediately respond to the pandemic and instead spent time passing legislation expressly targeting transgender people — we also saw great progress. For example, the landmark Virginia Values Act passed and signed into law, making Virginia the first state in the South to adopt non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. The Human Rights Campaign's 2020 State Equality Index covers what we saw last year and looks ahead to this year, highlighting the importance of proactive non-discrimination protections and other pro-equality legislation as LGBTQ people continue to be disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic."
Despite the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision Bostock v. Clayton County, which prohibits discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, explicit and comprehensive civil rights protections still do not exist for the LGBTQ+ people at the federal level. As a result, the rights of millions of LGBTQ+ people and their families vary depending on the state in which they live. In 27 states, LGBTQ people remain at risk of facing discrimination due to the lack of statutory protections.
The SEI's assessment covers statewide LGBTQ+-related legislation and policies in the areas of parenting laws and policies; religious refusal and relationship recognition laws; non-discrimination laws and policies; hate crime and criminal justice laws; youth-related laws and policies; and health and safety laws and policies. These are the state rankings:
- Nineteen states and the District of Columbia are in the highest-rated category, "Working Toward Innovative Equality": California; Colorado; Connecticut; Delaware; District of Columbia; Hawaii; Illinois; Maine; Maryland; Massachusetts; Minnesota; Nevada; New Hampshire; New Jersey; New Mexico; New York; Oregon; Rhode Island; Vermont; and Washington.
- Two states are in the category "Solidifying Equality": Iowa and Virginia.
- Four states are in the category "Building Equality": Kansas; Pennsylvania; Utah; and Wisconsin.
- Twenty-Five states are in the lowest-rated category "High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality": Alabama; Alaska; Arizona; Arkansas; Florida; Georgia; Idaho; Indiana; Kentucky; Louisiana; Michigan; Mississippi; Missouri; Montana; Nebraska; North Carolina; North Dakota; Ohio; Oklahoma; South Carolina; South Dakota; Tennessee; Texas; West Virginia; and Wyoming.
"The State Equality Index tells the story of how advocates on the ground, in states across the country, achieved wins and battled tough opposition to fight for the rights of the LGBTQ community. In a year of fighting the triple pandemics of coronavirus, police brutality and racism, state-based advocates continued to push back against anti-LGBTQ attacks and even secured some huge advancements for LGBTQ people," said Fran Hutchins, executive director of Equality Federation Institute. "As a Southerner, I was particularly pleased to see Virginia become the first southern state to pass a law that protects LGBTQ people from discrimination. From the Northeast to the Southwest, LGBTQ advocates are securing protections that allow our community to thrive in all the places we call home. As we face the upcoming attacks by equality opponents, we know the state-based movement is stronger than ever and ready to fight for the millions of LGBTQ Americans who need us."
In 2020, 379 pro-equality bills were introduced by 38 states and the District of Columbia, while 47 were passed into law. Most notably, Virginia passed the landmark Virginia Values Act, which expanded the state's existing protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity and created all-new protections for Virginians in private employment and places of public accommodation. Virginia also became the first state to jump two categories in one year, from "High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality" to "Solidifying Equality." Additional key new laws include bans on the use of the so-called "LGBTQ panic defense," laws easing the process for adoption and obtaining fertility services, required training on LGBTQ cultural competence for government employees, updating sex education curricula to be more LGBTQ-inclusive, expanding access to PrEP, and collecting sexual orientation and gender identity information in COVID-19 data collection.
Also in 2020, 185 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced by 35 states, while four were passed into law. These included two bills in Idaho that directly attacked transgender people — one bill prohibiting transgender girls from participating in girls' sports, and another barring transgender people from updating the gender marker on their birth certificates. Tennessee passed on its first day of session a license to discriminate in child welfare services bill, which the governor quickly signed into law.
This SEI report comes as more than 40 state legislatures and the District of Columbia have opened their sessions.
"So far, we are tracking more than 60 potentially LGBTQ+-related pieces of legislation that have been introduced. While this year's legislative sessions will undoubtedly be shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 election, we also anticipate continued attacks on transgender youth — particularly in relation to athletic participation and access to best-practice, affirming medical care, to continue across the country," read an HRC press release. "We also anticipate seeing a resurgence in passing religious refusal legislation, including legislation to create novel religious exemptions to nondiscrimination laws."
Advancing LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination protections at the state and federal levels is supported by a wide swath of Americans. A recent PRRI survey found that 83 percent of Americans support LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination laws like the Equality Act. A map of this patchwork of laws can be found here.
HRC's full State Equality Index report, including detailed scorecards for every state, and a preview of the 2021 state legislative session is available online at hrc.org/sei. The Human Rights Campaign Foundation is the educational arm of America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for LGBTQ+ people.