LGBT Discrimination, Subnational Public Policy, and Law in the United States (2020)
in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics
LGBT people in the United States continue to experience discrimination because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, despite increasing acceptance of LGBT people and legal recognition of marriage for same-sex couples nationwide. This ongoing discrimination can lead to under- and unemployment, resulting in socioeconomic disparities for LGBT people. In addition, empirical research has linked LGBT health disparities, including disparities in health-related risk factors, to experiences of stigma and discrimination.Currently, federal statutes in the United States do not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, or public accommodations, leaving regulation in this area primarily to state and local governments. This creates a limited and uneven patchwork of protections from discrimination against LGBT people across the country.Despite public support for LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination laws across the country, in 28 states there are no statewide statutory protections for LGBT people in employment, housing, or public accommodations. To date, only 20 states and the District of Columbia have enacted comprehensive non-discrimination statutes that expressly prohibit discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity in all three of these areas. One additional state has statutes that prohibit sexual orientation discrimination, but not gender identity discrimination, in these areas. One other state prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment and housing, but not in public accommodations.In states without statutes that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity, there are other policies that afford LGBT people at least some limited protections from discrimination. In some of these states, state executive branch officials have expanded non-discrimination protections for LGBT people under their executive or agency powers. For example, in three states, state government agencies have expanded broad protections from sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination through administrative regulations. And, in 12 states without statutes prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people, governors have issued executive orders that protect state government employees (and sometimes employees of state government contractors) from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In addition, local government ordinances provide another source of protection from discrimination; however, these laws are generally unenforceable in court and provide much more limited remedies than statewide non-discrimination statutes.In recent years, lawmakers have increasingly attempted to limit the reach of state and local non-discrimination laws, which can leave LGBT people vulnerable to discrimination. For example, some states have passed laws allowing religiously motivated discrimination and others have passed laws prohibiting local governments from enacting their own non-discrimination ordinances that are broader than state non-discrimination laws. While most of these bills have not passed, the recent increase in the introduction of these measures suggests that state legislatures will continue to consider rolling back non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in the coming years.Continued efforts are required at both the state and federal levels to ensure that LGBT people are fully protected from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity throughout the United States, including federal legislation and statewide bills in over half the states.