Laws rated in HRC annual index

Beyond the Carolinas

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation and the Equality Federation Institute have released their 5th annual State Equality Index (SEI), a comprehensive report detailing statewide laws and policies that affect LGBTQ people and their families, and assessing how well states are protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination. North Carolina falls into the category, “High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality.”

“As LGBTQ people continue to face an onslaught of attacks from the federal administration in Washington, the Human Rights Campaign’s 2019 State Equality Index (SEI) documents how states were instrumental in advancing equality through pro-LGBTQ legislation, policies and proposals,” said HRC President Alphonso David. “In the absence of federal non-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community, states must put policies in place to ensure equality for their residents, workers and visitors. In 2020 and beyond, the Human Rights Campaign will continue to work with our partners to defeat anti-LGBTQ legislation in the states and secure new protections for our community, both at the state and federal level. Already, we see the promise of even more protections passing state legislatures in 2020, including action taken in Virginia advancing the Virginia Values Act.”

Due to the lack of explicit, comprehensive civil rights protections for LGBTQ individuals at the federal level, the rights of millions of LGBTQ people and their families vary depending on which state they live in. In 30 states, LGBTQ people remain at risk of being fired, evicted or denied services because of who they are. Top-rated states and Washington, D.C., have strong LGBTQ non-discrimination laws covering employment, housing and public accommodations.

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The SEI’s assessment of 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 has placed each state in one of four distinct categories:

• Seventeen states and the District of Columbia are in the highest-rated category, “Working Toward Innovative Equality:” California, Colorado; Connecticut; Delaware; District of Columbia; Illinois; Maine; Maryland; Massachusetts; Minnesota; Nevada; New Jersey; New Mexico; New York; Oregon; Rhode Island; Vermont; and Washington

• Three states are in the category “Solidifying Equality:” Hawaii; Iowa; and New Hampshire

Twenty-Eight states are in the lowest-rated category “High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality:” Alabama; Alaska; Arizona; Arkansas; Florida; Georgia; Idaho; Indiana; Kansas; Kentucky; Louisiana; Michigan; Mississippi; Missouri; Montana; Nebraska; North Carolina; North Dakota; Ohio; Oklahoma; Pennsylvania; South Carolina; South Dakota; Tennessee; Texas; Virginia; West Virginia; and Wyoming.

“As the state equality index illustrates, LGBTQ people in North Carolina still lack some of the most basic protections in their daily lives. While LGBTQ people continue to cultivate community and support one another, we still have a long way to go before ensuring that LGBTQ individuals are able to live safely, freely and openly,” said Kendra Johnson, executive director of Equality North Carolina. “North Carolina currently lacks any sort of non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, and HB142 remains on the books, restricting municipalities from passing non-discrimination protections for transgender North Carolinians in public spaces. As we gear up for the 2020 election cycle, we have the rare opportunity to transform the political landscape of this state and create a North Carolina where LGBTQ people are able to both survive and thrive.”

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Last year, the pro-equality majority in the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, a bill to establish comprehensive federal protections for LGBTQ people. But as HRC and other civil rights organizations work toward establishing these critical federal protections, accelerating progress at the state level is critical.

This SEI report comes as 38 state legislatures and the District of Columbia have opened their sessions— and with several good bills introduced, including the Virginia Values Act, a bill that would modernize Virginia’s existing human rights laws and provide non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people in public employment and housing. In New Jersey, the governor has signed a bill to ban anti-LGBTQ “panic defenses.”

Unfortunately, the introduction and passage of bad legislation, including a Tennessee bill that will allow child welfare organizations — including taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care agencies — to turn away qualified Tennesseans seeking to care for a child in need, including LGBTQ couples, interfaith couples, single parents, married couples in which one prospective parent has previously been divorced or other parents to whom the agency has a religious objection. At the end of January Gov. Bill Leek signed a measure that “allows adoption agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex parents, drawing backlash from gay-rights advocates, The Hill reported. In South Dakota, the state House of Representatives passed a bill that effectively bars instructors who teach grades K-7 in the state’s public schools from instructing students on gender identity or gender expression.

Advancing LGBTQ non-discrimination protections at the state and federal level is supported by a wide swath of Americans. A recent PRRI survey found that 71 percent of Americans support LGBTQ non-discrimination laws like the Equality Act. A map of this patchwork of laws can be found online.

HRC’s full State Equality Index report, including detailed scorecards for every states, and a preview of the 2020 state legislative session is available online.

info: hrc.org. bit.ly/2Us2VFL.

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Posted by Lainey Millen

Lainey Millen is QNotes' associate editor, special assignments writer, N.C. and U.S./World News Notes columnist and production director. She can be reached at specialassignments@goqnotes.com and 704-531-9988, x205.