Annual state equality index says NJ is among 17 states “working toward innovative equality”
The Human Rights Campaign Foundation and the Equality Federation Institute released their 5th annual State Equality Index in January. The SEI is 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. New Jersey falls into the category, “Working Toward Innovative Equality.”
An estimated 8 million LGBTQ Americans remain at risk of discrimination if they live in one of the 30 states without adequate protections.
“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 people at the federal level, the rights of millions of LGBTQ people and their families vary depending on which state they live in says the report. In 30 states, LGBTQ people remain at risk of being fired, evicted or denied services because of who they are.
New Jersey, top-rated states, and Washington, D.C., have robust LGBTQ non-discrimination laws covering employment, housing and public accommodations. 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
- Two states are in the category “Building Equality”: Utah and Wisconsin
- 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
“The State Equality Index highlights how far we have come in the fight for LGBTQ equality in each state,” said Rebecca Isaacs, Executive Director of the Equality Federation. “For years, we’ve been working with our member organizations to pave the way for nationwide protections by winning state and municipal laws that make discrimination illegal. We’re keeping that momentum going. We have big plans for a future where we can thrive in all the places we call home.”
“This year, we will work with members on a host of issues, including non-discrimination legislation in places like Virginia and Ohio. Together, we are impacting the lives of millions of LGBTQ Americans,” said Isaacs. “We can, and we will win this fight.”
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 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 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.”
HRC says unfortunately we have also seen the introduction and passage of bad legislation. These include a Tennessee bill that would 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. 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 says HRC. 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 including detailed scorecards for every state, and a preview of the 2020 state legislative session is available online at www.hrc.org/sei.