New Jersey needs to continue to work toward innovative equality says report 

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2020 State Equality Index graphic
Human Rights Campaign 2020 State Equality Index graphic

Garden State is one of 19 states rated at the top in HRC State Equality Index 

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the Equality Federation Institute released their 7th annual State Equality Index. The index 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. New Jersey falls into the category, “Working Toward Innovative Equality” in 2020.

Garden State Equality Executive Director Christian Fuscarino
Christian Fuscarino at Garden State Equality.

There are 17 other states and Washington, D.C., that have robust LGBTQ non-discrimination laws covering employment, housing and public accommodations similar to New Jersey says HRC.

“During the last four years, with an administration in The White House chipping away at LGBTQ equality, we have seen firsthand how important state and local laws are,” said Garden State Equality Executive Director Christian Fuscarino. “Municipalities that make policy changes locally, help improve the lives of their LGBTQ residents—especially when the federal government fails to do so.”

“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 progess,” said David.

“The HRC’s State Equality Index looks ahead to this year.”

“In Virginia the landmark Virginia Values Act passed and was signed into law, making Virginia the first state in the South to adopt non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people,” said David. “The HRC’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 LGBTQ people at the federal level,” said David. “The rights of millions of LGBTQ people and their families vary depending on which state they live in. In 27 states, LGBTQ people remain at risk of being fired, evicted or denied services because of who they are.”

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:

  • 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.

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.

185 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in 2020 by 35 states

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 signed into law.

In 2021 HRC is 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, HRC anticipates continued attacks on transgender youth, particularly in relation to athletic participation and access to best-practice, affirming medical care, to continue across the country. The group said they see a resurgence in passing religious refusal legislation, including legislation to create novel religious exemptions to non-discrimination laws.

Advancing LGBTQ non-discrimination protections at the state and federal levels is supported by a wide swath of American say most surveys. A recent PRRI survey found that 83% of Americans support LGBTQ non-discrimination laws like the Equality Act. .

HRC’s full State Equality Index report is available online at www.hrc.org/sei.