Statewide protections for LGBT people and people with HIV have come a long way.
“Though no state is perfect, there’s no question some states have moved further than others,” says Jon W. Davidson, Lambda Legal’s National Legal Director and Eden/Rushing Chair.
We looked at 21 kinds of protections in the laws of all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. Some states with the largest LGBT communities did not make our cut. California has some bad HIV laws, including stiffer criminal penalties for sex workers with HIV. New York still doesn’t expressly include gender identity in its state laws protecting employees and students.
The following are examples of states with excellent protections that illustrate what’s needed everywhere. Some might surprise you! And remember that federal law may fill in some gaps.
Thumbs up: The Centennial State has strong laws if you’re LGBT or living with HIV, including public and private workplace protections that specifically mention gender identity.
Needs work: State discrimination laws do not clearly protect transgender students, and anti-bullying laws do not apply to private, non-religious schools.
Highlights: Forty years before Obergefell, six samesex couples married here thanks to the wording of state law. Lambda Legal is currently suing a property owner who refused to rent to a same-sex couple (one of whom is transgender) and their children.
Thumbs up: With great marks across the board, Connecticut bans health insurance exclusions of transition-related care and has robust laws to prevent health care discrimination in general.
Needs work: Antibullying laws don’t apply to private, non-religious schools, though many have taken steps to create their own student protections.
Highlights: In 1927, Mae West starred in a daring Bridgeport play called The Drag: A Homosexual Comedy in Three Acts. It shut down almost immediately.
Thumbs up: Delaware earns its nickname as the Small Wonder State, with numerous legal protections and no HIV criminalization laws.
Needs work: Delaware requires charter schools to have anti-bullying protections but still doesn’t cover private schools.
Highlights: The state is the birthplace of Sarah McBride, the first transgender person to speak at a major party convention, this past July at the Democrats’ conclave. It’s also home to two top LGBT-friendly beaches: North Shores and the fun-named Poodles.
Thumbs up: LGBTQ students are protected by law from bullying and cyberbullying based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Needs work: Private, non-religious schools are excluded from state anti-bullying laws.
Highlights: The Aloha State in 1993 gave us the first high court ruling supportive of marriage for samesex couples. It’s also the birthplace of Olympic gold medalist and soccer player Natasha Kai, one of three openly gay athletes who represented the U.S. in the 2008 Olympics.
Thumbs up: The Pine Tree State, like Colorado and Oregon on this list, offers domestic partnerships to couples who choose not to marry.
Needs work: Still needs to ban the exclusion of transition-related health care from insurance plans.
Highlights: Bangor, Maine, is home to writer and LGBT ally Stephen King, author of a much publicized tweet criticizing Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Thumbs up: New Mexico leads in the Southwest, protecting LGBT people at work and not criminalizing HIV transmission.
Needs work: No state law bars insurance plans from excluding transition-related health care.
Highlights: The now-historic Taos Inn, built in 1928 by openly bisexual patron of the arts Mabel Dodge Luhan, was a cultural center for the likes of Gertrude Stein, D.H. Lawrence and Martha Graham.
Thumbs up: On the West Coast, Oregon sets a high standard, providing broad legal protections.
Needs work: No laws explicitly criminalize conduct based on HIV status here, but there has been at least one prosecution for not disclosing HIV status.
Highlights: Home to Kate Brown, first openly bisexual governor; Stu Rasmussen, first transgender mayor in the U.S.; and Rives Kistler, first openly LGBT state supreme court justice.
Thumbs up: “Little Rhody” has strong laws protecting students against bullying, including those attending private schools (which often are excluded from this type of legal protection).
Needs work: Joint adoptions providing a child with two legal parents have been granted in court, but there’s no explicit law.
Highlights: Much like Lambda Legal itself, which had to go to court for the mere right to exist, in 1976 a gay rights group sued for the right to march in what became Providence’s first Pride parade. Four years later, high school student Aaron Fricke won a federal lawsuit after his school barred him from attending prom with a same-sex date.
Thumbs up: “Freedom and unity,” the state’s motto, applies to all of our criteria.
Needs work: There has been at least one prosecution for not disclosing HIV status.
Highlights: In 2009, Vermont was the first state to pass legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry. California, Connecticut, Iowa and Massachusetts had provided marriage equality through lawsuits. Vermont also was the first state to provide civil unions for same-sex couples.
Thumbs up: Not to be outshone by its southern neighbor, Oregon, Washington State does a good job protecting its LGBT residents.
Needs work: Not disclosing one’s HIV-positive status before having sex is classified as a felony in the Evergreen State.
Highlights: There are openly LGBT candidates on November’s ballot for Congress, state secretary of state and reelection to the state supreme court.
How about your state?
Check out your state's legal protections or contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk at 866-542-8336.