Policy Summary: Despite the fact that same-sex marriage is now the law of the land, fairness legislation is needed at the state and local levels because discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals remains pervasive. As recently as 2008, the General Social Survey found that 37 percent of lesbian and gay people had experienced workplace harassment in the prior five years, and 12 percent had lost a job because of their sexual orientation. A recent Pew Research survey found that 21% of LGBT Americans have suffered discrimination at work.
There are no federal laws that explicitly prohibit discrimination against LGBT individuals, although in July 2014 President Obama signed an executive order prohibiting workplace discrimination for federal employees and federal contractors. To date, 17 states (CA, CO, CT, DE, HI, IL, IA, ME, MA, MN, NV, NJ, NM, OR, RI, VT, WA) and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in employment and housing. Four other states (MD, NH, NY, WI) have banned discrimination against gay and lesbian, but not transgender, people. Many cities have also adopted ordinances that protect both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression while a much smaller number, like Vicco, limit their protection to sexual orientation.
That means in 29 states, outside of the cities that have adopted their own protections, residents can be legally fired from their jobs, or denied access to housing, educational institutions, credit, and public accommodations simply because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Even small localities can enact anti-discrimination legislation. For example, in 2013 the tiny Eastern Kentucky town of Vicco became only the fourth municipality in Kentucky to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Stephen Colbert aired a report about this ordinance and the town’s gay mayor, and that video – Stephen Colbert’s Best Segment Ever – was watched many thousands of times.
Americans strongly support laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. For example, 77 percent of Americans support protecting LGBT people from discrimination in employment, including 70 percent of Republicans, 67 percent of conservatives, 69 percent of seniors, and 74 percent of born-again Christians.
If your jurisdiction does not have existing civil rights laws to amend, see these exemplary laws:
Summary: The Fairness Act amends existing state or local civil rights laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Typically, this will prohibit discrimination in employment, public accommodations, education, credit or lending, and housing; create a private right of action for aggrieved individuals; and provide for enforcement through a government agency.
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE. This Act shall be called the “[jurisdiction] Fairness Act.”
SECTION 2. FINDINGS AND PURPOSE
(A) FINDINGS—The legislature/council finds that:
1. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals are too often the victims of discrimination. They may be fired from jobs, denied access to housing and educational institutions, refused credit, and excluded from public accommodations because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
2. It is essential that [jurisdiction] protect the civil rights of all its residents.
(B) PURPOSE—This law is enacted to protect civil rights by prohibiting discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.
SECTION 3. DEFINITIONS. In section XXX, the following new paragraphs shall be inserted:
“sexual orientation” means an individual’s actual or perceived heterosexuality, bisexuality or homosexuality.
“gender identity or expression” means an individual’s gender-related identity, appearance, expression or behavior, regardless of that individual’s biological sex at birth.
SECTION 4. LGBT ANTI-DISCRIMINATION. In section XXX, after each occurrence of the words, [“race, gender, national origin”—alter to fit existing law], following new section XXX shall be inserted: “sexual orientation, gender identity or expression,”
SECTION 5. EFFECTIVE DATE. This Act shall take effect on July, 1, XXXX.