End Sexuality and Gender Discrimination

Freedom & End Discrimination


End Sexuality and Gender Discrimination

The millions of two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer people that live in rural communities are too often denied equal opportunities, have less structural support, and don’t have equal legal protections.

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Pride Image by Rural Arizona Engagement organizer Emilie Lopez

In today’s polarized political and cultural environment, conservative politicians and pundits use LGBTQ+ issues as a wedge issue. Laws that allow businesses to refuse services to someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or that deny LGBTQ+ people basic freedoms and choice prey on fear and are designed to be polarizing and distracting. Initiatives like these, including “bathroom bills,” bills regulating trans athletes’ participation in sports, and so-called “religious freedom” bills, must be summarily rejected and/or overturned.

Policymakers should instead ensure that protections for sexual orientation and gender identity/expression are included in their state’s antidiscrimination laws, including in education, employment, housing, and health care. These protections are especially important today; as LGBTQ+ issues are used as a cultural wedge, LGBTQ+ people, including youth, are more vulnerable to discrimination, harassment, or violence.

Beyond these basics, state legislators can proactively support rural LGBTQ+ communities in a variety of ways, from changing old discriminatory laws to efforts to make state agencies more inclusive. For example, more than half of all states do not include both sexual orientation and gender identity in hate crime laws, and in many states, a so-called LGBTQ+ “panic” defense can still be used in court to explain or excuse an assault on a LGBTQ+ person, up to and including murder. Many states permit “conversion therapy” to be used on minors, despite consensus in the mental health community that these practices, which attempt to change sexual orientation or gender identity, are harmful or abusive. Decriminalization of HIV and expansion of access to HIV treatment have public health benefits far beyond the LGBTQ+ community. Finally, many states are creating commissions, offices, and state agencies to proactively advise policymakers and executive officials on equitable policies for LGBTQ+ and other marginalized communities.

Policy Priorities

  1. Federal: The Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, federally funded programs, credit, and jury service. The bill should be reintroduced and passed.
  2. State: Reject anti-LGBTQ+ bills, including those regulating use of bathrooms, sports participation, and health care and those allowing denial of services to LGBTQ+ individuals.
  3. State: Include sexual orientation and gender identity in state antidiscrimination laws and protections for LGBTQ+ youth and students.
  4. State: Include sexual orientation and gender identity in hate crime law and ban the LGBTQ+ “panic” defense.
  5. State: Ban “conversion therapy” for LGBTQ+ minors.
  6. State: Create cross-sector/agency entities to proactively advise on equitable policies for LGBTQ+ communities

State Examples

  • Hawaii (2018 HI HB 1489) enacted a bill to establish state school nondiscrimination protections for students on the basis of gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation in any educational program or activity>
  • In New Mexico (2019 NM SB 288), legislators enacted a comprehensive anti-bullying law that provides protections for students against bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Vermont (2021 VT HB 128) and Colorado (2020 CO HB 1307) have banned the LGBTQ+ “panic” defense.
  • Virginia (2020 VA HB 276) and Georgia (2020 GA HB 426) have broadened their hate crime laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Nebraska (2021 NE LB 231), Pennsylvania (2021 PA HB 729), and Wisconsin (2021 WI AB 312), are exploring paths to limit or fully ban “conversion therapy” for LGBTQ+ minors.
  • Georgia (2021 GA SB 164) is considering steps to decriminalize HIV, while Maine (2021 ME LD 1115) has expanded access to HIV-prevention drugs.
  • States includingKentucky (2022 KY Bill Request 119) and Iowa (2021 IA HF 376) are considering including LGBTQ+ identities in school curricula.
  • Vermont (2021 VT HB 210) formed a Health Equity Advisory Commission, and Minnesota (2021 MN HF 1924) proposed a Council on LGBTQI Minnesotans.