LGBT Equality: 5 State Strategies to Move us Forward
This past week saw a significant shift in strategy on the federal level for LGBT equality. After more than a decade of striving to pass the Employment Non Discrimination Act, and following the lead of local grassroots LGBT activists, National LGBT organizations switched to a new strategy: comprehensive LGBT Non-Discrimination Protections.
And even as consensus built around the Senator Jeff Merkley’s plans to introduce a Comprehensive LGBT Non-Discrimination Bill, the realities of the current political climate on the hill made everyone wonder if passing anything on the federal level would be possible.
Mara Keisling was quoted in Time as saying there is ‘no clear path’ to moving the legislation forward. Get Equal reported that some LGBT insiders believed passing such a bill would take at least another decade.
Even with the vast resources thrown at the federal level, what we can expect to accomplish this year, or for that matter, the next five years, is hazy at best.
On the other hand investments of time and resources at the state level have much stronger potential for payout in the short term. Here are some of the state strategies that have already begun to improve the lives of LGBT individuals in some states, and have great potential to be replicated in states across the country.
State Strategy: End New HIV Infections
In 2010 , gay an bisexual men accounted for 63% of estimated new HIV infections in the United states. A sobering statistic, but the numbers are even more alarming when you look at gay and bisexual men of color.
While HIV/AIDS has not been a high-priority for many LGBT organizations, perhaps nothing would have a bigger impact on the lives of gay an bisexual men than ending new HIV infections; and New York State is making a plan to do exactly that. Better yet, it’s a plan you can replicate in your state.
The end of the AIDS epidemic in New York will occur when the total number of new HIV infections has fallen below the number of HIV-related deaths. Governor Cuomo and local HIV/AIDS activists have a three point plan to get this done.
- Identifying persons with HIV who remain undiagnosed and linking them to health care;
- Linking and retaining persons diagnosed with HIV to health care and getting them on anti-HIV therapy to maximize HIV virus suppression so they remain healthy and prevent further transmission; and
- Providing access to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) for high-risk persons to keep them HIV negative.
Learn more about the plan on the Housing Works Blog, and take part in the campaign to #EndAIDS2020 in your state.
State Strategy: End Conversion Therapy
Few practices hurt LGBT youth more than attempts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity through so-called conversion therapy, which can cause depression, substance abuse, and even suicide.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) is taking action to end this practice once and for all. State legislation has already been passed in California, New Jersey, and Washington DC. Reach out to NCLR to see how you can help make your state next.
State Strategy: End Healthcare Discrimination
In February Mayor Vince Gray took steps to prohibit discrimination in health insurance based on gender identity and expression. This means health insurance companies in the District must offer all appropriate care, including hormone treatment and gender confirmation surgeries. New York State has also taken similar measures. As a District resident, I am extremely proud of my Mayor for this groundbreaking work, and for the amazing folks who worked on this important issue.
The truth is, however, that every state can and should implement transgender inclusive healthcare coverage, and if it is not on the agenda in your state, you have a tremendous opportunity to be the person that makes this a priority.
GLSEN has model state anti-bullying legislation that has already been successful in many states. Versions of this legislation has been passed in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington as well as the District of Columbia.
If this law has been passed in your state, learn more about how it is being implemented to protect LGBT students in schools. If it hasn’t yet passed in your state, take action to make it happen.
State Strategy: Pass State Anti-Discrimination Laws in the South
While we are working for full federal equality in employment, housing, and public accommodation, we can continue to work for the same at the state level.
It is important to note that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has now stated that transgender discrimination is sex discrimination, and while there are legal challenges to this decision, this information needs to be disseminated more broadly in our community.
It should not be used, however, as an excuse to exclude the transgender community from any state bills. Already some have tried to use this decision to argue that we should focus on passing state laws addressing employment discrimination based on sexual orientation but not gender identity/expression. Whatever happens with EEOC rulings down the road (which could actually be expanded to include gays and lesbians) state laws offer an important level of protection and have the opportunity to address the issues not covered by the EEOC decision, namely discrimination in housing and public accommodation.
Of all the states which do not currently have these protections, this year the spotlight is on three being targeted by the Human Rights Campaign’s Project One America. The spotlight is on the Project One America states, Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi. This is due in no small part to the unprecedented amount of money HRC will pour into these states. With a three year budget of $8.5 million and a dedicated staff of 20, this is the biggest ever investment being made in the south.
Of course, it’s important that you understand what the laws are in your state are. Check out these state equality maps, if you are unsure.
It all starts with your statewide LGBT organization
If these campaigns have piqued your curiosity, or if you’re ready to take action, the place to start is your statewide LGBT advocacy group. The Equality Federation is a great place to start. Equality Federation is the strategic partner and movement builder to state-based organizations winning equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Visit the Equality Federation website to connect with the LGBT advocacy group doing work in your state and get started today.