At the start of a new decade, lawmakers across the country are moving ahead with bills that, among other things, would repeal nondiscrimination protections and make it a felony to provide transgender youth with medically necessary care. In a year when the Supreme Court will decide three cases that will either affirm lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people employment protections—or grant employers a right to discriminate under federal law—the variety of LGBTQ laws and policies at the local, state, and federal levels makes one pause to consider: in the fight for LGBTQ equality, how much progress has been made over the past ten years?
Mapping LGBTQ Equality: 2010 to 2020 offers a fresh perspective on the current legal status of LGBTQ people and tallies nearly 40 LGBTQ-related laws and policies across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the five U.S. territories. The report uses those tallies to place states into five categories, ranging from “negative” to “high” equality states:
- High Equality States: 14 states & D.C.
- Medium Equality States: 5 states & Puerto Rico
- Fair Equality States: 5 states
- Low Equality States: 14 states & 4 territories
- Negative Equality States: 12 states
What emerges in 2020 is a patchwork of positive LGBTQ laws and policies, with variations both by region and area of law, as well as a remarkable growth in both the policy accomplishments and challenges facing LGBTQ people over the past ten years.
Among the key findings:
- The number of LGBTQ people living in “negative” equality states fell by more than half. In 2010, nearly half (48%) of LGBTQ people lived in negative equality states. In 2020, that number has decreased to 20%.
- The number of LGBTQ people living in “medium” or “high” equality states increased dramatically, from 6% in 2010 to nearly half (46%) of all LGBTQ people in 2020.
- All but one state improved their LGBTQ policy tally scores, and over 70% of states improved by an entire category from 2010 to January 1, 2020.
The report also reveals how nearly every area of law covering 40 policies saw remarkable changes over the past decade for LGBTQ equality. For example, on the positive side:
- Relationship and parental recognition. The 2015 Supreme Court ruling in favor of the freedom to marry was a major step toward legal equality: while only 14 states and D.C. had some degree of relationship recognition for same-sex couples in 2010, by 2020 all 50 states and D.C. allowed same-sex couples to marry.
- LGBTQ youth. The number of states that prohibit discrimination in schools nearly doubled, from nine in 2010 to 15 and D.C. in 2020. Additionally, in 2010, no state banned the harmful practice of conversion therapy, but by January 1, 2020 there were 18 states and D.C. with bans in place.
- Criminal justice. In 2010 there were no states that banned the use of so-called “gay panic” and “trans panic” defenses in courtrooms. These approaches attempt to excuse violent crimes committed against LGBTQ people on the grounds that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for the assailant’s violent reaction. But by January 1, 2020, eight states have banned this practice. Additionally, while discriminatory HIV criminalization laws remain all too common across the country, since 2010 roughly half a dozen states have at least partially repealed or modernized their HIV criminalization laws.
- Many states have significantly improved the process for transgender and nonbinary people to update their name and gender on identity documents. In 2010, 33 states either required proof of “sexual reassignment surgery” or had extremely burdensome processes for updating gender markers on driver’s licenses. By 2020, only nine states had such requirements, and over half of states (27) and D.C. use easy to understand forms and require either no medical certification or accept certification from a wide range of providers.
On the negative side:
- Religious exemptions laws allow doctors and healthcare providers, adoption or foster agencies, and more to explicitly refuse to work with LGBTQ people and others if doing so would conflict with their religious beliefs. In 2010, only one state had a targeted religious exemption law. By 2020, 13 states had such laws. As a result, LGBTQ people and many others may be more likely to be unable to access critical family services, healthcare, and more than they were 10 years ago.
The 2020 legislative session has already brought a wide range of bills targeting transgender youth, including banning them from playing sports consistent with their gender identity, preventing gender marker changes in identity documents, bills allowing teachers to refuse to use proper pronouns for transgender youth, and bills stating that it constitutes “child abuse” to affirm the gender of a transgender youth by helping them transition.
In a rapidly changing legal landscape, MAP’s Equality Maps track LGBTQ equality, populations, and other data by state. Maps are updated daily as changes in law, policy, and legislation occur. All Equality Maps, including high-resolution JPEG versions, are available for publication. The LGBTQ Equality Maps allow websites to embed the maps easily and for free.