Jun 3, 2022
How Legal Discrimination in Most States Affects LGBTQ+ People
LGBTQ Americans have been susceptible to unequal treatment in the workplace and in housing.
This Pride month, as we celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, it’s important to take stock of the community’s complete financial picture.
It’s a hard fact, but discrepancies are real between how LGBTQ +people and their straight counterparts live. Currently, roughly 165 million LGBTQ+ Americans and their friends and families live in states without complete protections for LGBTQ+ people. And in the majority of states, protections against discrimination in housing and public accommodations don’t exist.
At best, LGBTQ+ people have a patchwork of protections that can have real consequences for their lives throughout the U.S.
Taking it to the Supreme Court
On the plus side, on June 15, 2020 The Supreme Court delivered one of the biggest wins in LGBTQ+ rights since the court legalized gay marriage in 2015. Last summer, it expanded Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The federal law prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Last summer, the high court expanded the “sex” qualifier of the law to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
But those protections don’t necessarily extend to discrimination in housing, education, and public accomodations. And, this year, the high court will decide another case that may allow businesses with religious objections to deny services to same-sex couples for things like weddings.
How states differ in LGBTQ+ protections
Meanwhile, only twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have passed laws that explicitly ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The majority of states have a patchwork of protections. For example, six have passed laws pertaining to public employees only. One state—Wisconsin—has passed a law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation only. Four states have passed laws banning discrimination against public employees for sexual orientation only.
The remaining 17 states have no laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity at all.
(Note: Two U.S. territories have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Three territories have no laws on the issue.)
The gap in Title VII, combined with differences among state laws, created an opportunity for discrimination against LGBTQ+ people not just in the workplace. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 bans discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, sex, handicap, and family status, when it comes to the sale, rental, or financing of a home.
Again, the Fair Housing Act doesn’t include sexual orientation and gender identity. Congress introduced a bill called the Fair and Equal Housing Act in 2019 to expand the protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity, but the bill hasn’t been passed.
Resources for the LGBTQ+ community
Discrimination in the workplace can affect your finances by making it more difficult to get certain jobs, fair pay for work, and promotions. And of course, being unjustly laid off can have a devastating effect on your finances. Just because job discrimination against LGBTQ+ people is now illegal doesn’t mean discrimination goes away.
In the meantime, if you’ve experienced discrimination based on your sexual identity or gender identity, there are resources you can consult. “Individuals who believe they have been treated differently because of their sexual orientation should first consult whether their state offers any protections,” says Robert C. Bird, professor of business law at the University of Connecticut.
With the Supreme Court ruling, remember that you’re now protected against discrimination by federal law. Bird suggests checking out the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) website, where you can find more information about federal protections for LGBTQ people. This EEOC investigates claims of discrimination in the workplace. You can file a claim of discrimination on their website. Keep in mind that you typically must file a claim within 180 days of the incident.
Additionally, Bird recommends “contacting the state’s equivalent employment law agency to better understand the rules in your area.” Some states have their own organizations that enforce state laws against discrimination.