Kian Nassre, Editor In Chief, Visuals
Urban students are constantly encouraged to have difficult conversations and to practice listening and sharing to all perspectives. This month, students are invited to participate in Urban’s annual Month of Understanding. Through speakers, movie screenings, and discussions, students are given the chance to engage with their peers in difficult conversations. The theme this year is Crossing Borders: Stories, Journeys & Communities. In the spirit of crossing borders, it is prudent to look beyond Urban and think about how the protections the LGBT community has here may evaporate when crossing state lines.
Throughout America, homophobic laws persist or continue to be added to the books. 13 states had not legalized same-sex marriage when it was legalized nationwide in 2015. In many states it is legal to be fired for being gay or transgender. In others some parts of the county, hate speech towards the LGBT community is not only legal, but protected.
The following are brief summaries of what rights the LGBT community possesses in certain states.
How to be an effective ally
Know if your elected officials are pro-LGBT rights or anti-LGBT rights
Vote for candidates you believe can affect change
Vote in primaries to improve candidate quality
Register people in your community to vote
Find out what voter suppression efforts exist in your area
Volunteer for campaigns that can positively affect the LGBT community
Attend public forums to affirm your support for the LGBT community
Donate to campaigns and organizations that support the LGBT community
Support LGBT friendly businesses
Get your friends and family to do all of this as well
What you may find
Arizona has a history of conservatism, being the home of Barry Goldwater, ideological patriarch to the modern conservative movement before Reagan. However, this ruby-red history is not well reflected in its laws. Arizona does have discrimination protections for public employment since 2003 and most cities have private stronger ones. Arizona also issues new birth certificates to post-operation transgender individuals.
Tennessee is not a kind state to the LGBT community. What rights they do have have been forced upon the state via court order. All discrimination protections are local. “Sex” is defined based on original birth certificate in Tennessee. Doctors may refuse to treat LGBT patients based on religious beliefs.
Illinois is the home of Chicago: one of the largest progressive populations in the country. Governor Bruce Rauner is hardly an impediment to pro-LGBT laws, meaning that such laws still pass despite the fact that he is a Republican. Illinois stands firmly on the ending discrimination side of the LGBT political spectrum, containing strong discrimination and anti-bullying protections as well as a ban on conversion therapy and the gay panic defense.
Washington is a very progressive state, yet had some problems with anti-LGBT laws. Gay marriage was not recognized until 2012, and then it was nearly overturned. The recently toppled GOP majority in the state senate resulted in numerous pro-LGBT laws stagnating, such as a ban on conversion therapy. Washington has strong discrimination protections for LGBT individuals. The court system in Washington tends to side with LGBT plaintiffs.
California has some of the strongest LGBT discrimination protections in the nation, along with health initiatives to combat HIV in the community. However, this openness to the LGBT community was not stabilized until quite recently: California banned same-sex marriage in 2008. Since then, the ban has been overturned, conversion therapy was outlawed, LGBT violence has been classified as a hate crime, and gender reassignment surgeries have received aid from the state.
Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, and has since then passed numerous laws in favor of the LGBT community. The court system (like other ally states) tends to side with the LGBT community over discriminators. However, numerous anti-LGBT ordinances such as sodomy laws have not been repealed yet. Massachusetts categorizes violence against the LGBT community as a hate crime.
Virginia was once a bastion of LGBT-unfriendly laws, but that is changing. On election night in 2017, the GOP’s majority in the state house was reduced from 34 seats to two, with self described “chief homophobe” Bob Marshall replaced by transgender journalist Danica Roem. This raises the prospect of Virginia gaining discrimination protections for the LGBT community or overturning an ordinance that allows adoption agencies to refuse to aid LGBT couples.
When anti-LGBT laws are mentioned in the news, odds are North Carolina is the subject. It is the home of the nation’s only bathroom bill to regulate transgender individuals’ bathroom usage: HB2. What few protections the LGBT community had from discrimination were weakened by HB2. The Democratic governor partially repealed HB2, but much of the law still stands. Liberal cities and colleges towns pass laws to aid the LGBT community, but preemption laws are always a risk.
Politically, Nevada has changed hands many times, but at the moment progressives have a slight advantage and the Republican governor is a moderate. As a result, many pro-LGBT laws have been signed into law in the past year, including a conversion therapy ban and discrimination/bullying protections for LGBT individuals. However, the pro-LGBT stance in Nevada is precarious and should not be considered stable.
Missouri’s history as a swing state has complicated its LGBT related laws in the past, but overall the laws are still rather unfriendly to the LGBT community. There are no discrimination protections for LGBT individuals, yet most local municipalities have some form of employment protections. However, the state of Missouri frequently passes laws to override St. Louis, therefore the legal protection that cities grant can not be considered certain.
Almost every anti-LGBT law that exists in other states (save the Bathroom Bill and Mississippi’s religious freedom law) is also present in Texas. Yet Austin, El Paso, Dallas, Houston and other cities enforce local discrimination protections, along with certain universities. However, laws to override local laws exist in Texas, so these protections can not be considered permanent. In Texas, LGBT individuals and their allies have reason to be cautious of state government, but local government can be much friendlier.
Besides a history of passing same-sex marriage and adoption bans, Mississippi has a law that is more anti-LGBT than those of Texas or North Carolina. The 2016 Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act protects discrimination against LGBT individuals. Firing employees, refusing to teach students, not performing medical requests for individuals, refusing to marry LGBT couples, insulting individuals, are all legal under the guise of religious freedom.