LGBTQ People Are Not Legally Protected From Discrimination, Contrary to Popular Belief

Most People Think LGBTQ Americans Have Federal Protections—They Don’t

A protester is seen holding a transgender flag during a Black Trans Lives Matter rally in Hudson River Park. (Photo by John Nacion/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

By Emiene Wright

October 30, 2020

The study released this week found that 89% of LGBTQ and 78% of straight Americans believe it’s illegal to evict someone from public housing because of their orientation. In fact, there’s no federal law against it.

Most Americans, both LGBTQ+ and straight, believe that LGBTQ people are federally protected against discrimination in housing, education, public accommodations, and many other areas of life that they actually are not. 

In its annual Accelerating Acceptance study, GLAAD found that despite this lack of protections, the majority of Americans believe they should exist. So does Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, whose plan to advance equality domestically and worldwide is a direct challenge to the White House administration’s relentless attacks on LGBTQ+ rights.

RELATED: Now That She Sees Trump Through Her Son’s Eyes, She’s Voting for Biden

GLAAD’s study released this week found that 89% of LGBTQ and 78% of straight Americans believe it’s illegal to evict someone from public housing because of their orientation. In fact, there’s no federal law against it. And 80% of LGBTQ and 65% of straight citizens think refusing to serve an LGBTQ person at a restaurant or public business is a violation of the law—but that’s also legal. 

Similar patterns were found around denying rental units, denying employee healthcare benefits to a same-sex partner, and banning physically qualified transgender volunteers from serving in the armed forces. More than half of states have no non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans at all. 

Biden’s platform for LGBTQ rights includes plans to stop violence particularly against trans women of color, fight workplace discrimination, and ensure access to high-quality health care. If elected, Biden has vowed to make ratification of the Equality Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under federal civil rights law, a priority in his first 100 days as president. 

He also wants to empower federal leaders to uphold these protections and increase funding for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, and the US Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division—watchdog agencies charged with enforcing non-discrimination laws. 

The former vice president has promised to immediately reverse the military’s transgender ban and reissue Obama-era guidance allowing trans students to use the bathroom of their choice.

Biden’s plan advances civil protections for all people, and although it advocates for specialized legal protections, it doesn’t separate LGBTQ+ human rights as something distinct from general human rights.

The LGBTQ Community Has Endured Nothing But Attacks from the Trump Administration

In contrast, President Donald Trump’s administration has leveled at least 180 attacks on LGBTQ+ rights during his time in office. In the past few months alone, it has employed numerous strategies aimed at chipping away LGBTQ+ rights.

Under his leadership, for example, the US State Department has omitted information about human rights abuses against LGBTQ+ people, intersex people, women and girls in its annual reports. The Asylum Research Center (ARC) found that the reports, which have been used by judges, governments, and even the United Nations since they started being compiled in 1976, were not consistent with data collected in the field. Reports during the Trump era have also been shorter on detail, with sections on reproductive rights, political rights, and violence against LGBTQ+ people renamed or removed altogether. This could result in the denial of gay immigrants seeking asylum and their forcible return to countries which would put their lives at risk. 

RELATED: Trump Administration Wants to Let Doctors Discriminate Against LGBTQ People

“We are concerned that these omissions have the effect of denying the existence of rights or abuses and may result in certain types of asylum claims being dismissed,” Liz Williams, co-director of ARC, told the Guardian.

The Department of Education has also threatened universities with investigations and withholding funds to pressure them to drop trans-inclusive athletics policies. In September, the Department of Justice filed a 36-page brief supporting an Indiana Catholic school’s move to fire a teacher for being gay.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court Bostock ruled on June 15 that anti-transgender discrimination is a form of sex discrimination, which is forbidden by the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But Trump’s handpicked leaders in the Department of Justice, which normally issues guidance that the Department of Labor, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Education and other federal agencies use as a base to craft their own guidelines, neither withdrew the old guidance that was no longer in compliance with the law, nor issued a new one.    

RELATED: Why the Supreme Court Ruling on LGBTQ Workplace Protections Is a ‘Watershed Moment’

A second Trump term would mean more anti-LGBTQ federal judges appointed, at least one more conservative Supreme Court justice, and an escalation in the legal arguments against trans rights, legal advocates say.

But as polls show Biden approaching a double digit lead nationally over Trump in the presidential election, LGBTQ+ activists and community members are optimistic.  “I am hopeful that, you know, the new administration will revert all of those policies that have attempted to come into effect,” Bambi Salcedo, founder of the Trans Latina Coalition, told Vox. “I’m hopeful that there’s tangible and institutional changes that are going to happen. And I firmly believe that that could become a reality.”

READ MORE: These Are the Next Battles in the Fight for LGBTQ Worker Rights


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