9 states expand protections for LGBTQ people despite GOP attacks

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But some of the same states that are expanding rights are at the same time trying to restrict them.

GOP state lawmakers have flooded legislatures with anti-LGBTQ bills this year. According to a report published by the Human Rights Campaign on April 22, eight anti-LGBTQ bills have been enacted and 10 were on governors' desks awaiting signature.

The bills ban transgender girls from playing on girls sports teams, prohibit transgender youth from receiving gender-affirming care, and gives businesses and physicians the green light to cite their religious beliefs as justification for discriminating against LGBTQ people and others.

Despite the relentless attacks on LGBTQ equality, particularly on the rights of transgender youth, there have been a few bright spots. Some states legislatures and agencies have made progress in passing and implementing nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people and updating policies on documentation to make it easier for transgender and nonbinary people to change the gender markers on official forms.

Some local governments have passed nondiscrimination ordinances, and a Texas court recognized LGBTQ workers' rights.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) signed a bill into law on Thursday that removes language from the state's education laws that required teachers to tell students that homosexuality is "not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state," among other changes.

Only a few days earlier, Ivey signed a transgender sports ban into law.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D), the first openly gay governor in the U.S., signed a bill into law on April 19 that prohibits foster care service providers from discriminating against prospective foster or adoptive parents and youth on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, as well as on the basis of sex, race, creed, national origin, ancestry, real or perceived disability, religion, color, marital status, or any communicable disease.

The Colorado Legislature also passed a bill that adds definitions of gender identity and gender expression to state nondiscrimination law in housing, public accommodations, employment, eligibility for jury service, and more. It still has to be signed by the speaker and Senate president before it goes to the governor, One Colorado told the American Independent Foundation.

"There is nothing holding up the bill that we are aware of, other than busy schedules and new legislation being introduced late in the session, said Mikayla Rogers, development and communications coordinator for the organization, said in an email.

A bill first introduced in Virginia by Democratic Del. Danica Roem, who is transgender, and signed into law by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam on March 31 bans the so-called trans and gay panic defense, a legal tactic used to claim that an alleged attacker's discovery of someone's gender identity or sexual orientation provoked their violence against an LGBTQ victim, diminishing their capacity for rational decision-making and causing them to fear for their own safety.

Maryland's Legislature passed bills including a similar ban on use of the panic defense and a requirement that courts waive notice of a name change in a local newspaper, which supporters of the bill said would help transgender people stay safer by not being outed as transgender in their community. Gender identity would also be included in the list of characteristics protected under the state's hate crime law.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has not signed the two bills into law, but their sponsor, Sen. Shelly Hettleman (D), told the Washington Blade, "I am cautiously hopeful that the governor will sign these important protections for the LGBTQ+ community. Or permit them to become law without his signature." Shareese Churchill, press secretary for the governor, said he has until May 29 to review the bills.

Ohio and New Jersey also recently improved transgender and nonbinary people's ability to secure accurate identification on official documents. The Ohio Department of Health is working on fixing its process for changing birth certificates. By June 1, it will allow transgender people to change the gender marker on their birth certificates, reported the Cincinnati Enquirer. The agency made this shift after a federal judge ruled in favor of transgender people in Ohio who opposed the existing policy, which prevented changes from being made.

On April 19, New Jersey announced that an X gender marker is now available on state driver's licenses for nonbinary people as well as people who don't want to disclose their gender.

Counties in North Carolina have continued to pass LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinances this year. In December of 2020, a moratorium on such ordinances, contained in legislation passed in 2017, finally ended in the state. In April, Buncombe County became the seventh local government in the state to pass such a nondiscrimination policy following Hillsborough, Greensboro, Durham, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Orange County.

Meanwhile, in Texas, where a long list of anti-LGBTQ bills is being considered by the Legislature, the rights of many Texas workers have been affirmed: The Texas Fifth District Court of Appeals ruled in March that under the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act, people can bring claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation in accordance with the Supreme Court's ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County in 2020 that sexual orientation and gender identity are included in the definition ofsex-based discrimination under federal law.

For the first time, LGBTQ Texas workers will enjoy state-level protection against discrimination.

But anti-LGBTQ bills are still moving forward in many states. A bill that would prohibit transgender students from using the bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their gender has been sent to Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee for signature. Texas is considering a transgender sports ban, which Gov. Greg Abbott has said he will sign if he has the opportunity. A similar Louisiana bill has advanced in the Legislature.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.