How transgender protection laws differ by state
The American consciousness is evolving. Slowly, laws are following suit, providing more inclusive and protective policies as previously assumed gender norms are uncovered as restrictive and incorrect. Recent Gallup polls show that a large majority of Americans support LGBTQ rights, and that support is growing. A similarly sized majority of Americans who support basic protections for LGBTQ rights supports transgender people who want to serve in the military. However, there are still prevalent divides on the rights of transgender individuals to do something as simple and necessary as use a bathroom.
Gender identity protections are often lumped in with sexual orientation, yet transgender individuals align with a gender other than what was assigned at birth, which has nothing to do with sexual orientation. Transgender individuals can be gay, bisexual, lesbian, queer, heterosexual, or something else.
Much in the same way homosexuality was once considered a psychological disorder, transgender individuals have faced a similar stigma. It wasn’t until 2019 that the World Health Organization stopped considering gender identity disorder a mental health diagnosis. At the federal level, laws protecting an individual's gender identity in the workplace make employment discrimination illegal. Before the Supreme Court ruled on marriage equality among same-sex individuals, there were few national protections for the LGBTQ community. Yet within this same-sex marriage law there is little for transgender individuals in particular, and there are many other areas, including housing, the right to adoption, and medical care, where states have failed to add provisions to protect the welfare of transgender individuals.
State laws vary widely, and a number of states have few or no protections in place. Many have not passed laws that actively discriminate against LGBTQ individuals, but they lack laws specifically designed to protect the rights of transgender people. Some states even have laws that further facilitate discrimination, including 39 states that allow for the use of a “gay/trans panic defense” in court. The “panic defense” is a set of legal strategies that, according to the American Bar Association, “seek to partially or completely excuse crimes such as murder and assault on the grounds that the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for the defendant's violent reaction.” So-called “conversion therapy,” a scientifically discredited and controversial practice with noted negative health consequences that seeks to “convert” LGBTQ people to heterosexuality or traditional gender expectations, is still legal in 30 states.
Stacker compiled a list of transgender protection laws in each state, primarily using data from Movement Advancement Project (MAP), a nonprofit research program that gathers various resources to further expand equitable treatment for all people.
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While employment protections exist for Alabama’s transgender residents under federal law, there are no such protections at the state level for the 147,000 residents of the LGBTQ population. According to the MAP, Alabama is one of nine states with a “negative overall policy tally.” Alabama also has laws in place banning transgender issues from being discussed in schools, and transgender individuals can be banned from playing on sporting teams related to their gender identity.
Alaska has an LGBTQ population of 25,000 but few laws in place to protect them. While LGBTQ "conversion therapy" is banned statewide, there are no protections in place for transgender youths in state care. However, there are laws within the state protecting an individual’s right to change their identified gender on formal documents, such as birth certificates and driver's licenses.
Arizona has some laws and policies at the local and state level that protect employment and housing rights for transgender people, yet there are numerous religious exemption laws for companies that decide that conforming to these rules harms their religious beliefs. The state does not have any hate crime laws for acts committed against transgender individuals, thus providing less overall protection.
Arkansas has protections in place for its transgender student population when it comes to bullying, but there is not much else done on a state or local level to provide further safety from a legal standpoint. Arkansas has a ban on educators discussing LGBTQ issues in school.
California is one of only 11 states that bans the use of the “gay/trans panic defense” in court, and overall it’s one of the more progressive states in the country for LGBTQ rights. The MAP considers all state residents protected with the current laws in place, but the state does currently criminalize infection and transmission of HIV. Laws of this nature are not uncommon and have been shown to have negative health impacts.
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Colorado has few negative laws against transgender people, but there are many areas where protective laws could be passed to ensure ethical, equal treatment. The lack of a law protecting an individual does not necessarily equate to a bias in the system, though it may allow room for discrimination. Legal protections are still not comprehensive for LGBTQ children in state custody.
Connecticut is limited to laws protecting religious freedom, but the vast majority of legislative movements have been for the benefit of LGBTQ people as a whole. Transgender individuals are protected as students, state employees, and from discrimination by medical providers and insurance companies. The MAP considers all residents of the state legally protected.
With an LGBTQ population of 40,000, Delaware has room to expand state protection laws. "Conversion therapy" is banned, but there are no laws strictly protecting transgender students. While hate crime laws do cover transgender individuals, there isn’t a ban on using the “gay/trans panic defense” in court.
Florida has some local laws and policies in place protecting transgender individuals from employment and housing discrimination, but there are few protections for youth or students, unless they’re under state care. There are no specific hate crime laws that protect transgender people in Florida.
While Georgia considers violence against transgender individuals a hate crime, there are currently no legal protections in place for transgender youth. There are no state medical protections for transgender people, as well, nor are there laws protecting the right to change gender identity on official documents.
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