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LGBTQ+ Rights and Gender Identity Discrimination

The federal government offers people protection against sex discrimination, among other things. The same is true for many states.

A 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision clarified that "sex" in this context includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Americans now have greater protections.

Federal, state, and corporate rules and regulations about LGBTQ+ rights constantly evolve. Be sure to check back here for updates or contact a local attorney to get the most up-to-date information.

Employment Discrimination

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Sex

In 2020, the Supreme Court decided a case called Bostock v. Clayton County. The decision related to a Georgia man who was fired for being gay and a transgender woman fired by a Michigan funeral home. The court ruled that discrimination on the basis of sex includes discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

This means employers can't base employment decisions like hiring or firing on sexual orientation or gender identity. An example of sexual orientation is being gay. In contrast, an example of gender identity is being transgender or not conforming to the "gender binary."

These protections extend to workplace discrimination that:

Discrimination in Other Arenas

Americans enjoy federal protection against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Federal law also protects against sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination in other areas. These include:

Federal law doesn't protect against sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination in public accommodations. Other areas for which there is protection include:

  • Hate crimes
  • Miscellaneous policies
  • Same-sex marriage

Hate Crimes

Federal law protects LGBTQ+ individuals from hate crimes motivated by the victim's sexual orientation. Some states have their own laws about hate crimes.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (often called the Matthew Shepard Act) became law in 2009. It more severely penalizes violent offenders who target gay and lesbian people.

Miscellaneous Policies

The president may issue policies that expand the rights of LGBTQ+ citizens. This can be achieved through executive orders. Federal agencies under the president's control execute and enforce these policies.

For example, President Barack Obama ordered all hospitals accepting Medicare and Medicaid payments to:

  • Allow same-sex partners of patients to visit their loved ones
  • Allow same-sex partners of patients to make medical decisions for their loved ones

Same-Sex Marriage

Finally, the federal government recognizes same-sex marriages. Married gay and lesbian couples enjoy the same privileges as straight couples. Transgender people also hold the same rights.

On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case called Obergefell v. Hodges. The majority of justices held that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marriage. The court's ruling relied on the Constitution's equal protection clause and the due process clause.

The Supreme Court's landmark decision overturned all state laws banning same-sex marriage. As a result, same-sex marriage became legal in all 50 states and U.S. territories except American Samoa.

State Protections

Each state can choose to add protections for LGBTQ people. Check your state's nondiscrimination laws to determine your protections.

Laws in New York may be quite different from laws in Texas, for example. State laws can affect the following legal areas:

  • Discrimination in employment
  • Discrimination in housing
  • Discrimination in lending
  • Discrimination in education
  • Discrimination in public accommodations
  • Family law

Same-sex marriage is legal in all states. Still, some states have other options for same-sex couples. These include civil unions and domestic partnerships. Another relevant area of family law concerns adoption by same-sex couples.

Protections by Private Employers

Employers may grant higher protections to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer employees. These safeguards can exist even when federal law or local law doesn't require them.

If you've experienced harassment or discrimination on the job, look at your employer's discrimination policies. The human resources department should make this information available to you.

Complaints of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation can often be brought to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Talk to an Attorney about Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity Discrimination

Have you suffered sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination?

Maybe you're wondering if you've been singled out based on your transgender status. Federal law may or may not protect your human rights. State laws could apply, however.

Civil rights law concerning sexual orientation discrimination can be complex. An experienced civil rights attorney can help you understand your rights.

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Next Steps

Contact a qualified civil rights attorney to help you protect your rights.

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