2014 has been an amazing year for marriage equality. Eighteen states, including those that have consistently voted Republican in the last four presidential elections, have overturned laws that prevented same-sex couples from marrying. To many people in our country, and even some in our own community, it would appear that we’re on the brink of success. Look up “LGBTQ rights” on any search engine and you’ll find that most links direct you to marriage equality. But, there’s one important fact to remember: marriage equality is not synonymous with LGBTQ equality.
When we talk about the movement, we have to know that we can’t just stop at marriage. LGBTQ persons are discriminated against in many ways including (but not limited to) adoption, housing, employment, and hate crimes. Let’s also not forget about LGBTQ youth. There are myriad localities where we can’t even speak to the lives and safety of LGBTQ people in schools, which obviously puts our youth at risk.
In the midst of the illusory triumph, there are still 15 states that have constitutional amendments and state laws against same-sex marriage, 29 states where you can still be fired for being out at work (34 states if you’re transgender), and only eight states that have even the smallest semblance of protection for transgender individuals. Of course it’s important to recognize and be proud of success, and at the same time, we should never allow it to blind us from the obstacles that we still face.
As a means to bring light to the road ahead, behold the top 10 states where our struggle is far from over:
10. South Carolina
Sometimes what makes a state discriminatory is the fact that it has nothing for LGBTQ persons. When there are no laws for or against a group of people, there are also no protections. South Carolina did have a ban regarding same-sex marriage but that law was struck down by a federal judge. There are no hate crime laws, no employment protections (except for a few cities), and there are no rights afforded to LGBTQ couples who want to adopt children.
One great fact about this state is even prior to Lawrence v. Texas, which outlawed sodomy laws nationwide, sodomy laws were struck down in Georgia in 1998. Of course there is a state ban on same-sex marriage, there are no discrimination protections and no laws preventing hate crimes for LGBTQ people. They do however allow post-operative transgender persons to amend their sex on their birth certificates, which is at least a step in the right direction.
8. The Dakotas
In 2004 and 2006, North and South Dakota, respectively, enacted bans on same-sex marriage. While South Dakota has no explicit laws about adoption, North Dakota’s Supreme Court ruled that sexual orientation would be a deciding factor in custody cases. Not to mention that the law allows private adoption companies to discriminate against LGBTQ people. There are no hate crime laws, no discrimination protections and even as recently as 2012, a college student was dismissed from his team because of his sexual orientation.
In 2004, Ohio passed a Defense of Marriage Act at the state level which was upheld by a federal court. Their hate crime law does not include gender identity or sexual orientation. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited in the public sector, but there are no such protections for gender identity. Consequently, you can still be fired if employed by the private sector, which holds the majority of jobs. But what particularly stands out for this state is that no citizen in the state of Ohio can amend their sex information on their birth certificates, regardless of sex-reassignment surgery.
Tennessee’s employment law has never protected people on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, which means that you can still be legally fired for being gay. In 2006, Tennessee got off to their official homophobic start by passing a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Since then, they’ve been able to increase their hate-filled agenda with legislation like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill along with a bill that prevents transgendered persons from using bathrooms that match their gender. What’s more, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, in 2012 over 53% of sexual-bias hate crimes were because of sexuality.
Everything’s bigger in Texas, especially the homophobia. There are eight towns in this state that rank as worst for LGBTQ people—four of which received a zero from the Human Rights Campaign equality index. And that would make sense considering their previous governor, Rick Perry (who this year was indicted on felony charges) has compared homosexuality to alcoholism. The republican party in Texas also disgustingly supports conversion therapy for minors and although the Supreme Court struck down Texas’ sodomy law, that law is still in the state’s sex education policy. If you’re a queer woman in Texas, not only are you oppressed for your sexuality, but also for your gender. The state has one of the worst health care systems especially as it regards to women’s rights. There is good news, though: Houston’s mayor is an out lesbian.
Although New Orleans claims the spectacular Southern Decadence festival, the rest of Louisiana isn’t so friendly. Like so many other states, it claims fame to being one of the 29 where you can be fired on the basis of sexual orientation and completely censors homosexuality from the sex education program. This state ranks as the least accepting in the country regarding the support of marriage equality. It was the first state to uphold its marriage ban at the federal court level. Speaking of Louisiana law, the state house voted to keep it’s sodomy law and their police still enforce it. East Baton Rouge sheriff Sid J. Gautreaux has orchestrated strings to entrap gay men.
In Mississippi, only 13% of the state’s residents believe same-sex marriage should be legalized. Thankfully, the courts disagree. Mississippi has always been one of the last states to enforce any laws pertaining to civil or human rights. For example, after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, they thought the Supreme Court’s idea of “reasonable time” to desegregate schools was vague enough to suggest “whenever the state was ready.” Because of that, there was a Brown v. Board II to suggest an appropriate time frame. It’s not surprising then that Mississippi is still one of the most backwards states in the country. You might remember the decoy prom to keep a lesbian couple from attending and the “religious freedom” law that allows businesses to deny services to members of the gay community. There are no legal protections for LGBTQ people and they have outright bans on adoption. In fact, the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index scores this states as a 9.8 out of 100.
Like Mississippi, Alabama is one of eight so-called “No Promo Homo” states. According to GLSEN, these states have laws that “expressly forbid teachers from discussing gay and transgender issues.” Alabama’s laws, however, go ever further. The state’s sex education program mandates that teachers explain that homosexuality is illegal and not acceptable to society. This state has many cities that are dangerous for LGBTQ people, including Birmingham and Mobile. Because there is a long history of racism in this state, LGBTQ people of color face especially harsh outcomes. It ranks as number six in regard to hate crimes, many of which are motivated by race.
Michigan’s state motto is, “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look around.” Unfortunately, there’s not much pleasant for LGBTQ people, except for the scenery. If you’re part of our community, you can’t adopt children at all. What’s more, surrogacy is illegal so anyone who can’t carry a child certainly can’t have one. Aside from child-rearing, there is a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. But they don’t stop there—you can’t even have a civil union. I’m sure you’ve also heard of the recent law that passed in Michigan that allows healthcare workers to deny treatment to LGBTQ people on the basis of religious freedom. This would help explain why Detroit has been considered one of the most dangerous cities for the LGBTQ community. Even the Attorney General has been accused of stalking and defaming a gay student at the University of Michigan who was a former student government leader. Although the FBI states that number of hate crimes has gone down nationally, they unfortunately are increasing in Michigan, and mostly target transgender women of color.