State-Sponsored Discrimination

Pursuing LGBT Equality In The Wake Of Orlando

Pursuing LGBT Equality In The Wake Of Orlando

In the early hours of Sunday morning, a shooter entered Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando and killed 49 people. But in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, as politicians offered thoughts and prayers for the victims, most neglected to mention the fact that vast majority of the victims were LGBT people of color. Since then, some lawmakers have even gone as far as to deny the fact that the LGBT community was targeted at all.

By refusing to acknowledge that Sunday’s shooting was an act of hate meant to terrorize the LGBT community, these lawmakers are refusing to acknowledge that Orlando was far from an isolated act of violence or discrimination against LGBT Americans. LGBT Americans experience violence at a disturbing rate. And the fact that the majority of lives taken in yesterday’s attack were LGBT people of color gives devastating weight to the fact that LGBT people of color are most likely among LGBT people generally to experience violence.

Not only are LGBT Americans more likely to experience violence, a majority of states still lack explicit legal protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. That means that an LGBT survivor of Orlando could still be at risk of being fired from her job, refused service from a business, denied housing, or more just because of who she is.

And it’s not just that LGBT Americans don’t have the same basic protections as every other American. Conservative-led states have been able to pass harmful laws, often in the name of religious freedom, that amount to state-sponsored discrimination against the LGBT community. Below are just a few examples of bias against LGBT Americans being reflected in state laws:

  • North Carolina: North Carolina’s HB2, which erased all existing discrimination protections for the LGBT community within the state and prevents transgender people from using public bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. The law was passed in an emergency session after Charlotte, NC adopted an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance. Two other states—Tennessee and Arkansas—have passed similar laws preempting local non-discrimination ordinances.
  • Mississippi: This Spring, Mississippi passed a bill that allows for discrimination against the LGBT community. The bill exclusively protects people with anti-LGBT religious beliefs and it lists in detail the kind of discriminatory situations it would enable. In a piece of good news: earlier this week Jackson, Mississippi unanimously passed nondiscrimination protections in opposition to the state law.
  • Indiana: Last year, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, under the guise of protecting religious liberty, passed a so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA) far broader than the one currently in federal law. In effect, Indiana’s RFRA gives the government, businesses, and individuals a license to discriminate against LGBT Hoosiers along with other residents.

Those are just three of the most prominent recent instances of state-sponsored discrimination against the LGBT community that highlight the need for both federal and state comprehensive nondiscrimination protections. The Equality Act, which was introduced in Congress last summer would do just that. It’s on Congress to act to prevent discrimination against LGBT people and address the epidemic of gun violence in our country.

BOTTOM LINE: Orlando served as a devastating reminder of the fear and danger that follows far too many LGBT Americans. While it may be impossible to prevent every act of hate, we can strive to eliminate hate and bias from our legal system. No American should have to live in fear of being fired from their jobs, refused service at a restaurant, or kicked out of their homes just because of who they are. It’s time for comprehensive nondiscrimination laws.

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