Retrospective Report Tracks Changes over the Past 10 Years, Demonstrating Remarkable Progress, Backlash

Mapping LGBTQ Equality State-by-State from 2010 to 2020

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Graphic courtesy of Movement Advancement Project (MAP).

In stark contrast to the legal progress lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people have made over the past ten years, lawmakers across the nation are moving ahead with bills that, among other things, would repeal nondiscrimination protections, permit discrimination in child welfare services, and make it a felony to provide transgender youth with medically necessary care.

In a year when the Supreme Court will decide three cases that will either affirm LGBTQ people employment protections—or grant employers a right to discriminate under federal law—a new report released today by the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) reveals how a patchwork of LGBTQ laws and policies over the past decade have both strengthened and undermined equality at the local, state, and federal levels.

Mapping LGBTQ Equality: 2010 to 2020 offers a fresh perspective on the current legal status of LGBTQ people and tallies nearly 40 LGBTQ-related laws and policies across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the five U.S. territories. The report uses those tallies to place states into five categories:

  • High Equality States: 14 states & D.C.
  • Medium Equality States: 5 states & Puerto Rico
  • Fair Equality States: 5 states
  • Low Equality States: 14 states & 4 territories
  • Negative Equality States: 12 states

According to the report, 45% of the LGBTQ population in the U.S. live in states with low or negative equality, which have low legal protections or outright harmful laws that target LGBTQ people. California has the nation’s highest level of equality for LGBTQ people with a tally of 34.75 out of a possible 38.5, while Alabama’s negative laws result in the nation’s lowest tally (-6.5 out of 38.5).

“The past decade has included incredible legal, political, and social progress for LGBTQ people, such as the right to marry, the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and increased support for LGBTQ equality. But this report shows there are also many areas of the country where change has been slow: shockingly, more than half of states still lack basic employment nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people,” said Ineke Mushovic, executive director of MAP. “Maybe because it’s an election year, we’re seeing anti-LGBTQ lawmakers in those states doubling down in 2020, often using a ‘kitchen sink’ approach to introduce every kind of legislation imaginable targeting the LGBTQ community—despite the damage of similar legislation in states like Indiana and North Carolina. Fortunately, as the data shows, the overall trajectory is towards equality, and as more and more Americans get to know their LGBTQ friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family members, we are confident this trend will hold. We just need lawmakers to catch up.”

THEN AND NOW: 2010 TO 2020

Mapping LGBTQ Equality: 2010 to 2020 also offers a retrospective analysis of progress on key LGBTQ policy areas since 2010, showing overall changes, as well as detailed trends by policy area and region. Among the key findings:

  • The number of LGBTQ people living in “negative” equality states fell by more than half. In 2010, nearly half (48%) of LGBTQ people lived in negative equality states. In 2020, that number has decreased to 20%.
  • The number of LGBTQ people living in “medium” or “high” equality states increased dramatically, from 6% in 2010 to nearly half (46%) of all LGBTQ people in 2020. 
  • All but one state improved their LGBTQ policy tally scores, and over 70% of states improved by an entire category from 2010 to January 1, 2020.

The report further shows how nearly every area of law covering 40 policies saw remarkable changes over the past decade for LGBTQ equality. For example, on the positive side:

  • Relationship and parental recognition. The 2015 Supreme Court ruling in favor of the freedom to marry was a major step toward legal equality: while only 14 states and D.C. had some degree of relationship recognition for same-sex couples in 2010, by 2020 all 50 states and D.C. allowed same-sex couples to marry.
  • LGBTQ youth. The number of states that prohibit discrimination in schools nearly doubled, from nine in 2010 to 15 and D.C. in 2020. Additionally, in 2010, no state banned the harmful practice of conversion therapy, but by January 1, 2020 there were 18 states and D.C. with bans in place. 
  • Criminal justice. In 2010 there were no states that banned the use of so-called “gay panic” and “trans panic” defenses in courtrooms. These approaches attempt to excuse violent crimes committed against LGBTQ people on the grounds that the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for the assailant’s violent reaction. But by January 1, 2020, eight states have banned this practice.  Additionally, while discriminatory HIV criminalization laws remain all too common across the country, since 2010 roughly half a dozen states have at least partially repealed or modernized their HIV criminalization laws. 
  • Many states have significantly improved the process for transgender and nonbinary people to update their name and gender on identity documents. In 2010, 33 states either required proof of “sexual reassignment surgery” or had extremely burdensome processes for updating gender markers on driver’s licenses. By 2020 only nine states had such requirements, and over half of states (27) and D.C. use easy to understand forms and require either no medical certification or accept certification from a wide range of providers. 

On the negative side:

  • Religious exemptions laws allow doctors and healthcare providers, adoption or foster agencies, and more to explicitly refuse to work with LGBTQ people and others if doing so would conflict with their religious beliefs. In 2010, only one state had a targeted religious exemption law. By 2020, 13 states had such laws. As a result, LGBTQ people and many others may be more likely to be unable to access critical family services, healthcare, and more than they were 10 years ago.
  • The 2020 legislative session has already brought a wide range of bills targeting transgender youth, including banning them from playing sports consistent with their gender identity, preventing gender marker changes in identity documents, bills allowing teachers to refuse to use proper pronouns for transgender youth, and bills stating that it constitutes “child abuse” to affirm the gender of a transgender youth by helping them transition.
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