11 Ways LGBT Non-Discrimination Moved Forward in 2015

By Adam Polaski • December 21, 2015 • 4:49 pm

2015 was a historic year for the movement to win equality for lesbian, gay,  bisexual, and transgender Americans, as we made enormous gains on many fronts – from expanding programs for LGBT elders and parents, to moving toward the end of the ban on gay Boy Scout leaders, to outlawing harmful conversion therapy practices to, of course, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of the freedom to marry nationwide. We’re also continuing to surge forward on securing comprehensive non-discrimination protections for LGBT Americans in every state – and despite some challenges in 2015, Freedom for All Americans is prepared for the campaign ahead to educate Americans on who LGBT people are and why these protections are so vital.

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Here are eleven key ways that activists, businesses, elected officials, and other community leaders came together to take action in the fight to win LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination protections nationwide:

1) The United States Supreme Court ends marriage discrimination, and the community commits to continuing the fight for equality: On June 26, 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws denying the freedom to marry to same-sex couples nationwide, bringing the country one giant step forward in the fight toward a day when no American is discriminated against because of who they are or who they love. Shortly after the victory, millions of Americans declared their commitment to continue pushing forward, harnessing the energy from the marriage win. Freedom for All Americans launched the campaign singularly devoted to winning non-discrimination for LGBT Americans nationwide, and dozens of apprentices began our inaugural class of LGBT University, directed at our goal of strengthening the movement. In the United States Congress, shortly after the Supreme Court ruling, leaders introduced legislation to secure full statutory protections for LGBT people – and the bill, the Equality Act, received endorsements from key businesses and the White House

2) Millions push back on “License to Discriminate” bill in Indiana, raising national awareness of the fight ahead: In March 2015, all eyes – and intense national news coverage – honed in on Indiana, where legislators passed a religious exemptions bill which would have expressly allowed businesses and other institutions to discriminate against LGBT Hoosiers. The public outcry was unprecedented. Hundreds of leading businesses issued statements on plans to move activities, governors in other states considered blocking state-sponsored travel to Indiana, entertainment acts cancelled in-state performances, and the largest state newspaper which ran an editorial declaring “Fix This Now.” Now, legislators and businesses are coming together to discuss a comprehensive, affirmative bill that extends non-discrimination protections to LGBT people. CBq8ky9UkAACIwz 3) Municipalities across the country embrace local protections for LGBT residents: From Laramie, Wyoming to Columbus, Indiana (hometown of Governor Mike Pence, who signed the state’s RFRA into law) to Sedona, Arizona to Savannah, Georgia, dozens of cities and towns helped move their states forward by adopting LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances. More than 200 cities and towns across the nation in places without statewide non-discrimination laws have independently adopted these protections, signaling statewide and national momentum.

4) Houston fight underscores the need for critical education efforts on who LGBT Americans are: Although the freedoms of a minority group should never be decided by the majority, opponents of the LGBT movement pushed through mean-spirited, truth-distorting ballot initiatives to repeal a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinances in Houston in November. Our movement learned important lessons from the setback – first and foremost, that we’re always at our strongest when we stand together against those who seek to advance discrimination. Secondly, we gleaned important lessons about the messages and strategies that work and don’t work, helping pave the way for successful fights in the future. Chief among our takeaways from these fights is the challenging but vital public education work designed to help conflicted voters better understand who gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are – and teach the public what these important local ordinances do and do not do.

5) Leaders in Massachusetts and New York stand up for full transgender protections: Massachusetts legislators have until July 2016 to vote on a bill extending full non-discrimination protections to transgender Bay Staters. A hearing on the bill, which would ensure that transgender people are protected in public spaces like hospitals, hotels, restaurants, businesses, and on public transit, took place in October – and dozens of high-ranking leaders in Massachusetts, including Attorney General Maura Healey  and the entire Massachusetts delegation to the United States Congress, vocally supported the bill. In November, both House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg announced their support of the bill as well. Meanwhile in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order protecting transgender people in the state. The executive order marks a step forward and signals that it’s time for the New York Legislature to codify these protections in state statute.

6) Utah becomes the 19th state to extend non-discrimination protections to LGBT people in employment and housing: Utah’s Legislature adopted a new non-discrimination law protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents in Utah from discrimination in employment and housing, a huge victory in a state with a conservative legislative body. (The bill does not include protections in public accommodations, and on-the-ground advocates will continue pushing forward on that crucial component.) Likewise, this year legislators in Guam, a United States territory, unanimously adopted LGBT-inclusive workplace protections, marking two important legislative wins.

7) More Americans become familiar with transgender individuals, calling unequivocally for transgender-inclusive protections: From popular culture to political news, the lives of transgender Americans were highlighted perhaps more than ever before in 2015. The United States government took steps to repeal the policies banning transgender Americans from openly serving in the U.S. military, and California passed a first-in-the-nation bill concerning stronger healthcare rights for transgender people. Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, Amanda Simpson, and Rachel Levine all blazed trails as the first transgender White House staffer, the highest-ranking transgender person appointed in the Obama administration, and the highest-ranking transgender government official ever to serve in Pennsylvania. On the pop culture side of things, Transparent, a scripted television series based on writer Jill Soloway’s experiences with a transgender parent, won top awards at the Emmys; Laverne Cox continued vocal advocacy in support of transgender protections for all; Janet Mock continued her online MSNBC show on cultural analysis of current affairs, and many Americans grew better acquainted with transgender people through the story of Caitlyn Jenner. To be certain, as more and more Americans hear the stories of transgender men and women, support for full protections that move the entire community forward will continue to grow. 501B8843.CR2

8) The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission takes big step toward LGBT workplace protections: In July, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) concluded that employers cannot discriminate against employees based on sexual orientation – and that the ban on sex discrimination in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act also covers sexual orientation. In 2012, the EEOC ruled similarly in a separate case, finding that Title VII also protects transgender Americans from discrimination based on gender identity. The ruling affirms what so many Americans already know to be true: discrimination against LGBT people in the workplace is wrong. The decision highlights a clear need for a comprehensive, federal non-discrimination bill that thoroughly addresses the discrimination LGBT people face in all aspects of their lives, in and beyond the workplace – including housing, public accommodations, education and finance. It also paved the way for other important rulings in December 2015 in Massachusetts and California finding that employers may not discriminate against LGBT people simply because of who they are or who they love.

9) Legislative bodies in Wyoming and North Dakota vote in favor of non-discrimination protections for LGBT people: While the bills ultimately did not pass statewide, affirmative votes for LGBT non-discrimination laws passed in the Wyoming Senate and the North Dakota Senate, signaling strong support for laws to protect LGBT people in states across the country from discrimination. Advocates on the ground will continue to push forward in these states – and others – in the fight for full LGBT non-discrimination. capitol-front-facade 10) Businesses small and large announce full support and commitment to LGBT non-discrimination: Protecting LGBT people from discrimination isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s also good for business, as hundreds of corporations and small businesses made clear this year. From Indiana to Georgia to Arkansas, businesses made the case again and again that in order to remain competitive in the national and global economy, states need to stand up for LGBT people and continue creating inclusive, welcoming spaces. To attract and retain a talented workforce and to communicate strong values of inclusion to customers of all walks of life, employers continuously moved in support of LGBT-inclusive legislation. In Indiana, a coalition of businesses calling for passage of a non-discrimination bill doubled in just two weeks (expanding to include even the NCAA national office), and in Pennsylvania, hundreds of businesses have joined Pennsylvania Competes, the campaign to update PA’s own non-discrimination law to protect all residents.

11) In many states, communities rally around defeat of anti-LGBT bills: Following the passage of Indiana’s so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, several other state legislatures considered similar anti-LGBT bills. In North Carolina, Texas, Florida, Nevada, Maine, Michigan, and Wyoming, similarly broad RFRA bills were defeated, a strong indication of the majority of Americans who believe that religion should not be used as an excuse to discriminate.

In 2016, the movement to win comprehensive non-discrimination for LGBT Americans will continue to learn from the lessons gleaned here in 2015 – and together, we will continue moving forward toward the day when no American faces discrimination because of who they are or who they love.


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