For the second year in a row, the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Delaware received the top ranking along with 16 other states for having laws and policies highly supportive of their LGBTQ residents as of 2020 in the annual State Equality Index released on Jan. 25.
The SEI is prepared jointly by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and the Equality Federation Institute, two national LGBTQ advocacy organizations. The SEI treats D.C. as a state.
Its rankings place states and D.C. into four categories in the order of the degree of LGBTQ supportive laws and policies that are in place, the lack of such laws and policies, and laws and policies considered hostile to LGBTQ people.
The 2020 SEI places Virginia and one other state, Iowa, in the second highest ranking called “Solidifying Equality.” This represents a boost for Virginia’s ranking from the fourth and lowest category in the 2019 SEI based on the approval by the Virginia General Assembly last year of the landmark Virginia Values Act, a comprehensive LGBTQ civil rights law.
Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the organization for which the HRC Foundation is a part, said the Virginia Values Act makes Virginia the first state in the South to adopt non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people in state law.
“The 2020 legislative session was one of the most unusual in recent memory, given the COVID-19 pandemic,” David said in a statement. “However, despite the shortened sessions in many states, we saw multiple states pass pro-equality laws to protect the LGBTQ community,” he said.
In addition to D.C., Maryland, and Delaware, the other states placed in the highest category – called “Working Toward Innovative Equality” – include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
According to an HRC statement announcing the release of the 2020 SEI, 27 states have yet to adopt comprehensive non-discrimination laws protecting LGBTQ people, and LGBTQ people in those states “remain at risk of facing discrimination due to the lack of statutory protections.”
The HRC statement says LGBTQ people in those states face potential discrimination despite the June 2020 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision of Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., which declared that LGBTQ people are covered under the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 under the act’s provision banning employment-related discrimination based on sex.
Some LGBT rights attorneys have said the sweeping high court decision could be interpreted to cover areas beyond just employment discrimination and would likely protect LGBTQ people living in states that have yet to pass LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws. And in his first week in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order reversing a Trump administration policy seeking to limit the scope of the Bostock ruling. The Biden order requires all federal agencies to fully comply with the ruling.
But HRC and other LGBTQ advocates have said federal law currently lacks sex-based protections in certain key areas such as public spaces and services. They have said it remains imperative that all states pass comprehensive nondiscrimination laws, in part, because it could take more litigation to fully apply the Bostock decision in all areas.
Although D.C. had been placed in the SEI’s highest ranking category in 2019, in 2020 the D.C. Council passed two additional laws protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination.
One of them specifically bans discrimination against LGBTQ seniors in long-term care facilities. The other law bans the use in criminal trials of the so-called gay and transgender “panic” defense. Supporters of the ban say defense attorneys have used this defense to attempt to convince juries during a trial that an LGBTQ person was to blame for a violent attack against them because the perpetrator unintentionally “panicked” upon learning the victim was gay or trans when committing the violent attack.
The full State Equality Index for 2020 can be accessed via State Equality Index 2020 – HRC.