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Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights

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How Are LGBT People Protected from Discrimination?

While lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) individuals do not have the same level of protection as other minorities, there have been a number of laws increasing equal rights for members of the LGBT community. There are both federal and state laws that provide more rights and protections, such as:

  • Hate Crime Prevention Act – The Hate Crimes Prevention Act used to limit violence only associated with race and religion, but is now extended to sexual orientation, as well as gender and disability.
  • Privacy – Sodomy laws are prohibited by the federal government based on the Supreme Court case of Lawrence v Texas.
  • Military Service – "Don’t Ask, Don't Tell" was stuck down in 2011 and LGBT people can now serve openly in the military. The status of transgender military members is currently being litigated and unclear.
  • Housing – In 2012, a federal agency issued a regulation to prohibit LGBT discrimination in federally-assisted housing programs to prevent housing discrimination. However, each state has its own laws that may apply to private housing discrimination and how it applies to LGBT individuals.
  • Marriage - In 2014 the Supreme Court decided in Obergefell v. Hodges that denying same-sex couples the right to marry violated a fundamental right and therefore was unconstitutional. With this case, same-sex marriage is now lawful throughout the United States.

The LGBT community, as well as the ACLU and other advocacy groups, are at the forefront in lobbying the federal government to provide the same civil rights protections afforded to racial minorities, women, the disabled, and the elderly.
Although many states have been expanding LGBT rights well before the federal government considered the issue, the passage of these federal laws pave the way for more states to pass similar laws. Accordingly, each year the LGBT community continues to enjoy more protection.

Are LGBT People Further Protected Against Hate Crimes?

Whereas the Hate Crimes Prevention Act was limited to violence associated with race or religion, the Matthew Shepard Act extends basic hate crime protections to include violence based on:

  • Sexual orientation
  • Actual or perceived gender
  • Gender identity
  • Disability

The bill provides federal technical and financial assistance to state and local law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute hate crimes. Since the FBI began collecting hate crimes statistics, more than 9,700 hate crimes based on sexual orientation have been reported. Since 1991, reported hate crimes based on sexual orientation have more than tripled and consistently rank as the third-highest category after race and religion. 

In 2011 the first use of the Act convicted a person for running a group of men off of the road. 2016 was the first time when it was used to prosecute an individual for a crime against a transgendered person.

Are LGBT People Protected from Discrimination in the Workplace?

As of now, the law only protects federal LGBT employees from workplace discrimination, this includes protection against discrimination based on gender identity. However, this does not apply to non-federal employees or private employees.
There are many states that do recognize the value in providing protection to employees from discrimination based on their status as a member of the LGBT community. It is important to consult with an attorney in your state to determine whether there is a state law that protects LGBT people from employment discrimination.

Do I Need a Civil Rights Attorney?

If you believe that you have been discriminated against on the basis of your sexual orientation, you should speak with an experienced civil rights lawyer as soon as possible.

If your claim involves employment related discrimination, you should definitely consult with an employment attorney. Again remember that, although the federal government has no employment laws specifically prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, several states have passed regulations protecting LGBT employees in the workplace.

Photo of page author Hardeep Shergill

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 10-17-2017 12:43 AM PDT

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