A federal appeals court in Chicago, citing the Civil Rights Act, has ruled that companies cannot discriminate against LGBT employees in the workplace because of their sexual orientation.
It’s the latest in a long series of court rulings, state legislation and local ordinances expanding rights and protections for LGBT. But nationwide, in the absence of comprehensive federal legislation, the protections are available only on a patchwork basis.
A look at some of the issues:
— STATE LAWS: 22 states have laws or regulations barring discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment and housing; 20 of them have such protections for transgender people. Regarding public accommodations, 21 states provide protections on the basis of sexual orientation and 19 on the basis of gender identity.
In some states, laws or executive orders protect public employees but not private sector employees from workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identify.
— FEDERAL LAWS AND POLICIES: Existing federal civil rights legislation does not explicitly extend protections to LGBT people. A bill that would provide such protections, the Equality Act, has strong backing among Democrats, LGBT activists and numerous major corporations but remains stalled in Congress for lack of Republican support. The version that was pending last year attracted only two GOP co-sponsors in the 435-member House of Representatives.
However, there are some federal policies protecting LGBT people. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity amounts to unlawful sex discrimination. And President Donald Trump has left intact a 2014 executive order that protects workers for federal contractors from anti-LGBT discrimination.
— LOCAL POLICIES: In the states lacking statewide LGBT non-discrimination laws, many cities and towns have acted to provide protections on a local basis. In some cases, including in Arkansas and Tennessee, state legislators have sought to nullify those local laws.
— MARRIAGE RIGHTS: Under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued in June 2015, same-sex marriage is legal nationwide. There have been subsequent efforts in several states to allow civil servants or business people to refuse to serve same-sex couples on the basis of their religious beliefs.
— ADOPTION: It’s now legal in all states for same-sex couples to adopt children. Some states have moved to ensure continued public funding for faith-based adoption agencies which do not want to place children with LGBT parents.
— BATHROOM USE: Access by transgender people to the public bathrooms of their choice is protected in the states that include gender identity in their non-discrimination laws. North Carolina recently replaced its divisive law that required transgender people to use public restrooms based on the gender listed on their birth certificate. However, a bill similar to that North Carolina measure is pending in Texas.
The issue of transgender students’ bathroom/locker room access in public schools is proving divisive in many parts of the country. The Trump administration says decisions on this question should be left to state and local officials; it scrapped a directive from President Barack Obama’s administration advising schools to let transgender students use the facilities of their choice.
— CRIMINAL LAWS: State laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct were invalidated by a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. LGBT activists remain opposed to laws in numerous states that criminalize certain behaviors in the context of HIV transmission, saying such laws perpetuate stigma and outdated stereotypes about gay sex.
— IDENTIFICATION DOCUMENTS: Many states now have laws or policies easing the process through which transgender people can change the gender designation on birth certificates and driver’s licenses. According to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT-rights group, 19 states do not have such policies.
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