WASHINGTONToday, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRC), the education arm of the nation's largest Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) civil rights organization, in partnership with the Equality Federation, an advocacy accelerator rooted in social justice that builds power in a network of state-based LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations, released the newest edition of its State Equality Index (SEI), the most comprehensive survey of state-level commitment to LGBTQ+ equality.
This year's SEI comes as thirty-six state legislatures have already opened their sessions for the year, with many anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced. So far, Utah has passed the first anti-trans "bathroom bill" of the year, and both houses of Ohio's state legislature overrode a gubernatorial veto to pass H.B. 68, a discriminatory, anti-transgender, anti-health care bill, likely forcing some families to consider leaving the state out of necessity for their health and safety. In a 2023 survey from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, 42.9% of LGBTQ+ adults in Ohio said they would move or try to move to a different state if the state were to pass or enact a ban on gender affirming care. [ hrc-prod-requests.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/GAC-Ban-Memo-Final.pdf .]
The 2023 SEI's assessment of statewide LGBTQ-related legislation and policies has placed each state in one of four distinct categories:
Twenty states, plus Washington, D.C., are in the highest-rated category, "Working Toward Innovative Equality": California, Maine, District of Columbia, New York, Colorado, Nevada, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Illinois, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Maryland, Washington, Delaware, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New Mexico, Virginia
Five states are in the category "Solidifying Equality": Michigan, Alaska, Wisconsin, Iowa, Pennsylvania
Two in the category "Building Equality": Utah, Arizona
Twenty-Three states are in the lowest-rated category, "High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality," which indicates an SEI score below 30: Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Missouri, West Virginia, North Carolina, Montana, Georgia, Florida, Wyoming, Louisiana, Texas, Idaho, South Carolina, Mississippi, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama
"The State Equality Index tells us where we have been, and sets the course for where we want to go," said Kelley Robinson, President of the Human Rights Campaign. "Last year was the most damaging and destructive legislative session we have ever seen for the LGBTQ+ community - particularly transgender youth. This year, sadly, we expect more of the same. But these attacks are out of touch with the American people and they are a losing political strategy. We are the majority, and we will not stop until we are setting new records in support of LGBTQ+ people in every corner of the country."
The 2023 SEI shows a chilling state of affairs: During just the most recent state legislative session, lawmakers introduced more than 550 bills targeting LGBTQ+ people, with half targeting transgender people specifically. The legislative attacks covered a broad array of topics like blocking parents from accessing best-practice medically-necessary health care for their transgender child, barring young trans people from playing sports, and removing books from school libraries that acknowledge the existence of LGBTQ+ people.
In response, last year, HRC declared a first-in-its-history "National State of Emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans," citing the proliferation of hate against the LGBTQ+ community (particularly transgender people), legislative attacks on gender-affirming care, and growing numbers of extreme politicians fighting to turn back the clock on LGBTQ+ rights. The SEI confirms what the state of emergency set out to show: that these attacks, which overwhelmingly come from extremist legislators, continue unabated. [ www.hrc.org/campaigns/national-state-of-emergency-for-lgbtq-americans . ]
"As the 2023 State Equality Index shows, this past legislative session marked one of the most daunting periods for transgender rights, requiring effective strategies and relentless advocacy from folks on the ground," said Fran Hutchins, Executive Director of the Equality Federation Institute. "Despite the increasing number of bills filed nationwide, advocates and activists were able to beat back the majority of this legislation. Queer and trans people are powerful, and we are not going anywhere."
Amidst the backdrop of rising hate and vitriol towards the LGBTQ+ community, there were key moments that show the way forward. Michigan, a state that is home to almost 400,000 LGBTQ+ people according to a 2020 Williams Institute survey, passed the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA), codifying non-discrimination protections for Michiganders. Additionally, the number of pro-LGBTQ+ civil rights bills passed in states more than doubled from last year to 50. [ www.michigan.gov/-/media/Project/Websites/mdcr/public-act-453-of-1976-elliott-larsen.pdf . ]
Other key findings from the 2023 State Equality Index include:
Fewer states than ever fall into the "Solidifying Equality" and "Building Equality" categories - only a total of 7 - presaging more difficult years ahead in the fight for equality in the states.
For the first time, we are seeing the introduction - and passage - of bills intending to restrict health care not just for transgender youth, but for trans adults. In Florida, a new law limits the type of providers who may provide gender-affirming care, which greatly decreases access to healthcare for transgender adults.That law and others also limit the ability of public insurance plans, including Medicaid, to provide coverage for gender-affirming care.
Three states - Utah, Kentucky, and North Dakota - saw their SEI scores decrease enough due to anti-LGBTQ+ legislation that they had to be moved down a full category in the SEI. Two states - Michigan and Arizona - saw their categorization improve.
The SEI's rankings are based on an assessment of a state's laws and policies in the areas of parenting, religious refusal and relationship recognition, non-discrimination, hate crime and criminal justice, youth, and health and safety.
The full 2023 SEI report, including detailed scorecards for every state and a preview of the 2024 state legislative season, is available online at www.hrc.org/sei .
The Human Rights Campaign Foundation is the educational arm of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) people. Through its programs, the HRC Foundation seeks to make transformational change in the everyday lives of LGBTQ+ people, shedding light on inequity and deepening the public's understanding of LGBTQ+ issues, with a clear focus on advancing transgender and racial justice. Its work has transformed the landscape for more than 15 million workers, 11 million students, 1 million clients in the adoption and foster care system and so much more. The HRC Foundation provides direct consultation and technical assistance to institutions and communities, driving the advancement of inclusive policies and practices; it builds the capacity of future leaders and allies through fellowship and training programs; and, with the firm belief that we are stronger working together, it forges partnerships with advocates in the U.S. and around the globe to increase our impact and shape the future of our work