LGBT activists launch #DiscriminationExists campaign

Same-sex couples can legally marry in 37 states, but in some of those states the newlyweds can be fired for simply coming out and telling co-workers how they celebrated on their wedding day.

So LGBT activists across the country are engaged this winter in the #DiscriminationExists campaign, reminding people that nondiscrimination laws must be enacted or updated to provide protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

“We’ve made great progress securing the freedom to marry in many states, but some of those states still do not have nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people, leaving many of us vulnerable to unfair treatment,” said Rebecca Isaacs, executive director of Equality Federation, a national coalition of state LGBT civil rights groups. 

In the first days, more than a million Twitter users joined the #DiscriminationExists campaign and drew attention to efforts to:

• Halt a Christian right push to enact religious exemption legislation allowing businesses to discriminate or refuse to serve LGBT people. The American Civil Liberties Union is tracking religious exemption bills in North Carolina, Oklahoma, Indiana and Michigan.

• Pass federal legislation protecting LGBT people. The proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act would ban discrimination in employment based on gender identity and sexual orientation. However, the number of LGBT groups pushing Congress to take up a comprehensive civil rights bill is on the rise.

• Adopt or expand state and local laws to ban bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity. More than 111 million people — 35 percent of the population — live in states where same-sex couples can marry but where LGBT people can be fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“A majority of states still struggle to reach even a basic level of equality for LGBT people,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group. “Most states lack statewide non-discrimination laws to protect LGBT people — putting countless individuals and families at risk and creating inequalities in adoption and surrogacy, employment benefits and youth safety and well-being.”

HRC recently released its annual State Equality Index, which provides an assessment of legislation affecting LGBT equality.

Wisconsin has non-discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation but activists continue to work to build support for amending the statute to protect transgender people. On the index, HRC placed Wisconsin and six other states in the category of “Building Equality” — states with marriage equality that have taken steps toward “more robust LGBT equality.” 

There are two higher categories on the index, “Working Toward Innovative Equality,” which includes seven states and the District of Columbia, and “Solidifying Equality,” which includes seven states.

But the majority of states — 29 —fall into the lowest category, “High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality.” These states have laws undermining LGBT equality — from criminalizing HIV and sodomy to allowing religious-based discrimination — and lack any protections from discrimination for LGBT people.

“Leaders in every state are making enormous progress to ensure equality for all, yet there remains a patchwork of nondiscrimination laws and policies,” said Isaacs. “I know we can do better so that all Americans have the freedom to be our authentic selves.”

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