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Combating Discrimination Against Sexual Orientation: Know Your Rights

Feb 26, 2022

Combating Discrimination Against Sexual Orientation: Know Your Rights

It’s no secret that discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community is still at large in today’s society. To help keep you and your fellow queer folks safe, it’s important to know your rights. 

Hundreds of LGBTQ+ individuals still face numerous forms of discrimination and increased exposure to hate crimes every year. Although we have made some progress in the United States in recent years to help protect the LGBTQ+ community, we still have a long way to go to reach equality. 

As we work to build a world where all queer individuals can live without fear of being their most authentic selves, it’s important to know your legal rights as an LGBTQ+ person in the United States. Keep reading to discover more about the rights you have as an LGBTQ+ American.

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Discrimination is Very Alive in Today’s World

LGBTQ+ individuals face a greater risk for employment, healthcare, education, housing, and public discrimination, as well as increased exposure to hate crimes. In fact, according to an FBI report, although the LGBTQ+ community comprises approximately 4.5 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 18.5 percent of all hate crime victims.

The report also shows that although national violent crime rates have decreased, hate crimes toward LGBTQ+ individuals have actually increased. Around 60% of these hate crimes are targeted toward gay men, 12% against lesbians, and 1.5% against bisexuals.

According to the Center of American Progress, more than 1 in 3 LGBTQ+ individuals have faced discrimination, with transgender, nonbinary, and disabled people and people of color experiencing the highest reported rates of discrimination. The majority of this discrimination occurs at school, the workplace, and in public spaces.

The CAP also reports that 1 in 5 LGBTQ+ Americans feels a significant impact on their psychological well-being due to this discrimination, with 4 in 5 Black LGBTQ+ individuals and two-thirds of transgender individuals reporting the same. The pandemic has also resulted in increased mental health issues for the LGBTQ+ community.

Although these statistics can be difficult to read, it’s important to be aware of the realities of discrimination so we can recognize the issue at hand, begin to make real change, and know how to protect ourselves and our community!

How the United States Has Protected the LGBTQ+ Community Thus Far

In the past two decades, the U.S. has made significant progress in protecting the LGBTQ+ community. Although it’s still not enough, LGBTQ+ Americans are now protected by anti-discrimination laws, such as the right to marriage and legal protection against hate crimes.

Did you know that until 1962, homosexuality was criminalized in all 50 states? It wasn’t until the Supreme Court ruling of Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 that these laws were declared unconstitutional, finally decriminalizing homosexuality. Even still, 14 states haven’t repealed their sodomy laws to match this federal legislation, giving law enforcement and the public an excuse to harass LGBTQ+ people.  

Since the 2003 ruling, more progress has finally taken place for the LGBTQ+ community. Hate crime definitions have been expanded to protect LGBTQ+ victims, with now 34 states including sexual orientation in hate crime laws. However, only 23 states also include gender identity in their laws, and 13 states still do not include either.

Although marriage equality wasn’t reached until 2015, with the Supreme Court deciding vote being 5-4, this was a historic achievement for the LGBTQ+ community that is now a constitutional right.

In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled for a revision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to protect LGBTQ+ individuals from employment discrimination toward sexual orientation. In May 2021, federal legislation was finally passed to protect the LGBTQ+ community from discrimination in healthcare. Youth are also now protected from discrimination in schools under Title IX.

What Are My Rights in the US as an LGBTQ+ Person?

Employment Equality

Under the Supreme Court’s revision of Title VII, it is now illegal for employers to discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals. This means that employers can’t discriminate against individuals based on sexual orientation or gender identity when hiring, promoting, firing, compensating, etc. It is also unlawful for employers to tolerate harassment of LGBTQ+ individuals in the workplace.

Access to Healthcare

An amendment to the Affordable Care Act under the Biden administration has made it illegal for health care providers and insurance companies to discriminate against “race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability in certain health programs and activities” (NPR).

Housing Equality

Under the Fair Housing Act, it is illegal for most landlords to refuse housing due to discrimination toward sex, as well as HIV/AIDS. In court, this applies to discrimination toward sexual orientation as well because you can’t discriminate against sexual orientation without discriminating against sex.

Title IX

Title IX protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of sex in schools, which extends to queer, transgender, and gender non-conforming individuals. Under Title IX, all individuals have an equal right to educational opportunities and protection from gender-based harassment.

Hate Crime Protection

In 34 states, crimes motivated by discrimination of sexual orientation can be considered hate crimes, resulting in greater consequences for the perpetrator.

What Do I Do if I Experience Acts of Discrimination?

In addition to these rights, LGBTQ+ individuals who have faced discrimination have a variety of options for taking action. If you are experiencing discrimination or harassment, make sure to document everything– having evidence is your best bet for seeking justice.

If you have been discriminated against by an employer, you can file a formal complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). It is also unlawful for an employer to retaliate against filing such charges.

For help when facing discrimination in healthcare, you can file numerous reports with The Joint Commission and The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

If experiencing housing discrimination, you can file a report to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

For seeking help against all LGBTQ+ discrimination, you can also:

  • Reach out to your local ACLU chapter.
  • Find an LGBTQ-friendly lawyer or attorney using GLAD.
  • Seek support at The Trevor Project helpline (866) 488-7386.

Things Allies Can Do to Protect the Community

It’s clear the LGBTQ+ community is in need of better support and protection. To be better allies to the LGBTQ+ community, we can:

  • Be a safe, supportive space for queer people.
  • Not be a bystander. 
  • Document discrimination we see in the workforce, housing, etc.
  • Advocate for the Equality Act.
  • Stay educated on upcoming policies, elections, and LGBTQ+ issues.
  • Vote. Help prevent anti-LGBTQ+ policies with our civil right.

Learn More with HER

HER is the dating app for connecting LGBTQ+ women and nonbinary folks. You deserve to feel accepted and supported for being exactly who you are– find your safe and loving community today with HER!

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Katie is a writer and creative person based in Seattle who is passionate about the arts, environmental justice, and all things vintage fashion. She celebrates queerness as a natural yet radical state of being, and she strives to make the world a more inclusive place for all. You can find her taking meditative strolls in the rain forests of the Pacific Northwest channeling her inner Bella Swan, or just on IG @ktmarieeee.

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