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LGBTQ Legal Protection


It is important to be informed about the laws and legal protection regarding LGBTQ people. Fortunately, there are lawyers and legal organizations ready to provide help. Legal groups like HRC, SPLC, ACLU, Lambda Legal, and the LGBTQ Bar Association provide advocacy, protection, and defense for LGBTQ people.


Laws affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people vary greatly state to state and by country or territory. These laws address everything from legal recognition of same-sex marriage or other types of partnerships, to the death penalty as punishment for same-sex sexual activity or identity.




LGBTQ-related laws include, but are not limited to: government recognition of same-sex relationships, LGBTQ adoption, sexual orientation and military service, immigration equality, anti-discrimination laws, hate crime laws regarding violence against LGBTQ people, sodomy laws, anti-lesbianism laws, and higher ages of consent for same-sex activity.


In 2011, the United Nations passed its first resolution recognizing LGBTQ rights, and followed up with a report documenting violations of the rights of LGBTQ people, including hate crime, criminalization of homosexuality, and discrimination.


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Legal Challenges for LGBTQ People


For many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people, the massacre of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando were a painful reminder that, despite successes like the Pentagon’s lifting the ban on military service by transgender people and the Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage, obstacles to acceptance and equality remain.


We asked LGBTQ leaders to reflect on the challenges the community still faces. Here is what they said:




“One of the main things we are doing is fighting against the post-marriage backlash,” said Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.


That has happened mainly at the state level, where more than 200 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced so far this year, said Russell Roybal, the deputy executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force.


Many state officials have used a religious freedom argument to support denying services to LGBTQ people.


The legalization of same-sex marriage heightened the daily risk of discrimination faced by many people, Mr. Roybal said.



“In a lot of places, you can go to your county clerk and get a marriage license and get married and then get fired the next week because now you are openly gay,” he added.


Twenty nine states lack anti-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation or gender identity, and there is no federal law protecting access to employment, housing and public accommodation, like hotels or restaurants, for LGBTQ people, he said.


In fact, some of the new state bills explicitly restrict public accommodation, particularly those who are transgender.


A North Carolina law passed in March made it illegal for transgender people to use public restrooms that match their gender identity. The law drew condemnation from many artists, who boycotted the state, and from some companies, which canceled plans to do business there.


Mississippi also drew swift criticism for a law allowing business owners to refuse service to gay men, lesbians and others based on the owners’ religious beliefs.


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“Violence in our community is a big problem,” said Beverly Tillery, the executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, which studies anti-LGBTQ violence and aids survivors.


“Ultimately there is still the feeling for some people that LGBTQ people are less than and don’t matter, and that it is O.K. to commit acts of violence against them.”


There were 24 reported bias-motivated killings of LGBTQ people in 2015, a 20 percent rise from the year before, she said. Most of the victims were transgender and gender nonconforming minorities.


That figure is likely to jump this year because of the killings at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. The shootings put gun control on the agenda of many LGBTQ advocacy groups, Mr. Roybal said.


“Every LGBTQ person knows that our safety is not guaranteed,” he said. “Although we don’t live in fear and continue to be out and proud, it is still something that kicks around at the back of our head when we touch our partner’s hand in public, when we lean in for a kiss, when we are out at a club being ourselves.”



Transgender Rights


Visibility has increased in recent years, but so have attacks against transgender people, making for a “traumatic” time, Ms. Keisling said.


“The murder rate is way up, and in general, the rate of violence against trans people is way up,” she said.


Transgender people are more likely to experience poverty, discrimination and violence than gay men, lesbians or bisexuals, who themselves face higher poverty rates than the general population, activists said.


Transgender people have been explicitly targeted by 54 state bills similar to North Carolina’s bathroom law. Two of the state legislations were signed into law.


Dozens of religiously affiliated colleges and universities in the past 12 months have obtained waivers from federal civil rights laws that protect transgender people.


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Health Care


A trip to the doctor can be perilous for transgender people, who often face hostility or a general lack of understanding from health care providers, Ms. Keisling said.


A study by her group found that 64 people — or 1 percent of respondents — had experienced physical violence in a doctor’s office or hospital, she said.


More generally, LGBTQ people are “significantly more likely” to be uninsured than the population at large, said Kellan Baker, who studies LGBTQ health issues at the Center for American Progress.


Advocacy groups have encouraged enrollment in insurance offered under the Affordable Care Act, which was the first federal law to prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the health care system, said Mr. Baker.


They have also encouraged people to go on pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, a prescription drug that provides high levels of immunity from HIV, Mr. Roybal said


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 57 percent of all Americans living with HIV at the end of 2011 were gay or bisexual men. They accounted for 65 percent of all new infections in 2013. African-Americans made up 40 percent of those new diagnoses, while whites accounted for 32 percent, and Latinos for 23 percent.


Mr. Baker said that transgender women also have an “extremely high prevalence” of HIV infection. Worldwide, they are 49 times more likely than non-transgender women to be HIV positive, he said.


LGBT Rights by Country or Territory
Timeline: American Gay Rights Movement

LGBT Rights in the United States

Out Right International

Mapping LGBTQ Equality in America

Washington Post: State Efforts to Limit LGBTQ Rights


Immigration and Criminal Justice Reform


Undocumented LGBTQ immigrants face an increased risk of violence and harassment in immigration detention centers and have sometimes not been provided with appropriate medical care, such as hormone treatments or HIV medications, especially when they are transgender.


A 2013 study by the University of California at Los Angeles’s School of Law estimated there were 900,000 LGBTQ immigrants in the United States, with about 267,000 of them undocumented.


Ms. Keisling said that Immigration and Customs Enforcement “has never figured out how to safely house transgender people, especially trans women.”


“For the longest time what they did was just put everybody in solitary confinement” out of fear that transgender detainees would either be the victims or perpetrators of violence, she said.


That practice has decreased but not ended. Immigration authorities have started using designated LGBTQ units, but they are often far from a detainee’s family or lawyer, Ms. Keisling said


Mr. Roybal said LGBTQ prison inmates face many of the same challenges as LGBTQ people held in immigration detention centers: an elevated risk of violence, harassment and solitary confinement.


“It isn’t really protecting them, it is isolating them,” he said of solitary confinement. “It’s basically the system not wanting to do anything to change its policies.”


[Source: Liam Stack, New York Times, June 2016]




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