With progress there often comes backlash, and that's certainly playing out after such achievements as nationwide marriage equality, open military service for gay and bi folks, and unprecedented transgender visibility. More than 160 anti-LGBT bills have been introduced in state legislatures for the 2016 session, far more than last year, according to the Human Rights Campaign. The bills are in 31 states.
Most of the bills fall into two broad categories. Many are "religious freedom" bills aimed at giving businesses, individuals, and even in some cases state employees and contractors legal cover to discriminate if they have faith-based objections to serving same-sex couples or other LGBT people, or anyone else, for that matter — say, single parents or members of another faith. The main driver of these bills, however, is that some providers of wedding-related goods and services don't want to serve same-sex unions. The other broad category consists of bills preventing transgender people from using the sex-segregated restrooms, locker rooms, and other facilities that match their gender identity. A lot of these bills concentrate on public schools. "They're really targeting transgender kids," says HRC senior legislative counsel Cathryn Oakley. If passed, though, these bills will put school districts in conflict with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bans sex discrimination — including discrimination based on gender identity — in schools that receive federal funds, which almost all public schools do. So discrimination could cost them some money.
The picture is changing daily — so follow the situation with The Advocate as well as the HRC and the American Civil Liberties Union, as these organizations keep track of the changes. On the next pages are a dozen of the worst states in terms of anti-LGBT legislation so far this year.
South Dakota, famous for Wall Drug, the "world's largest drugstore," is becoming infamous for anti-transgender legislation. Last week the state Senate followed the House in passing a bill that would bar transgender students in public schools from using the sex-segregated facilities matching their gender identity. If Gov. Dennis Daugaard signs it, South Dakota would be the first state with such a law. Daugaard, who has claimed he's never met anyone he knew to be transgender, has agreed to meet with a group of trans people before deciding whether to sign or veto the bill. Also pending are bills that would require schools and government agencies to recognize people's gender based only on their birth certificate, even though that document may no longer be accurate.
Major child advocacy groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American School Counselor Association, the Child Welfare League of America, the National Association of School Psychologists, the National Association of Social Workers, and the National Education Association, have composed an open letter calling on Daugaard and other governors to resist such legislation. And for a personal story that shows why the issue matters, take a look at this account.
Georgia gave us President Jimmy Carter (honored by the monument here), a reliable ally of LGBT folks, but this year it's trying to give citizens a license to discriminate against same-sex couples. A bill approved by the state Senate Friday would allow "faith-based" organizations — defined broadly — and individuals to refuse services to same-sex couples without legal consequences. The bill "codifies into law discrimination" and "will have a chilling effect on the state’s LGBT families," said Equality Georgia executive director Jeff Graham in testimony to the Senate Rules Committee earlier in the week. The bill now goes back to the House of Representatives, which had passed a different version; if both chambers agree on the same version, it will go to Republican Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.
Also this year, Georgia lawmakers killed a proposal to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Reports that Michigan was recriminalizing sodomy turned out to be greatly exaggerated. Still, that doesn't mean life is totally sweet for LGBT people in the Wolverine State. "Anti-equality bills introduced last year — including a broad religious refusal bill as well as a proposal to eliminate local antidiscrimination protections — are still pending in 2016," notes the HRC.
In the generally progressive Land of Enchantment, some are still attempting to flush away LGBT rights. In 2013 the state Supreme Court agreed with lower courts that Elane Photography had violated New Mexico's antidiscrimination law by refusing to photograph a same-sex couple's wedding; the photo studio's owner had said serving the couple would violate her religious beliefs. Legislation has been introduced that would undo that ruling and make it legal to engage in anti-LGBT discrimination by citing religious grounds.
The Sooner State apparently wants to be the leading state in anti-LGBT laws. In the current legislative session, which opened February 1, Oklahoma has 26 anti-LGBT bills under consideration, the most of any state. According to the HRC, these "range from a proposed Joint House Resolution that would put the right to discriminate on the ballot; an extremely dangerous pro-'conversion therapy' bill; numerous pieces of legislation attempting to undermine marriage equality; proposals aimed at authorizing individuals, businesses, and taxpayer-funded agencies to cite religion as a legal reason to refuse goods or services to LGBT people; bills seeking to restrict transgender people from using facilities consistent with their gender identity; and even a bill explicitly allowing student groups to exclude some students — including those who are LGBT — without losing university recognition or funds for doing so." The state may be known for its banjo museum (pictured), but that's not music to our ears.
Just last week, Virginia's House of Delegates approved a broad “religious freedom” bill that would prevent the state from penalizing businesses and individuals who cite faith-based grounds for discriminating against same-sex couples, transgender people, and people who have sex outside of marriage. It now goes to the Senate, but the good news is that even if the Senate passes the measure, Gov. Terry McAuliffe has promised to veto it, and the legislature does not appear to have the votes to override a veto. Still, numerous other anti-LGBT bills remain pending in Virginia, so activists are working hard to roll over them (one of Virginia's more unusual attractions, pictured, is a giant roller skate).
"License to discriminate" legislation is on the move down the country roads and city streets of West Virginia. This month the state's House of Delegates approved a bill that would allow any business or individual to cite religious beliefs as an excuse not to obey any state or local law, including the LGBT-inclusive antidiscrimination ordinances in seven cities (there's no such inclusive law statewide). But the Senate president, a Republican, has expressed reservations about the measure, and the governor, a Democrat, has indicated he'll veto it. Also, however, in a bill allowing Uber to operate in the state, the House declined to add an amendment saying drivers couldn't discriminate against LGBT people, and sent it on to the Senate without antidiscrimination language. So you might not want to take Uber if you plan on visiting the world's largest teapot (pictured), one of West Virginia's odder claims to fame.
Illinois has some strong LGBT protections, thanks in part to efforts of the large activist community in Chicago (where tourists and locals alike love to see their reflection in the Cloud Gate sculpture, a.k.a. "the Bean," pictured). But that's not keeping some lawmakers from wanting to undo protections and impose restrictions. Thomas Morrison, a state representative from the Chicago suburb of Palatine, has introduced a bill that would require transgender students to use the restrooms, locker rooms, and other gender-segregated facilities that match the gender they were assigned at birth — or else be singled out to use a totally separate facility. The legislation comes in reaction to the Palatine school district's agreement last year with the U.S. Department of Education to give a transgender high school girl access to a private area of the girls' locker room. Any advancement of Morrison's bill would not reflect well on Illinois.
South Carolina may have a UFO Welcome Center (pictured), but some legislation pending there would make the state less than welcoming to LGBT people. Several anti-LGBT bills introduced in the 2015 legislative session remain under consideration, including Sen. Lee Bright's bill to allow public officials to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples without facing punishment.
Tennessee legislators at least killed a bill that would declare the U.S. Supreme Court's marriage equality ruling null and void in the state (it was unconstitutional and unenforceable anyway), but that hasn't kept them from promoting a purely symbolic but still hateful anti-marriage equality resolution. More concrete damage would come from bills introduced to restrict transgender students' use of restrooms and locker rooms, and allow mental health professionals to discriminate against LGBT people, based on religious objections. Oh, and with the failure of the anti-marriage equality bill, there's a right-wing lawyer filing suits in various Tennessee counties seeking to stop the issuance of all marriage licenses. The Volunteer State, which has a museum commemorating the Titanic (pictured), is flirting with disaster.
Unfortunately, Kentucky is now almost as well known for antigay Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis as it is for the Run for the Roses. Thanks to a lawsuit and a federal judge's order, Davis eventually had to suck it up and issue marriage licenses to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples, or at least let her deputies do so. Last Thursday, however, the Kentucky Senate approved legislation that would create different marriage license forms for same-sex and opposite-sex marriages and remove the requirement that clerks sign them. Matt Bevin, the new governor, has already issued an executive order lifting the signature requirement, but this would put that into state law. The state House of Representatives will consider the separate-but-not-equal bill next, and the ACLU has started a letter-writing campaign against it. Also, legislation has been introduced that would let public officials get away with not doing their duty if they have faith-based objections to said duty; a similar bill specifically addresses objections to same-sex marriage. A bill restricting transgender students' restroom use, left over from last year, remains under consideration, and more anti-LGBT legislation is likely to come around the track, HRC predicts.
Mississippi has given the nation some good things — such cultural icons as Muddy Waters, William Faulkner, and Tennessee Williams — but it has a well-earned reputation for social conservatism that's continuing to play out in the state legislature. Last week a House committee approved a broad “religious accommodations” bill, which would prevent the state from penalizing businesses and individuals, including state employees and contractors, who discriminate based on certain religious beliefs about marriage, gender, and sexuality. Specifically, the legislation states, “The sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that: (a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman; (b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and (c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.” Mississippi, by the way, already has one of the nation's strictest Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, often cited as the first true "license to discriminate" law.
Also in Mississippi, the state's abstinence-only sex education law is up for renewal, and it contains language saying homosexuality is illegal, HRC notes. The organization is tracking several other sex-ed bills with anti-LGBT language.
And FYI: Our illustration for Mississippi is the Mammy's Kitchen restaurant, just outside of Natchez on Highway 61 — the famous "blues highway" that took musicians north, mostly to Chicago, and was "revisited" by a Bob Dylan album. Some consider the restaurant's design a racial stereotype, but the eatery has become a popular foodie destination and has been visited by celebrities including Hilary Swank, Craig Robinson, and Linda Hunt, according to Roadside America.