WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation and the Equality Federation Institute released their 5th annual State Equality Index (SEI), a comprehensive report detailing statewide laws and policies that affect LGBTQ people and their families, and assessing how well states are protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination. Not surprising, North Carolina falls into the category, “High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality.” Because there are currently no comprehensive civil rights protections for LGBTQ people at the federal level, the rights of millions of LGBTQ people and their families are dependent upon the state in which they live. In 30 states, LGBTQ people remain at risk of being fired, evicted or denied services because of who they are. For this reason, the incoming pro-equality majority in the U.S. House of Representatives has made the Equality Act — a bill to establish comprehensive federal protections for LGBTQ people — a top priority.

As civil rights organizations work toward passage of critical federal protections, accelerating progress at the state level is crucial. This year, the number of states that obtained the SEI’s highest rating, “Working Toward Innovative Equality,” increased from 13 to 17. These states currently have robust LGBTQ non-discrimination laws covering employment, housing and public accommodations, as well as protections in the areas of credit and insurance.

This SEI report comes as more than 46 state legislatures have opened their sessions — and with New York kicking off the year on a tremendous note by passing both the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) and legislation protecting LGBTQ youth in the state from the dangerous and debunked practice of so-called “conversion therapy.” The Virginia State Senate has also passed legislation that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. And governors in Kansas, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin signed executive orders protecting LGBTQ state employees.

The U.S. House is soon poised to begin considering the Equality Act, a historic bill that would provide consistent and explicit non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people across key areas of life, including employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs and jury service. More than 130 major employers, with operations in all 50 states, have joined HRC’s Business Coalition for the Equality Act, urging Congress to pass these crucial protections.

“The work of the HRC Foundation and programs like the State Equality Index, along with HRC’s efforts day in and day out to advance protections for LGBTQ people at the state and federal level are vital to the struggle for LGBTQ civil rights,” said HRC President Chad Griffin.”HRC and our partners on the ground defeated dozens of anti-LGBTQ bills last year, and worked to pass crucial pro-equality measures that ensure LGBTQ Americans are protected wherever they live. Already, we see the promise of even more protections passing in 2019 — with action taken in New York, Virginia, Kansas, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.”

Griffin continued, “However, LGBTQ people still face the sobering reality that their rights are determined by which side of a state or city line they call home. As this year’s State Equality Index makes clear, the time has come for us to do away with this patchwork of state laws and to protect all LGBTQ people by passing the federal Equality Act.”

“As the State Equality Index illustrates, North Carolina still has a long way to go before ensuring that LGBTQ individuals are able to live safely, freely and openly. While queer people continue to live and thrive in the face of political forces working against their best interests, LGBTQ North Carolinians are still denied many of the basic protections that ensure their survival. There are currently no protections barring LGBTQ people from discrimination in general, and conversion therapy remains a legal practice in this state. As we enter our 40th year as the oldest statewide LGBTQ rights group in the country, Equality NC will never stop fighting until all marginalized North Carolinians have equal protections under the law,” Kendra R. Johnson, executive director of Equality North Carolina, said.

Advancing LGBTQ non-discrimination protections at the state and federal level is supported by a wide swath of Americans. In fact, a recent Public Religion Research Institute survey found that 71 percent of Americans support LGBTQ non-discrimination laws like the Equality Act. An estimated 12 million LGBTQ Americans, their friends and families remain at risk of discrimination if they live in one of the 30 states without adequate protections. North Carolina is one of those 30 states in the country that lack explicit state-level protections for all LGBTQ people. A map of this patchwork of laws can be found here.

The SEI’s assessment of statewide LGBTQ-related legislation and policies in the areas of parenting laws and policies, religious refusal and relationship recognition laws, non-discrimination laws and policies, hate crime and criminal justice laws, youth-related laws and policies and health and safety laws and policies has placed each state in one of four distinct categories: Working Toward Innovative Equality, Solidifying Equality, Building Equality and High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality (where both Carolinas fall).

This year’s SEI also details the onslaught of more than 100 anti-LGBTQ laws introduced across 29 states during the 2018 state legislative season, including proposals to grant sweeping licenses to discriminate, undercut marriage equality and target the transgender community — including transgender children. HRC worked on the ground with local advocates and allies to defeat all but two of these bills.

The report also points to encouraging progress for LGBTQ youth, as well as transgender and gender non-conforming people seeking to update their identity documents. A record five states — Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire and Washington — passed new protections against the practice of so-called “conversion therapy,” bringing the total number of states with such laws or regulations to 15, plus the District of Columbia. New York, which has had regulatory restrictions against the practice since 2016, kicked off its 2019 legislative session by enacting a law solidifying and expanding these protections.

HRC’s full report — including detailed scorecards for every state, a comprehensive review of 2018 state legislation, and a preview of the 2019 state legislative session — is available online.

info: hrc.org/sei.

Lainey Millen was formerly QNotes' associate editor, special assignments writer, N.C. and U.S./World News Notes columnist and production director from 2001-2019 when she retired.