Guest Blogger

5 State Strategies to Move LGBT Equality Forward

Filed By Guest Blogger | December 26, 2014 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: anti-bullying law, anti-discrimination law, conversion therapy, ex-gay therapy, get involved, HIV, reparative therapy, state equality groups, trans-inclusive healthcare, transgender health care

Editor's Note: Guest blogger David Mariner is the Executive Director of the DC Center for the LGBT Community. A lifelong advocate and activist, he focuses mostly on LGBT advocacy, HIV/AIDS, and progressive politics. He blogs at

This month saw a significant shift in strategy on the federal level for LGBT equality. After more than a decade of striving to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and following the lead of local grassroots LGBT activists, national LGBT organizations switched to a new strategy: comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination protections.

checklist2.jpgAnd even as consensus built around Senator Jeff Merkley's plans to introduce a comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination bill, the realities of the current political climate on the Hill makes everyone wonder if passing anything on the federal level will be possible.

Mara Keisling was quoted in TIME as saying there is "no clear path" to moving the legislation forward. GetEQUAL reported that some LGBT insiders believed passing such a bill would take at least another decade.

Even with the vast resources we have at the federal level, what we can expect to accomplish this year, or for that matter, the next five years, is hazy at best.

On the other hand, investments of time and resources at the state level have much stronger potential for payout in the short term. Here are some of the state strategies that have already begun to improve the lives of LGBT individuals in some states, and have great potential to be replicated in states across the country.

End New HIV Infections

In 2010, gay and bisexual men accounted for 63% of estimated new HIV infections in the United states. A sobering statistic, but the numbers are even more alarming when you look at gay and bisexual men of color.

While HIV/AIDS has not been a high-priority for many LGBT organizations, perhaps nothing would have a bigger impact on the lives of gay and bisexual men than ending new HIV infections, and New York State is making a plan to do exactly that. Better yet, it's a plan you can replicate in your state.

The end of the AIDS epidemic in New York will occur when the total number of new HIV infections has fallen below the number of HIV-related deaths. Governor Cuomo and local HIV/AIDS activists have a three-point plan to get this done.

  • Identifying persons with HIV who remain undiagnosed and linking them to health care;
  • Linking and retaining persons diagnosed with HIV to health care and getting them on anti-HIV therapy to maximize HIV virus suppression so they remain healthy and prevent further transmission; and
  • Providing access to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) for high-risk persons to keep them HIV-negative.

Learn more about the plan on the Housing Works blog, and take part in the campaign to #EndAIDS2020 in your state.

End Conversion Therapy

Few practices hurt LGBT youth more than attempts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity through so-called conversion therapy, which don't work and can cause depression, substance abuse, and even suicide.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) is taking action to end this practice once and for all. State legislation has already been passed in California, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. Reach out to NCLR to see how you can help make your state next.

Learn more about the campaign to end conversion therapy.

End Healthcare Discrimination

In February, Washington, D.C. mayor Vince Gray took steps to prohibit discrimination in health insurance based on gender identity and expression. This means health insurance companies in the District must offer all appropriate care, including hormone treatment and gender confirmation surgeries. New York State has also taken similar measures.

As a District resident, I am extremely proud of my mayor for this groundbreaking work, and for the amazing folks who worked on this important issue.

The truth is, however, that every state can and should implement transgender-inclusive healthcare coverage, and if it is not on the agenda in your state, you have a tremendous opportunity to be the person that makes this a priority.

Pass State Anti-Bullying Laws

GLSEN has model state anti-bullying legislation that has already been successful in many states. Versions of this legislation have been passed in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington as well as the District of Columbia.

If this law has been passed in your state, learn more about how it is being implemented to protect LGBT students in schools. If it hasn't yet passed in your state, take action to make it happen.

Download this model state anti-bullying and harassment policy from GLSEN.

Click here for additional anti-bullying resources from GLSEN.

Pass State Anti-Discrimination Laws in the South

While we are working for full federal equality in employment, housing, and public accommodation, we can continue to work for the same at the state level.

It is important to note that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has now stated that transgender discrimination is sex discrimination, and while there are legal challenges to this decision, this information needs to be disseminated more broadly in our community.

It should not be used, however, as an excuse to exclude the transgender community from any state bills. Already some have tried to use this decision to argue that we should focus on passing state laws addressing employment discrimination based on sexual orientation but not gender identity/expression.

Whatever happens with EEOC rulings down the road (which could actually be expanded to include gays and lesbians), state laws offer an important level of protection and have the opportunity to address the issues not covered by the EEOC decision, namely discrimination in housing and public accommodations.

Of all the states that do not currently have these protections, this year the spotlight is on three being targeted by the Human Rights Campaign's Project One America: Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi. This is due in no small part to the unprecedented amount of money HRC will pour into these states. With a three-year budget of $8.5 million and a dedicated staff of 20, this is the biggest ever investment being made in the South.

Of course, it's important that you understand what the laws are in your state are. Check out these state equality maps if you are unsure.

Click here to learn more about Project One America.

It Starts With Your State LGBT Organization

If these campaigns have piqued your curiosity, or if you're ready to take action, the place to start is your statewide LGBT advocacy group, and the Equality Federation is a great way to get connected. Equality Federation is the strategic partner and movement builder to state-based organizations winning equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

Visit the Equality Federation website to connect with the LGBT advocacy group doing work in your state and get started today.

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