In a historic decision last week in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court decided in a 5-4 ruling that gay marriage would be legal nationwide. The move prompted celebrations across the United States following a historic day in the LGBT rights movement.
Although gay marriage is the issue most often in the public eye when it comes to LGBT rights, given its status as a political hot button issue over the past couple of decades, the legalization of gay marriage is by no means the end of the fight for LGBT equality.
Anti-Discrimination Laws In the United States, employers are prohibited on the federal level from discriminating against potential hires on the basis of race, gender, age and medical conditions. There is currently no federal law that consistently prevents employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. As the Human Rights Council notes, 29 states have no protections in place for sexual orientation and 32 offer no legal recourse for discrimination against gender identity in the workplace.
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The story is similar with housing discrimination in neighborhoods or by owners, when same-sex couples try to rent or buy a property.
Both states and the U.S. Congress have passed religious objection laws, such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which opponents insist allows discrimination against LGBT people. Business owners, for example, could cite religious objections as a reason not to allow transactions with same-sex couples.
Some measure of progress, however, is seen in the reaction these types of laws generate when states adopt them. The most recent legislative effort out of Indiana earlier this year sparked a surprisingly wide-reaching controversy for a state that seldom makes national headlines. Companies threatened to cease business with the state; other governors refused to send employees of their states to Indiana for business travel; and celebrities and citizens alike took to social media to express their frustrations with the law.
Hate Crime Laws Social acceptance of LGBT community members climbs higher every few years, but lesbian, gay and transsexual people encounter a disproportionately higher rate of violence than other Americans.
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In the latest Hate Crime Statistics Report, produced by the FBI at the end of last year, out of 5,922 single-bias hate crimes reported in 2013, over 20 percent were on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Twenty states have no laws on the books for hate crimes specifically targeting LGBT individuals. In 2009, Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded federal hate crime laws to include gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.
LGBT Homelessness LGBT individuals may encounter violence from total strangers, but they can also fall victim to abuse at home that eventually leads them to lose their economic security. Parents and guardians who choose not to accept the identities of their sons and daughters may force their children out of the home. Or the LGBT person could feel compelled to run away to escape such an environment.
According to the Center for American Progress, of the approximately 1.6 million to 2.8 million homeless youths on America's streets, between 20 and 40 percent identify as LGBT. The average age of a gay homeless youth in New York is around 14 years, while the average age for a transgender homeless youth is just 13 years. Some 58 percent of LGBT homeless youth also report being victims of sexual assault.
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Conversion Therapy Many opponents of LGBT lifestyles believe sexual orientation and gender identity are the result of behavior and can be changed with religious, psychological and even physical intervention. This attitude has often led religiously affiliated organizations to promise a "cure" for these conditions, converting a homosexual person into a heterosexual one, for example.
The premise of these programs - that homosexuality and gender identity are fleeting fascinations rather than part of a person's identity - has no basis in science; the American Psychiatric Association no longer lists homosexuality as a mental disorder. At least one court has found that the organizations promoting homosexual and gender identity conversion therapy are engaged in fraud.
This is increasingly the view of states, who are moving to ban the practice among youth participants. California, New Jersey and the District of Columbia all outlaw the practice. Other states, such as Oregon, Illinois, New York and more, are considering similar measures in their state legislatures.