What’s going on with LGBTQ Equality in the United States?
While for many years, the US has been one of the leading advocates of LGBTQ equality, things are clearly slipping backwards under the Trump administration.
The current case before the US Supreme Court
Title VII of the US Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex as well as gender, race, colour, national origin and religion. It is silent on the question of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The court has been hearing the cases of three plaintiffs who claim that they have been discriminated against in breach of the Civil Rights Act.
Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor from New York, and Gerald Bostock, a former child welfare services co-ordinator from Georgia, both say they were fired because of their sexual orientation. Michigan funeral home employee Aimee Stephens says she was fired for coming out as transgender.
Decisions from the nine justices on America’s highest court are due by next June. Legal analysts who have been following the cases feel that the court is likely to be divided on the issues it is considering, and it’s difficult to predict which way the decision will go.
Recent judicial appointments are seen to have pushed the Supreme Court in a more conservative direction, so there are political as well as legal implications with landmark cases such as this.
A conservative legal analysis is likely to find that including sexual orientation and gender identity within the scope of the Civil Rights Act is the responsibility of Congress, not the courts.
Is it legal to be gay in the US?
One of the complexities of the experience of LGBTQ people in the United States is that much of the legislative framework for the country varies on a state-by-state basis.
It was only as a result of a Supreme Court decision in 2003 that same-sex sexual activity has been legal in all US states.
There is still some variation in the age of consent – it varies from 16 to 18, and some states have different ages of consent for same-sex sexual relations.
Is there anti-discrimination legislation in place to protect LGBTQ people in the US?
While a number of US states have comprehensive anti-discrimination in place (21 out of 50 at last count), there are some that do not, and there is no federal law that guarantees nationwide anti-discrimination protection for LGBTQ people. This then makes the LGBTQ experience a bit of a lottery depending on which state you find yourself in.
Is there marriage equality in the US?
It was a 2015 Supreme Court decision that requires all states to licence and recognise same-sex marriages.
What’s life like for LGBTQ people who live in the US?
There have been huge advancements for LGBTQ people, with some landmark Supreme Court cases that have made symbolic and practical steps forward in achieving equality.
The modern LGBTQ Pride movement was born in the US in 1970 – marking the anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City in 1969. The month of June is now designated as Pride Month across the US, with a huge number of parades and events held in communities of all sizes.
In many ways, the US could be described as one of the best countries in the world to be gay, however numerous problems still exist.
The attack against the gay club in Orlando in 2016 was obviously an extreme event, but 49 people were killed and 53 people were injured in what should have been a safe space.
LGBTQ teen homelessness and rates of self-harm and suicide are disturbingly high – particularly for people from non-white ethnicities.
The election of Donald Trump as President (he took office in January 2017) has raised significant concerns for LGBTQ people in the US . There has been a roll-back of equality for Trans people, and the religious and conservative right appears to have been emboldened to tackle a number of the equality gains that had been achieved in received years.
What’s the US like as a destination for LGBTQ visitors?
Many of the major destinations in the US actively market to LGBTQ travellers, recognising the value of LGBTQ tourism.
Some caution should be exercised outside of the major cities, but generally you’re going to be fine to just be yourself.
Polling indicates that public opinion in the US is shifting towards acceptance of LGBTQ people.