Lawmakers set new benchmark for measuring LGBTQ equality

The Congressional LGBTQ Equality Caucus issued its inaugural report Thursday, which its leaders say will establish an official benchmark of the nation’s progress in advancing LGBTQ equality.

“We are not starting at a great place,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), one of the equality caucus’s co-chairs, wrote in an introductory message on the report, which details disparities in access to education, housing, economic security and health care among LGBTQ people.

LGBTQ students as young as kindergarten, for instance, face obstacles including harassment and discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity that negatively impact their ability to learn in a secure environment, according to Thursday’s report, which uses survey data collected last year by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

In the year since the GLSEN surveys were distributed, more than a dozen state legislatures have passed laws that bar transgender women and girls from competing on female sports teams, limit transgender students’ access to restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity and restrict how LGBTQ issues and identities more broadly are discussed in schools.

“With the increasing rise of violence against the LGBTQ+ community and the growing number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills being introduced in state legislatures and in Congress, it is especially critical that all levels of government work to ensure true lived equality for LGBTQ+ people,” Cicilline said on Thursday in a news release.

That includes enacting the Equality Act, Cicilline said, referring to a bill passed last year by the House that would broaden existing federal civil rights law to include nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

“Our ability to thrive in this country should not be limited due to our sexual orientation or gender identity,” he said. “The fight for equality in this country will not be over until we address all of these disparities and create true equity for the LGBTQ+ community.”

Thursday’s Equality Caucus report highlights disparities in rates of unemployment and economic and food insecurity among LGBTQ people, driven in part by employment discrimination that is not expressly prohibited in at least a dozen states, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

In 20 states, LGBTQ people can be evicted, denied home loans or turned away from rental properties because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, exacerbating struggles to find housing in a tight market. Transgender individuals and people of color often bear the brunt of this kind of discrimination, as well as LGBTQ youth, who disproportionately struggle with homelessness.

The Equality Caucus report also emphasizes unique obstacles faced by LGBTQ Americans in accessing basic health care.

LGBTQ people, especially transgender and gender-nonconforming people, often struggle to find culturally competent providers and may steer clear of doctor’s offices to avoid being misgendered or discriminated against.

LGBTQ people also face disproportionately high rates of depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders due to factors including victimization, discrimination and minority stress, according to Thursday’s report.

More than 60 percent of LGBTQ youth in a report from The Trevor Project, a leading LGBTQ youth suicide prevention group, said their mental health was negatively impacted by state-led efforts to curb the rights of transgender people in the U.S.

Congress has taken some steps in the past to reduce discrimination and stigma faced by the nation’s LGBTQ community. A measure signed into law last year includes funding for grants meant to improve data collection of hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as grants for states to better assist victims.

Last year, President Biden signed into law a bill to recognize the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., as a national memorial to honor the victims of a 2016 mass shooting.

And in June, the House passed the “LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act,” which would require federal surveys to collect voluntary information on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Biden this week signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law, officially repealing the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage for federal purposes as a union between one man and one woman. The law also requires states to recognize legal same-sex marriages.

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