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Isn’t It Time LGBT Individuals Were Federally Protected from Discrimination?

LGBT discrimination

By Micah Haskell-Hoehl & Leo Rennie (Public Interest Government Relations Office)

Pop quiz – how many states legally allow employers to fire or withhold an offer of employment based on an individual’s gender identity? 34. How about based on an individual’s sexual orientation? 29.

The news isn’t much better on the school front.  Only 15 states protect students against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. 14 of these states extend the same protections to include gender identity.

Despite recent advances for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equity, discrimination in educational and employment settings remain significant problems facing these communities.

How can this be? There are federal laws protecting against discrimination in schools and workplaces based on race/color, sex, disability, national origin, religion, and, in the case of employment, age. These laws redressed state inaction on behalf of individuals in those protected classes.

However, LGBT individuals still lack such federal protections.

Consider  John, who at 14, endures constant bullying and harassment for being gay? Taunts and verbal abuse from his classmates occur daily. His once decent grades drop precipitously. John’s mother, noticing his deepening depression, implores school district officials to do something about the abuse directed at her son – to no avail.

Given the often tragic consequences to bullying of LGBT youth, doesn’t the school district have a responsibility to act?

Or what about Jane and Jennifer, a lesbian couple, who are expecting their first baby. Jane’s coworkers throw her a baby shower at which Jane’s manager comments she would never have hired Jane if she knew she was gay. She later writes her up for disrupting company productivity. She continues to single out Jane for reprimands and eventually fires her for “not being a team player.”

Why should Jane and her family be subject to this kind of discrimination, just because they live in one of the 29 states where sexual orientation is not protected?

These types of inequities are why APA supports the:

  1. Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), which Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) reintroduced a bipartisan version of in the House of Representatives on April 18, 2013.

  2. Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which will hopefully be reintroduced soon.

These bills aim to bridge the gap in discrimination protections for LGBT individuals in schools and the workplace.

ENDA remains a key APA priority. Though, it passed the House of Representatives in 2007, that version of the legislation excluded gender identity as a protected class. However, in an encouraging sign, all versions of the bill introduced in subsequent Congresses have continued to include gender identity.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Senator Franken (D-MN) introduced SNDA for the first time during the 112th Congress and made the legislation a major priority. If SNDA cannot move on its own, lawmakers and advocates may turn to the pending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as a vehicle for the bill.

APA will continue to advocate strongly for the fully inclusive versions of ENDA and for SNDA. You can help! Join our Public Policy Advocacy Network to receive alerts on these and other priority issues.


The Employment Non-Discrimination Act was reintroduced in the Senate by Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), and in the House by Jared Polis (D-CO) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) on April 25, 2013. ENDA extends federal employment discrimination protections that are currently provided on the bases of race, religion, gender, national origin, age and disability to sexual orientation and gender identity.  APA has long championed passage of a fully inclusive bill, and joined a coalition letter to Members of Congress.

While still supporting the legislation, the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Transgender Law Center issued a statement expressing concerns about the bill’s religious exemption.


On June 4, 2013, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) reintroduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act, which protects students who are—or are perceived to be—lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) from harassment, discrimination, and violence at school.

The Student Non-Discrimination Act has 30 original cosponsors and has also been added to the Strengthening All Schools Act to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as No Child Left Behind, which was also introduced on June 4, 2013.

We want to hear from you. What can you do in your school or workplace to end discrimination against LGBT individuals?

Other resources you may be interested in:

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