The Human Rights Watch just released a new report today outlining threats to LGBTQ+ rights in U.S. state "religious exemption" laws.
"Describing these laws as 'exemptions' is misleading," said Human Rights Watch researcher Ryan Thoreson. "Given the dearth of laws that protect LGBT people from discrimination in the first place, legislators are getting it exactly backwards and creating exceptions before they've ever established the rule."
Exemptions in states like Mississippi allow for individuals and businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity/presentation, and persons having extramarital affairs due to religious or moral objections. States like Michigan, Alabama, and North Dakota have laws that allow for adoption and foster care agencies to explicitly discriminate against queer couples or individuals. Tennessee even allows for mental health counselors to decline to see LGBTQ+ clients.
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"You're being treated with disrespect, as a second-class citizen--not even a citizen, an outsider," Brandiilyne Mangum-Dear, a lesbian woman from Mississippi, said in the report.
Only 19 states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, public accommodations, and housing. Three states--New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Utah--offer partial protections based on sexual orientation, though Utah doesn't prohibit such discrimination in public accommodations.
"I know of people who don't even try [to seek services] for fear of being rejected," said Lisa Scheps, a transgender advocate in Texas. "And that's true of any of the rural counties in Texas."
These religious exemption laws are even more prevalent in 2018-- several of them have been filed in Washington, Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia, and Illinois.
"One of the things I've learned from interviewing LGBT people is just how often they are discriminated against by healthcare providers or businesses in the US," Thoreson said. "It really illustrates that these laws fall on very fertile ground for further discrimination - they're essentially telling providers they've got a green light from the state to discriminate against people."