In January, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) released its 2023 State Equality Index (SEI), evaluating legal protections for LGBTQ+ people in each state.
In the SEI, the HRC evaluates each of the fifty states and Washington D.C. on its legislative protections for, lack of protections for or blatant legislative attacks on the LGBTQ+ community.
The report examines six areas of law for each state: parenting laws and policies, relationship recognition and religious refusal laws, non-discrimination laws and policies, hate crimes and criminal justice laws, youth-related laws and policies and health and safety laws and policies.
Based on the amount of support available to LGBTQ+ folks in those states, each state receives a scorecard. Four scores range from the lowest (High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality) to the highest (Working Toward Innovative Equality). Twenty-one states received the highest score.
In the 2023 report, the HRC shined the spotlight on three states, either for the legislative protections those states achieved for LGBTQ+ people or for the work of people in lower-ranking states to fight anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
One state highlighted was Michigan, which saw the most significant growth in legalizing LGBTQ+ protections. Of the many protections secured, Michigan notably passed two bills in June to protect LGBTQ+ youth from conversion therapy.
Tennessee (one of the lowest-scoring states in the report) also received attention. While it saw more anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in 2023 than almost every other state, the LGBTQ+ community and its allies rallied to fight that legislation through creative means.
One such way is Nashville’s Balcony Brigade, which fills the balcony of Tennessee’s capitol with citizens devoted to protecting LGBTQ+ rights, keeping an eye on legislators while they are in session.
Finally, the report highlighted Maryland, not only for the volume of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation proposed there but for how most of that legislation was defeated. As a result, Maryland was also able to pass healthcare protections for its transgender and nonbinary citizens.
Looking forward to 2024 (which is already slated to have more anti-LGBTQ+ legislation proposed than in 2023), the HRC fears this may be another record-breaking year.
The report hypothesizes that laws banning students in public K-12 schools from using the restroom aligning with their gender identity are likely to be the most prevalent throughout all of the states. This would be second only to laws that would censor how public school teachers can teach on the topics of gender, biological sex and even foundational biology.
In a letter introducing the report, HRC President Kelley Robinson concludes, “In light of these findings, it is clear that there is both progress to celebrate and work to be done. We must continue our unwavering efforts to protect and advance LGBTQ+ equality, advocating for inclusive policies and challenging discriminatory legislation. Together, we can ensure that every LGBTQ+ individual in every state is afforded the same rights, protections, and opportunities as their fellow citizens.”
The HRC has compiled the report annually since 2004. Before 2014, it was called “Equality from State-to-State.” Past reports are available in the HRC’s archive.
A bivocational pastor, writer and spiritual director based in Atlanta, Georgia, she currently works as a Spiritual Director at Reclamation Theology. Cawthon-Freels is the author of Reclamation: A Queer Pastor’s Guide to Finding Spiritual Growth in the Passages Used to Harm Us (Nurturing Faith Books), and a contributing correspondent at Good Faith Media.