Editor’s Note: Margaret Hoover is a CNN contributor, host of “Firing Line,” and president of the American Unity Fund, a nonprofit organization devoted to advancing conservative support for LGBTQ Americans. Tyler Deaton is a senior adviser to the American Unity Fund. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.
Helping to kick off a successful Pride Month, New Hampshire recently enacted a new law ensuring that transgender Granite Staters will have explicit nondiscrimination protections in employment, housing, and business services. Republican Governor Chris Sununu signed the law on Friday after a Republican-led legislature passed it, proving that the GOP can continue to make progress on LGBT rights even in these combative times.
The New Hampshire law is the first statewide nondiscrimination victory for the gay and transgender community since Massachusetts passed a similar law in 2016 – also signed by a Republican Governor, Charlie Baker.
A few states like New Hampshire and Massachusetts were early to adopt nondiscrimination protections decades ago. They enacted “LGB” protections but neglected to include the “T.” We’ve made it a top priority to modernize these laws. For the transgender community, which faces shockingly high rates of discrimination, these laws provide concrete protections if they ever face a mean-spirited employer, landlord, or business owner.
Most Americans would never dream of discriminating against someone just because they’re born different – but it does happen. When, inevitably, someone chooses to treat their fellow Americans wrongly, there ought to be strong legal backing for an individual to win back his job, her home, or their equal access to a public space.
The challenges LGBT Americans face may shock you. LGBT youth are 120% more likely to be homeless, according to a 2017 University of Chicago study. Abusive “conversion therapy” is still legal in 39 states and widely practiced among some communities, exploiting and terrorizing an unknown number of gay and transgender children every year. A 2016 UCLA Williams Institute study found that LGBT Americans were 50% more likely to be unemployed and 33% more likely to be living in poverty. Transgender Americans are nine times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population, according to a 2015 survey of more than 28,000 transgender Americans.
Numerous groups worked to achieve victories like the most recent one in New Hampshire. Our organization, American Unity Fund, was a major financial engine behind both statewide wins, funding a national campaign – Freedom for All Americans – side-by-side with the Gill Foundation, the Haas Jr. Fund, and numerous other individual donors. FFAA published an article in The Advocate that fully details New Hampshire’s transgender freedom campaign.
American Unity Fund is not typical among LGBT advocates. First and foremost, we are conservatives. We play aggressively in conservative movement politics to advance our vision of inclusion and personal freedom. We protect and promote conservative elected officials who stand up for the LGBT community, especially when they face intraparty challenges from single-issue, anti-LGBT extremists.
Even though the freedom to marry is legal across the country, in over 30 states LGBT Americans aren’t protected comprehensively by nondiscrimination laws, and there is no federal law explicitly protecting anyone from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Under federal law and in those states, a person can get married over the weekend to their same-sex spouse and be summarily fired for sexual orientation or gender identity on Monday.
Happily, even where the law doesn’t offer concrete protections, many LGBT Americans are flourishing. Some of them live in big cities in the South like Atlanta and Dallas, where they are protected by local ordinances. Conservative Utah adopted LGBT protections in employment and housing, but left business services to a future debate. Some federal court decisions have extended broader employment protections, but the Supreme Court has yet to weigh in on whether existing federal employment laws already protect LGBT Americans.
While many Republicans, and more every year, are supportive of the LGBT community, there are holdouts and there are still issues to be resolved. This is especially true with elected officials, who are a lagging indicator of the cultural change even among religious conservatives.
Progress is not guaranteed, and we cannot let the country reverse course on LGBT freedom. Oklahoma and Kansas just enacted laws empowering publicly funded adoption agencies to reject serving married same-sex couples. The Trump administration has found numerous ways to roll back LGBT protections in education, health care, and even in the military, where transgender soldiers were serving without any difficulties – until someone persuaded the President to tweet about it. Although Massachusetts previously passed nondiscrimination protections, the law now faces a ballot challenge this fall, and Montana may also have a statewide vote to limit transgender freedom.
While all of this is happening in the states and in the White House, the Supreme Court last week delivered its opinion determining a wedding cake baker had been wrongly treated by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission after he refused to serve a gay couple. But the Court also dodged – for now – the broader questions of religious freedom in the context of civil rights protections.
All of these developments point to the need for a federal law. Only a federal law will offer clarity and national resolution to these issues once and for all. American Unity Fund supports comprehensively amending the Civil Rights Act to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity while also codifying important protections for religious liberty. To the extent that LGBT freedom and religious liberty are in tension, Congress should resolve these tensions rather than leaving it to sweeping court decisions or executive orders.
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Republicans have been crucial to the advancement of LGBT freedom. Recent state victories show bipartisan progress for LGBT Americans is still feasible in the near-term. But this work won’t be finished until more allies – and new allies – from the left and the right decide to work together in good faith and make LGBT civil rights a national and bipartisan priority.