2021 State Equality Index

A Review of State Legislation Affecting the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Community and a Look Ahead in 2022

Published by the HRC Foundation in 2022

Dear Friends,

The 2021 State Equality Index (SEI), our annual comprehensive report on statewide laws and policies that affect LGBTQ+ people and their families, is HRC’s most valuable tool to create a comprehensive view of where the LGBTQ+ community has made legislative progress and where we have seen setbacks. More than in any other year, we gain value through the SEI in understanding the impact of legislative attacks on our community in states across the country.

This year, our nation saw the beginning of a new pro-equality presidential administration, one that helped advance LGBTQ+ progress across the nation. While we celebrate new federal leadership, anti-equality state legislators across the country rolled out attacks in unprecedented numbers.

Anti-equality forces prioritized pushing legislation targeting the LGBTQ+ community, particularly trans and non-binary young people. Many of these bills sought to bar transgender student-athletes from participating in sports. With much more important issues to be addressed in our schools, lawmakers chose to target transgender youth to score cheap political points. Everyone deserves the opportunity to play sports, and lawmakers should be focusing on protecting and educating our children ­— not teaching them that they or their classmates are less than anyone else.

These attacks, in turn, further fuel anti-trans stigma, which in turn further fuels the epidemic of violence facing our trans and non-binary family and which particularly targets Black trans women. It is no coincidence that in a year when we saw unprecedented legislative attacks in the states, we also lost an unprecedented number of trans and non-binary people to fatal violence. More must be done to dismantle the systems of oppression -- of transphobia, of homophobia and biphobia, of racism, and misogyny -- that fuel this violence, and to defeat the bad actors who target trans lives for political gain.

There is urgent work ahead to defeat the forces of hate and discrimination and to address the fundamental injustices that have corrupted our institutions for generations. As the report makes clear, the past year has underscored how white supremacy has a toxic grip on our democracy — a reality that too many of us have lived with for far too long. We have provided leaders with specific recommendations on how they can take concrete action to combat systemic oppression in their states and improve the lives of all the people they serve in the process.

We have our work cut out for us in the year ahead, work that we would not be able to take on without the strength of our shared partnerships, including our partners at the Equality Federation Institute and statewide LGBTQ+ organizations. Together, and with your support, we will continue to fight for justice in order to achieve our shared mission of liberation.


Joni Madison , Interim President , Human Rights Campaign

Dear Readers,

At Equality Federation, we know the importance of statewide protections for the LGBTQ+ community. As an advocacy accelerator dedicated to building power in our network of state-based LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations, we are proud to partner with HRC on the State Equality Index. The State Equality Index tells the story of how advocates on the ground, in states across the country, achieve wins and battle tough opposition to fight for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community year after year.

This past year was one of the toughest in recent memory for our state partners and the LGBTQ+ community. Our opposition, after learning to refine their attacks by taking aim at particularly vulnerable communities such as transgender youth, covered the country with anti-trans bills, largely concentrated in the areas of trans youth healthcare access and participation in school sports.

This led to lawmakers introducing a record number of anti-transgender bills in 2021. It is heartbreaking and maddening that transgender youth are the latest targets of the wrath of anti-LGBTQ+ opponents. But state partners across the country are organizing, storytelling, and beating back these attacks, ensuring only a small percentage become law.

Despite facing indescribable challenges, state partners were able to do amazing work in difficult political situations to push good policies forward even as they played defense. State and national partners encouraged state legislators to introduce historic numbers of pro-LGBTQ+ bills across the country. Three of these bills were thanks to local advocates and state leaders in Oregon, Vermont, and Virginia, states which banned the use of the LGBTQ+ panic defense, sending the message that violence against LGBTQ+ people is never acceptable.

We know that the lives and identities of LGBTQ+ people are intersecting and complex. No one law will change every aspect of our lives, but some can contribute to the larger work being done to achieve full lived equality. For example, Illinois fully repealed its HIV criminalization law and local leaders in Virginia passed a law modernizing HIV criminalization, a first step in making life better for people living with HIV in the state. Michigan, New Jersey, and Nevada also took legislative steps to improve HIV laws in their states. California, Colorado, Michigan, New Hampshire, and New York made it easier for individuals to update and receive accurate identity documents. And I’m delighted that my home state of Alabama improved its sex education curriculum by removing inaccurate and stigmatizing anti-LGBTQ+ language.

Despite difficult legislative sessions in many states, I am so proud of the work being done by advocates and elected officials to make the lives of LGBTQ+ people better and more accepting no matter the community they call home.

The greatest opportunities for policy victories that improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people are in the states — where the work is hard but the impact is great. As we look to 2022, we already know state partners will be facing more attacks against transgender youth, in athletics, medical care, and schools. We are prepared to support them in the fights ahead.


Fran Hutchins , Executive Director , Equality Federation Institute


In 2021, the LGBTQ+ movement saw tremendous momentum on good bills. This map shows the states that passed laws pertaining to LGBTQ+ equality in their respective SEI categories this year.

This year’s legislative victories set the stage for future advances to further LGBTQ+ equality. States continued to pass legislation that would protect youth from so-called “conversion therapy” and expand non-discrimination protections to all LGBTQ+ people.

Good vs Bad Legislation in 2021

Good Bills

In 2021, 201 pro-equality bills were introduced in state legislatures around the country. 44 were signed into law.

Bad Bills

In 2021, 268 anti-equality bills were introduced in state legislatures around the country. 27 were signed into law.

Key state law and policy developments in 2021

2021 was a historic year for the LGBTQ+ community, but as far as state legislation was concerned, it was historic for all the wrong reasons.

By only March, 2021 had seen more legislation filed that specifically targeted the transgender community than in modern history. HRC has been tracking anti-transgender legislation across state legislatures for decades, including since the surge in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation since 2015. 2020 had previously held the record of the most anti-transgender legislation introduced, with 79 pieces of legislation. 2021 had [147].

Often prioritized over COVID relief - and in Texas, over fixing the failed energy grid - anti-transgender legislation took several forms: [81] bills aimed to prevent transgender youth from playing school sports consistent with their gender identity, and [43] bills were filed to prevent transgender youth from receiving age-appropriate, medically-necessary, gender-affirming health care. The first and second bathroom bills passed since North Carolina’s infamous HB2 were passed in Tennessee. Arkansas passed the first ever ban preventing transgender youth from accessing age-appropriate, medically-necessary, gender affirming care. All in all, [13] bills targeting transgender youth passed into law - another record.

Anti-LGBTQ+ legislation took other forms as well, however, and one of the most notable trends was a resurgence of laws that carve all-new religious exemptions into existing laws in order to allow people of certain religious beliefs to refuse to serve people with whom they disagree.

This includes everything from so-called “RFRA” legislation to bills that would allow medical care providers to refuse to provide certain services if they assert a religious justification. [44] religious refusal bills were filed across the country this year, including [about a dozen] RFRAs and [a dozen more] bills that would allow for religious refusals, including against LGBTQ+ patients, in medical care. Among the religious refusal bills that passed this year were RFRAs passed in both South Dakota and Montana, and a medical care refusal bill that Ohio passed as part of its budget.

In the midst of this historically bad year, however, [46] new pro-equality laws were passed. These range in topics from ensuring that utility companies allow consumers to change their names and pronouns; to streamlining adoption requirements for stepparents; to ensuring that places of public accommodation have gender-neutral bathrooms; to making it easier to update birth and death certificates with correct names and pronouns; to eliminating the “gay-” or “trans-panic defense”. All ensure that LGBTQ+people are able to creep closer to full legal and lived equality. While considerable effort has been and continues to be made to prevent anti-LGBTQ+ legislation from becoming law, progress toward LGBTQ+ equality in the states simply, truly, cannot be stopped.

Comparative Legislation at a Glance


Parenting Laws

Religious Refusal & Relationship Recognition

Non-Discrimination Laws

Youth Laws

Health & Safety

Hate Crimes & Criminal Justice

Outlook for 2022

2021 made history: a record amount of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation was filed; a record amount of legislation targeting transgender people was filed; and a record number of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation passed into law. It wasn’t just the volume of legislation that was striking, however. The legislation that defined 2021 was particularly malignant, relying on a combination of fear-based messaging, counter-scientific argument, and exploitation of an exhausted public that struggled to safely mobilize against this legislation during a global pandemic.

Unfortunately, 2022 is poised to eclipse even the brutality of last year. Legislators are emboldened: they’ve declared a return to bills that didn’t make it across the finish line last year, and they’ve begun prefiling more of the same harmful legislation.

In particular, two trends seem likely to continue into 2022. The first trend is a continued focus on curbing the ability of transgender youth to live lives as their authentic selves, be that in school classrooms, school bathrooms, school sports, or - chillingly - in restricting the ability of transgender youth from accessing age-appropriate, medically-necessary, life-saving gender-affirming medical care. The second trend is continued work to create exemptions from current law to allow people to refuse to provide medical and other services to LGBTQ+ people if they assert a religious justification for doing so.

Both of these trends are deeply harmful, as well as misguided. School administrators, coaches, athletes, and sports associations have spoken out against restrictions on sports participation that violate students’ privacy as well as their civil rights. Educators have explained why restrictions on curriculum are dangerous, and why using the correct name and pronouns for their students is essential (as well as easy). Doctors and mental health experts have spoken out against the unscientific, fear-mongering claims behind the bans on age-appropriate gender-affirming care,

and the dire consequences that such bans will have on transgender youth cut off from the care they need. Transgender students don’t want or need to have a culture war built on their backs for the political expediency of adults; they simply want to be kids.

Similarly, it is a perversion of true religious liberty to carve all-new religious exemptions into laws that allow people of certain religious beliefs to refuse to serve people with whom they disagree. Whether the harm of the refusal is by a florist and the hurt is to a patron’s dignity, or if the harm is by a paramedic and the hurt is to the injured’s ability to survive, discrimination cannot be allowed to root itself in the public square. The First Amendment is a shield for religious liberty, not a sword - and faith leaders of many denominations continue to decry efforts to invoke religious freedom when the effect of these laws is actually to allow discrimination.

2022 will be a year of hard fights to defend progress and fend off efforts to write anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination into law. Unfortunately, the well-being of transgender youth will once more be at stake in too many states. There are very real costs to these anti-LGBTQ+ bills being filed, even when they don’t pass: LGBTQ+ youth see all too well how little legislators seem to understand or care about who they truly are.

Transgender students don’t want or need to have a culture war built on their backs for the political expediency of adults; they simply want to be kids.

Scorecard Criteria


The collaborative efforts of state and local advocates accelerated LGBTQ+ inclusive state laws and policies this year. At the same time, our partners simultaneously defended against the harms of anti-equality forces. Take a closer look at what happened during this legislative session in these State Spotlights.

Recognizing that LGBTQ+ people should be free of discrimination in all areas of life, this publication takes a comprehensive view of non-discrimination laws & policies, looking at areas where not every state provides protections.

Data collection pertaining to LGBTQ+ populations is especially important because over time, it will allow us to assess and address health disparities among LGBTQ+ communities.

Acknowledging Context

The singling-out of sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom disproportionately disadvantages LGBTQ+ youth, who may already feel ostracized at home or in their communities. Additionally, LGBTQ+ youth of color experience additional stress and adverse effects to their health and wellbeing because of bias around their intersecting identities.

The data is undeniable. Research continues to demonstrate that when transgender youth have access to gender-affirming services, competent care and affirmation, their risk of depression, anxiety and other negative mental health outcomes is greatly reduced.

National Stats


*Does not include the District of Columbia



SEI 2021 National Scorecard

Download PDF

State Advocacy Categories for SEI Scorecards

In the SEI scorecards, we have grouped states into several broad categories to provide a general idea about the type of advocacy that occurs in each state in addition to identifying statewide laws and policies affecting LGBTQ+ people in such states. The categories are:

These states have a broad range of protections to ensure equality for LGBTQ+ people, including comprehensive non-discrimination laws, safer school policies, and healthcare access for transgender people. Advocates focus on the implementation of laws and advance innovative legislation that addresses the needs of vulnerable populations.

Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia are in the highest-rated category, “Working Toward Innovative Equality:" California; Colorado; Connecticut; Delaware; District of Columbia; Hawaii; Illinois; Iowa; Maine; Maryland; Massachusetts; Minnesota; Nevada; New Hampshire; New Jersey; New Mexico; New York; Oregon; Rhode Island; Vermont; Virginia; and Washington.

These states have several basic measures of equality, including non-discrimination protections or anti-bullying laws. Advocates work to ensure the broad implementation of these laws while advancing laws concerning parenting, youth, health and criminal justice to achieve full equality for the LGBTQ+ community.

Three states are in the category “Solidifying Equality:" Alaska; Pennsylvania; and Utah

In these states, advocates work to build upon initial advances toward LGBTQ+ equality, such as the implementation of safer school policies, expanding non-discrimination protections, or protections in healthcare for transgender people. Work in these states varies widely but may focus on opposing negative legislation, passing comprehensive non-discrimination laws, or making it easier for LGBTQ+ people to create families.

Four states are in the category “Building Equality:" Florida; Kansas; North Dakota; and Wisconsin.

In these states, advocates focus on raising support for basic LGBTQ+ equality, such as non-discrimination protections in employment, housing and public accommodations. These states are most likely to have religious refusal or other anti-LGBTQ+ laws. Advocates often further LGBTQ+ equality by focusing on municipal protections for LGBTQ+ people or opposing negative legislation that targets the LGBTQ+ community.

Twenty-Two states are in the lowest-rated category “High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality:" Alabama; Arizona; Arkansas; Georgia; Idaho; Indiana; Kentucky; Louisiana; Michigan; Mississippi; Missouri; Montana; Nebraska; North Carolina; Ohio; Oklahoma; South Carolina; South Dakota; Tennessee; Texas; West Virginia; and Wyoming.

State Advocacy Categories Map

State Scorecards

Scorecard Changes For the 2022 State Equality Index

The legal landscape for LGBTQ+ equality has shifted rapidly in the past several years

States have continued to push for LGBTQ+ equality beyond relationship recognition after the ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges made marriage equality the law of the land. Many are increasingly focused on passing non-discrimination laws, protecting LGBTQ+ youth, and expanding healthcare access for transgender people. This publication will continue to evaluate the changing landscape of law and provide the fullest picture of LGBTQ+ equality in the states. In 2022, the SEI will rate states that allow gender marker updates for identification documents that include a non-binary, ‘X’, or similar option.

The rise in religious refusal bills and bills that target transgender student athletes call for greater attention from LGBTQ+ advocates. The SEI will continue to recognize various laws that fall in this category. Future editions may include more nuance if particular types of laws gain traction.

We will consider other changes to the SEI scorecard based on developments in state law over the next few years. As a general matter, we will not include an item in the SEI scorecard unless at least one state has passed a law or policy that qualifies under the criteria for an item. Potential new criteria for future editions may include:


  • LGBTQ+ cultural competency training requirements for various types of professionals (doctors, mental health professionals, educators, etc.)
  • Proper gender and name requirements on death certificates for transgender people
  • Mandatory LGBTQ+ inclusive training for law enforcement
  • LGBTQ+ inclusive paid leave laws


  • Laws that restrict access to supportive student groups in public schools

  • Laws that allow government officials or businesses to refuse to recognize legal marriages


The SEI Team

SARAH WARBELOW is the Legal Director for the Human Rights Campaign, where she leads HRC’s team of litigators, policy attorneys and law fellows, and oversees the Municipal Equality and State Equality Indices.

CATHRYN OAKLEY is HRC’s State Legislative Director and Senior Counsel and the founding author of the Municipal Equality Index. She supervises the Municipal Equality Index and State Equality Index and state and local policy work.

COURTNAY AVANT serves as legislative counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, focusing on federal and state advocacy. She handles a range of issues, including those related to criminal justice, voting rights, and LGBTQ+ youth.

COLIN KUTNEY is HRC’s Associate Director of State and Municipal Programs, where he manages both the Municipal Equality Index and the State Equality Index each year. Colin works with the attorneys and law fellows to create the content for this report, and ensures the digital and communications teams can promote the State Equality Index to the masses.

Contributing Partners

The SEI would not be complete without the time, talent, and commitment of many folks. We appreciate all those that contributed to this year’s report.

A significant portion of the research for the SEI was conducted by HRC’s 2021 McCleary law fellows. We thank them for their research and willingness to lend a hand when needed.

Bob Villaflor, Tarine Wright and Carly Fox ensured that this report, plus all state scorecards, are available on the web at Aryn Fields, from our press team delivered the story of state equality to the masses. The SEI’s design was imagined by the brilliant team at General Design Company.

The Equality Federation Institute

It’s been our great pleasure to work in partnership with the Equality Federation Institute on this report. Members of the Equality Federation strive each day to achieve the equality measures that this report indexes, bringing state policy and advocacy expertise, grassroots organizing, and local experience to the fight for LGBTQ+ equality. The State Index Equality, and indeed, the tremendous gains in LGBTQ+ equality at the state level, would not be possible without their effort and relentless commitment.

We look forward to working with you again for the 2021 SEI!

For questions or additional information, please contact or visit

The State Equality Index would not have been possible without the valuable contributions made by the Equality Federation Institute and their state group members.

The strength of the state-based LGBTQ+ movement is critical to elevate our representation, visibility and equality across the country. As we look to the next legislative session, the State Equality Index should serve as a recognition of how far we have come and how much we have yet to achieve.