Report

2023 State Equality Index

A Review of State Legislation Affecting the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Community and a Look Ahead in 2024.

Published by the HRC Foundation in 2024

Dear Friends,

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation is proud to announce the latest iteration of the State Equality Index (SEI). The SEI offers a crucial snapshot of the policies, laws, and services that impact LGBTQ+ individuals across the nation.

This year's SEI reveals a complex and varied landscape of LGBTQ+ equality, shaped by the legislative actions taken by states. It highlights both progress and setbacks for the LGBTQ+ community. One concerning trend is the targeted focus of anti-equality legislators on LGBTQ+ youth, particularly transgender and non-binary youth. A significant number of bills have been introduced that aim to restrict their rights and access to vital services. In fact, these anti-LGBTQ+ bills accounted for more than half of all anti-equality bills filed in state legislatures this year alone. This represents a distressing increase compared to previous years.

The SEI also sheds light on the growing number of anti-LGBTQ+ health and safety bills. The total has nearly quadrupled, reflecting a worrisome trend of measures that aim to limit the healthcare options and rights of LGBTQ+ individuals. These bills have significant implications for transgender individuals, as they often target their access to medically necessary care and restrict their ability to update their official documentation.

Despite these challenges, it is important to acknowledge the victories and progress made in certain states. The number of pro-equality bills enacted has more than doubled, demonstrating that there are legislators committed to protecting and advancing LGBTQ+ rights. Michigan took significant steps to ensure non-discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in areas such as employment, housing, public accommodations, education, credit, and jury selection by amending the Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act . Moreover, there have been efforts to eliminate the "LGBTQ+ Panic Defense" in criminal cases, providing greater justice and fairness for the LGBTQ+ community.

The SEI also assesses the landscape of laws affecting transgender youth. It highlights the existence of bans on transgender youth participating in sports and restrictions on their access to best-practice, medically-necessary healthcare. Additionally, it examines laws that limit the discussion or inclusion of LGBTQ+ topics in the classroom, which can have a detrimental impact on LGBTQ+ students' well-being and education.

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.

Thank you for your steadfast support and commitment to LGBTQ+ equality. Together, we will make a difference.

With gratitude and determination,

Kelley Robinson , President , Human Rights Campaign


Dear Readers,

The greatest opportunities for victories to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people are in the states—where the work is hard, but the impact is great. As the national partner dedicated to building power in our network of state-based LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations, Equality Federation Institute knows this well. We are proud to partner with HRC on the State Equality Index at this critical time for LGBTQ+ rights nationwide. The State Equality Index showcases the ongoing journey of advocates across the states, sharing their victories and challenges in achieving legal protections for our community.

In recent years, the state legislative landscape for LGBTQ+ rights, particularly those of transgender individuals, has been met with challenges unparalleled in modern history. The 2023 legislative session was no different; it marked one of the most daunting periods for transgender rights, requiring effective strategies and relentless advocacy from folks on the ground. Yet, it is in the stories of relentlessness, of communities showing up in the hundreds to testify in favor of protecting their trans neighbors, where we witness the real victories.

From banning transgender young people from accessing medically necessary care or participating in sports to prohibiting the discussion of LGBTQ+ people in schools, anti-equality opponents continued their crusade against transgender and nonbinary young people in 2023. In fact, we saw more than double the number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills pass than the previous year. But thanks to the incredible work of advocates organizing their communities and telling our stories, more than 87% of all anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced failed to pass.

Despite the challenges of the most discriminatory legislative session on record, the LGBTQ+ community celebrated significant victories. The number of bills advancing LGBTQ+ protections more than doubled, with 50 such bills successfully enacted. Notably, advocates and leaders in Michigan organized decision-makers to amend the Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act to explicitly protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Minnesota also took a positive step by implementing a ban on the harmful practice of so-called "conversion therapy,” as well as joining other states and cities in enacting legislation designed to safeguard transgender and nonbinary youth and their families who travel to these places seeking gender-affirming care.

The lives and identities of LGBTQ+ individuals are multifaceted. While no single law can address every aspect of our lives, certain legislative efforts contribute to the broader work aimed at achieving full, lived equality. I am grateful to the state and local advocates who persistently urge lawmakers to enact HIV modernization laws, nondiscrimination protections, and laws that expand access to medical care for everyone. We all deserve the safety to thrive, and with each bill introduction, vote changed in our favor, and story told, a positive step is taken on our path to liberation.

As states prepare for another trying legislative session, I hope we continue to celebrate the small victories along the way. Queer and transgender people have always been here and will always be here. Even during the times when the work is especially hard, may we all recognize our collective power and humanity. The State Equality Index is a tool that helps us measure one benchmark of progress—let us continue to use it to hold lawmakers accountable for the necessary steps to protect the entire LGBTQ+ community.

In Solidarity,

Fran Hutchins , Executive Director , Equality Federation Institute

In 2023, the LGBTQ+ movement saw continued momentum on good bills. This map shows the states that passed laws pertaining to LGBTQ+ equality in their respective SEI categories this year.


Good vs Bad Legislation in 2023

Good Bills

In 2023, 253 pro-equality bills were introduced in state legislatures around the country. 50 were signed into law.

Bad Bills

In 2023, 571 anti-equality bills were introduced in state legislatures around the country. 77 were signed into law.


Key state law and policy developments in 2023

Following an unprecedented state legislative session in 2023, the Human Rights Campaign officially declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ people in the United States for the first time ever. Despite the increasing number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills in recent history, 2023 far exceeded expectations, more than doubling last year’s record-breaking number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills passed into law. Over 75 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were signed into law in 2023, impacting key areas of life.

Once again, anti-equality legislators focused much of their discriminatory efforts on LGBTQ+ youth, with a laser focus on transgender and non-binary youth. With [290] bills introduced, anti-LGBTQ+ youth-related bills made up more than half of all anti-equality bills filed in state legislatures this year alone. Furthermore, the number of anti-LGBTQ+ health and safety bills nearly quadrupled, from 49 bills in 2022 to [195] bills introduced.

State legislators had several pressing issues to grapple with in 2023 with an increasingly tumultuous economy and a dizzying patchwork of reproductive state laws following the unprecedented decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022). However, anti-equality state legislators continued to press on with their legislative assaults against the LGBTQ+ community. This year, [134] gender-affirming care ban bills were introduced nationwide and [21] were enacted, effectively eliminating access for youth to age-appropriate, medically-necessary health care backed by decades of research and supported by every major medical association. More than 30 states introduced gender affirming care bans during the 2023 legislative session, meaning that at its height, half of all transgender youth in the U.S. were at risk of losing access to gender-affirming care. In some states, laws have made it substantially more difficult for adults to access care as well, particularly through bans on public funds going to provide this best practice healthcare.

Anti-LGBTQ+ legislation also included bills undermining the inclusion of LGBTQ+ topics and support systems in schools. [195] education-related bills were filed, accounting for a third of all anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in 2023. [21] of these bills, including curriculum censorship, “Don’t Say LGBTQ+,” intentional misgendering, and forcible outing, were enacted.

In the midst of the most damaging and discriminatory legislative session on record, there were important victories for the LGBTQ+ community too. The number of pro-equality bills passed more than doubled, with 50 pro-equality bills enacted. In Michigan, the Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act—the state’s powerful non-discrimination law—was amended to include express protections from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In Minnesota, a ban on the abusive and discredited practice of so-called “conversion therapy” was adopted. Other laws extending important protections to transgender people, including in health care, were also adopted.

All in all, [571] anti-LGBTQ+ bills were filed in the 2023 state legislative session. [77] became law. While pro-equality forces were able to defeat a majority of the anti-LGBTQ+ legislation introduced in state legislatures, every bad law enacted irreparably changes the course of real people’s lives for the worse and the work continues.


Comparative Legislation at a Glance

Overall

Parenting Laws

Religious Refusal & Relationship Recognition

Non-Discrimination Laws

Youth Laws

Health & Safety

Hate Crimes & Criminal Justice


Outlook for 2024

2023 was a punishing legislative session, hitting new highs of anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced and a devastating 77 bills passed into law. It is hard to overstate how serious this moment is for the LGBTQ+ youth, their families, and LGBTQ+ adults who are now reckoning with impossible questions, such as whether it is better to leave home to find a better life in a different part of the U.S., or whether it is better to stay in a community where your family is rooted but your rights are eroded by the day. That’s why, for the first time in our history, HRC declared a state of emergency in June of this year.

It is an emergency: even in states where the laws for LGBTQ+ are good and getting better, demand for gender-affirming care is increasing as folks from other states are forced to leave home in order to receive the healthcare that allows them to live and thrive. States who have justified bans on transgender healthcare by spreading misinformation about youth have also taken steps to make it more challenging for adults to receive care, including by reducing the types of providers who are able to provide gender affirming care or prohibiting Medicaid from providing coverage for health services for transgender adults. States are trying to rewrite laws to exclude LGBTQ+ people from sex-based protections, and they are continuing to try to erase LGBTQ+ people from history, from the classroom, from artistic performance, and from sport.

That onslaught continues into 2024, which even so early in the year is shaping up to be another for the record books. What’s old is new again, and bills in the style of North Carolina’s reviled 2016 law, known as HB2, are making a comeback. These bills would prevent transgender people from being able to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity in public libraries, in the airport, in the stadium, in public schools or in public universities as well as in rest stops, the state legislature, city or county properties or any other taxpayer-supported space. Slightly more narrow bills banning transgender youth from being able to use the restroom at school are proliferating madly across the country, and are currently on track to be the most prevalent type of legislation this year.

Perhaps its closest rival at this early date is legislation that is aimed at educators—where state legislatures dictate to schools what subjects they can teach, what books must be censored, how they should run student clubs and student sports, and even by what names teachers may address their students. Bills defining people’s sex around biological terms so divorced from the way in which people commonly think about being male or female (“slow moving gametes”) continue to try to cleave protections for LGBTQ+ people out of sex stereotyping law. Opponents of equality also continue to insist that overt anti-LGBTQ discrimination is justifiable with an assertion of religious belief—and some bills would make it defamation to even call discrimination what it truly is.

Opponents of equality don’t want the world to see what they’re doing—and they certainly don’t want it to be named discrimination. That is, nonetheless, what it is. And yet a year filled with heartache was also a year in which a multi-decade effort to include LGBTQ+ protections in Michigan’s non-discrimination law finally triumphed. 50 pro-equality bills passed this year. Progress is not linear, and setbacks are as common as they are devastating. And yet, we fight on—we fight on knowing that history, popular opinion, and justice are on our side.

Scorecard Criteria

Michigan

A lot can change in a year's time, and in Michigan's case, a lot did.

Learn More

Tennessee

What do you do when your state faces more anti-LGBTQ legislation than just about any other?

Learn More

Maryland

We can't be satisfied with an incomplete, piecemeal approach to addressing LGBTQ+ Marylanders' needs.

Learn More

About

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.

Acknowledging Context

National Stats

TOTAL STATES WITH NON-DISCRIMINATION STATUTORY PROTECTIONS*

*Does not include the District of Columbia


SCORECARD | NATIONAL OVERVIEW

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.

20 states and D.C. are in the highest-rated category, “Working Toward Innovative Equality”:
C
alifornia, Maine, District of Columbia, New York, Colorado, Nevada, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Illinois, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Maryland, Washington, Delaware, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New Mexico, and Virginia

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.

5 states are in the category “Solidifying Equality”: Michigan, Alaska, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Pennsylvania

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.

2 states are in the category “Building Equality”: Arizona and Utah

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.

23 states are in the lowest-rated category “High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality”: Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Missouri, West Virginia, North Carolina, Montana, Georgia, Florida, Wyoming, Louisiana, Texas, Idaho, South Carolina, Mississippi, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama

State Advocacy Categories Map

State Scorecards

Scorecard Changes For the 2024 State Equality Index

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

For our tenth edition, the SEI had several additions to our criteria that reflected the rapid growth and rise in bills that targeted LGBTQ+ youth, and particularly transgender and nonbinary youth. Our expanded criteria examines state laws and policies that require intentional misgendering of public-school students, forcible outing of LGBTQ+ youth, restrictions on drag performance, and restrictions on transgender people accessing gendered facilities in public schools and in certain public spaces. This publication will continue to evaluate the changing landscape of law and provide the fullest picture of LGBTQ+ equality in the states. In 2024, the SEI will continue to rate states based on this new criteria.

The rise in health & safety-related bills and bills that target transgender and nonbinary youth 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:

Positive

  • 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

Negative

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


Acknowledgements

The SEI Team

SARAH WARBELOW is the Vice President, Legal 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 Senior Director, Legal Policy 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.

BRITTNY PHAM is the Program Manager for State and Municipal Programs, where she manages both the Municipal Equality Index and the State Equality Index each year. Brittny 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.

This year we extend special thanks to HRC colleagues Samantha Griffith, Cooper Reed, Laurel Powell, Jared Keller, Jared Todd, Kathryn Smith, Sam Lau, Carly Fox, Robert Villaflor, Hillary Esquina, Simon Garcia, Raye Maguire, Steffi Badanes, Summer Putnam, Alec Carrasco, and HRC’s 2023 McCleary Law Fellows and Legal Interns.

Finally, thanks to Noted Branding and Viget for making the magic of the SEI come to life.

The Equality Federation Institute

As always, this work happens because of our dedicated partners at the Equality Federation Institute. The achievements we celebrate in this publication are often theirs. The state groups on the following page deserve a special mention for their engagement and support this year.

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 2024 SEI!

For questions or additional information, please contact sei@hrc.org or visit www.hrc.org/sei.


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.

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