The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

LGBT Rights

There is currently no federal law protecting individuals from job discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation. This means that at any time, someone can be discriminated against, fired or not hired simply because he/she is or is perceived to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

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Putting an End to Anti-Gay Bullying

July 6, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

The suicides of 11-year-olds Jaheem Herrera and Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover in April have refocused many people's attention on the problem of anti-gay bullying. Both boys committed suicide after enduring anti-gay bullying at school.

Two-thirds of students report being bullied, according to Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) data from 2005, yet some groups of students are disproportionately targeted for harassment. Nearly 90 percent of LGBT students polled in a GLSEN study reported being verbally harassed in school, while less than a fifth reported that teachers intervened on the student's behalf upon overhearing derogatory remarks. 

Largely as a result of verbal and physical harassment, LGBT students attempt suicide at more than four times the rate of the general student population. Both Herrera and Hoover reported being called gay and tormented by their peers, though Hoover did not identify as gay.

GLSEN is one of many national organizations that work to provide schools with work resources they need to prevent and fight bullying.  GLSEN has found that schools that have implemented anti-bullying policies have experienced substantial reductions in bullying.

The Safe Schools Improvement Act, which was introduced in Congress on May 5, will require schools that receive federal funding under the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act to implement anti-bullying policies specifically aimed at protecting against bullying based on race, religion, sexual orientation, and other factors.

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Today in Civil Rights History: Lawrence vs. Texas Vindicates Due Process Rights of Gays and Lesbians

June 26, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Today marks the sixth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's historic decision in Lawrence vs. Texas, in which the Court held that the Constitution protects the fundamental right of consenting adults to make decisions about their private, consensual sexual activity without interference from the government, and invalidated a Texas law criminalizing private, adult, consensual sodomy.  

Writing for the majority of the Court, in an opinion joined by Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Souter, and Stevens, Justice Kennedy explained that the state cannot demean the existence of gay people or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.  

The decision overturned Bowers v. Hardwick, which had permitted laws criminalizing same-sex conduct.  In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy said: "Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today. It ought not to remain binding precedent. Bowers v. Hardwick should be and now is overruled."

"This is an historic day for fair-minded Americans everywhere," said Elizabeth Birch, then-executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, at the time the decision was handed down. "We are elated and gratified that the Supreme Court, in its wisdom, has seen discriminatory state sodomy laws for what they are - divisive, mean-spirited laws that were designed to single out and marginalize an entire group of Americans for unequal treatment."

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Employment Discrimination against LGBT Workers Shows Need for Employment Non-Discrimination Act

June 24, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Nancy Zirkin speaks at a podium with Reps. Tammy Baldwin and Jared Polis behind her

Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of LCCR, speaking in support of ENDA at the bill's introduction on Capitol Hill on June 24, 2009. 

Also pictured (l to r): Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D. Wis., and Rep. Jared Polis, D. Colo.

Although employment laws intended to protect people from workplace discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity are on the books in local communities and states around the country, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation reports that more than 3 in 5 U.S. citizens live in areas that do not have these laws.

Only 12 states and the District of Columbia have banned employment discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity.  Eight states have outlawed employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Many businesses are finding that it is becoming more and more important to have policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in order to remain competitive. The HRC Foundation found that 85 percent of Fortune 500 businesses now have non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation, up from 51 percent in 2000. Thirty-five percent of Fortune 500 businesses have non-discrimination policies that include gender identity or expression.  In 2000, only three Fortune 500 companies had this policy.

Today, the House of Representatives re-introduced the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in all states across the country. ENDA would extend the same federal employment discrimination protections currently given to race, religion, gender, national origin, age, and disability.

"We look forward to the swift passage of this legislation and seeing President Barack Obama sign it into law so that our nation can continue the progress it began in civil rights 50 years ago," said Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. 

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Stonewall Riots: The Beginning of the LGBT Movement

June 22, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Stonewall Inn in New York City in 1969

Stonewall Inn in 1969.

Credit: Diana Davies

This Sunday, June 28, will mark the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the event largely regarded as a catalyst for the LGBT movement for civil rights in the United States.  The riots inspired LGBT people throughout the country to organize in support of gay rights, and within two years after the riots, gay rights groups had been started in nearly every major city in the United States. 

At the time, there were not many places where people could be openly gay. New York had laws prohibiting homosexuality in public, and private businesses and gay establishments were regularly raided and shut down.

In the early hours of June 28, 1969, a group of gay customers at a popular gay bar in Greenwich Village called the Stonewall Inn, who had grown angry at the harassment by police, took a stand and a riot broke out. As word spread throughout the city about the demonstration, the customers of the inn were soon joined by other gay men and women who started throwing objects at the policemen, shouting "gay power."


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Julian Bond Testifies in Support of the Immigration Rights of Same-Sex Couples

June 4, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Julian Bond, NAACP chairman, testified yesterday in support of the Uniting American Families Act before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill would give gay and lesbian U.S. citizens and permanent residents the right to sponsor their foreign-born permanent partners for legal residency in the U.S. The act does not provide any other benefits and all other immigration requirements must be met. 

"It is because the NAACP supports the civil rights protections of all people, and is opposed to discrimination based on any criteria, that we support inclusion of the principles inherent in Uniting American Families Act in any comprehensive immigration reform," said Bond.

Julian Bond's full testimony

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State Department to Provide Equal Benefits to Same-Sex Foreign Service Workers

May 27, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the State Department will guarantee equal benefits and protections to same-sex partners of American foreign service workers.

Many benefits provided to married couples have been long denied to same-sex partners, such as life insurance, health insurance, diplomatic passports, transportation expenses to overseas posts, and emergency evacuation of high danger posts.

Gay and lesbian diplomats and heterosexual diplomats have called upon the State Department to provide these benefits for several years. In February, Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affair Agencies (GLIFAA) sent Clinton a letter signed by 2,200 foreign service workers, calling for equal benefits for same-sex partners.

The State Department has not said when the new policy will take effect. 

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Tomorrow Students Will Participate in National Day of Silence to End Bullying

April 16, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Day of Silence logo

Tomorrow is the National Day of Silence, the largest student-run action to end bullying and create safer schools for all, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Participants across the country take a vow of silence and only speak when necessary during the day to raise awareness about the problem of anti-LGBT bullying.

The first Day of Silence was organized in 1996 by students at the University of Virginia. A year later, nearly 100 colleges and universities participated. Last year, more than 8,000 middle schools, high schools, and universities participated nationwide.

This year students are choosing different ways to spread the word about the Day of Silence. Some are using Twitter to encourage people to participate. Others are wearing face masks with an "X" over the mouth to represent their silence or t-shirts with messages like, "Gay? Fine by me."

According to the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center, almost 30 percent of youth in the U.S. are involved in bullying, either as a bully, a target of bullying, or both.

In recent years, numerous incidents of children committing suicide because of being bullied have made the news. On April 6, an 11-year-old boy named Carl Walker-Hoover hanged himself after enduring daily taunts of being gay and tormented by his peers. Hoover, who did not identify as gay, would have turned 12 today.

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U.S. Immigration Policy Discriminates against Same-Sex Partners

March 23, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

Under current law, U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents can sponsor their spouses or fiancés for legal residency to the U.S.  However, gay and lesbian U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents cannot.

There are nearly 40,000 binational, same-sex couples living in the U.S., according to census data.  However, the current policy often tears these couples apart once the visa of one expires or forces many couples who do not want to be separated to leave the country.

In addition, many same-sex couples live apart because one partner is not permitted to live in or even travel to the United States.

Since 1965, the priority of U.S. immigration policy has been to make it possible for families to be reunited here in the U.S.  The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 ended earlier policies that prioritized immigrants from Europe and replaced them with a system that prioritized family immigration.

Since 1965, between 50 and 70 percent of the visas that have been given out have gone to family members of U.S. citizens and legal residents.

The Uniting American Families Act, introduced last month in Congress, would give gay and lesbian U.S. citizens and permanent residents the right to sponsor their foreign-born permanent partners for legal residency in the U.S. The act does not provide any other benefits and all other immigration requirements must be met.

Nineteen other countries have passed similar laws already.

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President Obama to Sign U.N. Declaration on Gay Rights

March 19, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

On March 17, President Obama announced that he will formerly support a United Nations statement that calls for the decriminalization of homosexuality worldwide. 

Though it is non-binding, the statement acknowledges that GLBT people around the world are subject to "violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization and prejudice" and states that human rights "apply equally to every human being regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity." It is the first time the U.N. General Assembly has formally addressed human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

When the declaration was introduced to the U.N. General Assembly in December 2008, it was supported by 66 U.N. member nations. The U.S. was the only western country that didn't sign the statement at that time. Former President Bush opposed the declaration, arguing that it raised legal questions that required further review.

Currently, nearly 70 U.N. member nations have laws banning homosexuality. And in some countries, homosexuality can be punished by execution.

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Groundbreaking Lesbian TV Show Ends This Week; HRC Throws Viewing Parties

March 6, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference

This Sunday, Showtime will air the final episode of The L Word, the first lesbian drama on U.S. television.  The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Showtime will sponsor viewing parties in 16 cities.

"The time to say goodbye to The L Word has arrived," said Joe Solmonese, president of HRC. "For six seasons, The L Word has brought loving, honest portrayals of LGBT lives into millions of homes. This visibility is crucial to opening hearts and minds."

The show follows the lives of a group of lesbian, bisexual and transgender women living in Los Angeles.  It has been praised for breaking stereotypes.  In 2008, Ilene Chaiken, series creator and executive producer, won the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation's (GLAAD) Davidson/Valentini Award, "an honor given to an openly gay media professional who has made a significant difference in promoting equal rights for the LGBT community."

Since the show premiered in 2004, the number of LGBT characters in network scripted comedies and dramas has increased.  According to a GLAAD report, there were 16 GLBT characters on the five major networks at the start of the 2008-2009 television season, which is the highest number ever.

The first regular lesbian character on U.S. television appeared in 1988. 

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