LGBT rights in the United States

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United States
StatusLegal nationwide since 2003
(Lawrence v. Texas) Legal in some areas since 1962
Gender identityLaws vary by jurisdiction
MilitaryYes, openly;

"Don't ask, don't tell" policy repealed in September 20, 2011

Most transgender people are banned from serving since April 12, 2019 (can only serve in basis of biological sex)
Discrimination protectionsDiscrimination protections based on sexual orientation for employees in the federal civilian workforce, along with the government employment in the District of Columbia, and the United States Postal Service, since 1998 (see Executive Order 12968 and Executive Order 13087).
Laws vary by jurisdiction, but most states lack protections against LGBT discrimination. Federal protections are proposed under the Equality Act.
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsSame-sex marriage is legal nationwide since 2015 except American Samoa[1] and some tribal jurisdictions
(Obergefell v. Hodges) Recognized by the federal government since 2013
(United States v. Windsor).
AdoptionLegal in 50 states since 2016
The Stonewall Inn in the gay village of Greenwich Village, Manhattan, adorned with rainbow flags during a pride event. The Inn was the site of the eponymous Stonewall riots in June 1969: a series of events which precipitated the modern LGBT rights movement. Stonewall has since become an icon of LGBT culture and gay pride in the United States.[2][3][4]

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in the United States have significantly progressed over time, with the majority of the progress on LGBT rights having taken place in the late 20th century and early 21st century. While the United States Supreme Court has legalized many LGBT rights, they continue to vary by jurisdiction, and discrimination in jobs and housing is still legal in most states. The Equality Act, which is currently proposed in the United States Congress, would outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity nationwide.[5]

Since June 26, 2003, sexual activity between consenting adults and adolescents of a close age of the same sex has been legal nationwide, pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas. As of June 26, 2015, all states license and recognize marriage between same-sex couples as a result of the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.

The United States has no federal law outlawing discrimination nationwide other than from federal executive orders which have a more limited scope than from protections through federal legislation. This leaves residents of some states unprotected against discrimination in employment, housing, and private or public services. LGBT rights-related laws regarding family and anti-discrimination still vary by state. The age of consent in each jurisdiction varies from age 16 to 18,[6] with some jurisdictions maintaining different ages of consent for males/females or for same-sex/opposite-sex relations. As a result, LGBT persons in the United States still face some challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents, particularly in the Bible belt and rural areas.

The strongest expansions in LGBT rights in the United States have come from the Supreme Court. In four landmark rulings between the years 1996 and 2015, the Supreme Court invalidated a state law banning protected class recognition based upon homosexuality, struck down sodomy laws nationwide, struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, and made same-sex marriage legal nationwide. Twenty-two states plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, and twenty states plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico outlaw discrimination based on gender identity or expression.[7] Hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity are also punishable by federal law under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. In 2012 and 2015, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not allow gender identity-based employment discrimination because it is considered sexual discrimination.[8][9][10]

Adoption of children by same-sex married couples is legal nationwide, since June 2015, following the Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, though Mississippi did not have its same-sex adoption ban struck down by a federal court until March 2016.[11][12] Policies regarding adoption vary greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some states allow adoption by all couples, while others ban all unmarried couples from adoption.[13]

Civil rights for LGBT people in the United States are advocated by a variety of organizations at all levels and concentrations of political and legal life, including the Human Rights Campaign,[14] Lambda Legal, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Center for Transgender Equality,[15] and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.


Federally granted rights and protections[edit]

LGBT Rights[edit]

☑Y Presently codified in U.S. federal law
☒N Not presently codified in U.S. federal law
Emblem-question.svg Present status unknown or ambiguous
LGBT Right On the basis of gender identity or expression On the basis of sexual orientation
Asylum ☑Y[16] ☑Y (Since 1989)[17]
Automatic co-parent recognition Emblem-question.svg Emblem-question.svg
Cohabitation laws Emblem-question.svg Emblem-question.svg
Constitutional protections ☒N ☒N
Education protections ☑Y[18] ☑Y[18]
Employment protections (federal

government employees)

☑Y (Since July 21, 2014)[19] ☑Y (Since May 28, 1998)[20]
Federal contractor employment protections ☑Y (Since July 21, 2014)[19] ☑Y (Since July 21, 2014)[19]
Hate crime law ☑Y (Since October 28, 2009)[21] ☑Y (Since October 28, 2009)[21]
Hate speech law ☒N ☒N
Health protections Emblem-question.svg ☑Y (Since May 18, 2016)[22][23]
Joint adoption ☑Y ☑Y (Since May 3, 2016)[24]
Medically assisted insemination for singles Emblem-question.svg Emblem-question.svg
Medically assisted insemination for couples Emblem-question.svg Emblem-question.svg
Military service ☒N (since April 12, 2019) [25] ☑Y (Since September 20, 2011)[26]
No laws limiting freedom of expression ☑Y (Since December 26, 2013)[27] ☑Y
Policy tackling hatred ☑Y (Since September 13, 1994)[28] ☑Y (Since October 28, 2009)[21]
Prohibition on conversion therapy for minors ☒N ☒N
Public accommodation protections ☒N ☒N
Same-sex marriage ☑Y (Since June 26, 2015)[29] ☑Y(Since June 26, 2015)[29]
Second-parent adoption ☑Y (Since May 3, 2016)[24] ☑Y (Since May 3, 2016)[24]

Anti-discrimination laws[edit]

The U.S. federal law does not include protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Such protections are considered by the United States Congress under the Equality Act.[5]

Medical facilities[edit]

On April 14, 2010, President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order to the Department of Health and Human Services to draft new rules for all hospitals accepting Medicare or Medicaid funds. They would require facilities to grant visitation and medical decision-making rights to gay and lesbian partners, as well as designees of others such as widows and widowers.[30] Such rights are not protected by law in many states. Obama said he was inspired by the case of a Florida family, where one of the mothers died while her partner and four children were denied visitation by the hospital.[30]


States that prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. HUD regulations require all housing providers that receive HUD funding not to discriminate against an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity.
  Prohibits housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
  Prohibits housing discrimination based on sexual orientation only
  Does not factor sexual orientation or gender identity/unclear

The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) is an agency within the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. FHEO is responsible for administering and enforcing federal fair housing laws and establishing policies that make sure all Americans have equal access to the housing of their choice. Housing discrimination refers to discrimination against potential or current tenants by landlords. In the United States, there is no federal law against such discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, but at least twenty-two states and many major cities have enacted laws prohibiting it.[31] See, for example, Washington House Bill 2661.

In 2012, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity issued a regulation called "Equal Access" to prohibit LGBT discrimination in federally-assisted housing programs.[32] It ensures that the Department's core housing programs are open to all eligible persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. In 2019, however, there was an attempt to weaken the regulation.[33]

The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity is responsible for enforcing a variety of fair housing laws, which prohibit discrimination in both privately owned and publicly assisted housing including:


Map of states that have sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination prohibited in public and/or private employment via statute, executive order, regulation, and/or case law:
  Sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination prohibited in public and private employment
  Sexual orientation discrimination prohibited in public and private employment; gender identity discrimination prohibited in public employment only
  Gender identity discrimination prohibited in public and private employment; sexual orientation discrimination prohibited in public employment only
  Sexual orientation discrimination prohibited in public and private employment
  Gender identity discrimination prohibited in public and private employment
  Sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination prohibited in public employment only
  Sexual orientation discrimination prohibited in public employment only
  No state-level protections based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity

There is no federal statute addressing employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Protections at the national level are limited. Some regulations protect government employees but do not extend their protections to the private sector. Twenty-four states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and over 140 cities and counties have enacted bans on discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or sexual identity. Employment discrimination refers to discriminatory employment practices such as bias in hiring, promotion, job assignment, termination, and compensation, and various types of harassment.[34] In the United States there is "very little statutory, common law, and case law establishing employment discrimination based upon sexual orientation as a legal wrong."[35]

Presidents have established certain protections for some employees of the federal government by executive order. In 1995, President Bill Clinton's Executive Order 12968 establishing criteria for the issuance of security clearances included sexual orientation for the first time in its non-discrimination language: "The United States Government does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or sexual orientation in granting access to classified information." It also said that "no inference" about suitability for access to classified information "may be raised solely on the basis of the sexual orientation of the employee."[36] Clinton's Executive Order 13087 in 1998 prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in the competitive service of the federal civilian workforce. It applied to the large majority of federal employees, but not to the excepted services such as the military.[37]

At the start of 2010, the Obama administration included gender identity among the classes protected against discrimination under the authority of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In 2012, the EEOC ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not allow gender identity-based employment discrimination because it is a form of sexual discrimination.[8][9][10]

On July 21, 2014, President Obama signed Executive Order 13672, adding "gender identity" to the categories protected against discrimination in hiring in the federal civilian workforce, and both "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the categories protected against discrimination in hiring and employment on the part of federal government contractors and sub-contractors.[38][39] Obama's related Executive Order 13673[a] required federal contractors to prove their compliance with labor laws, but Trump revoked this requirement on March 27, 2017.[40]

Hate crime laws[edit]

Hate crime laws (also known as bias crimes laws) protect against crimes motivated by feelings of enmity against a protected class. Until 2009, a 1969 federal law defined hate crimes committed on the basis of a person's race, color, religion, or nation origin when engaging in a federally protected activity. In October 2009, Congress passed the Matthew Shepard Act, which expanded the definition of hate crimes to include gender, sexual orientation, gender-identity, and disability.[41] It removed the requirement that the victim of a hate crime be engaged in a federally protected activity.[42] President Obama signed the legislation on October 28, 2009.[43]

Two statutes, the Hate Crime Statistics Act (1990) and the Campus Hate Crimes Right to Know Act (1997), require the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), as well as college/university campus security authorities, to collect and publish hate crime statistics.

Current U.S. LGBT hate crimes laws by state. A national hate crimes law encompasses both sexual orientation and gender identity.
  Sexual orientation and gender identity recognized in state hate crimes law
  Sexual orientation recognized in state hate crimes law
  Sexual orientation recognized for data collection about hate crimes
  State hate crimes law uninclusive of sexual orientation or gender identity

Forty-six states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have statutes criminalizing various types of bias-motivated violence or intimidation (the exceptions are Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, and Wyoming). Each of these statutes covers bias on the basis of race, religion, and ethnicity; 32 cover disability; 32 of them cover sexual orientation; 28 cover gender; 13 cover age; 21 cover gender identity; 5 cover political affiliation.[44] 31 states and the District of Columbia have statutes creating a civil cause of action, in addition to the criminal penalty, for similar acts.[44] 27 states and the District of Columbia have statutes requiring the state to collect hate crime statistics; 16 of these cover sexual orientation.[44]

In Wisconsin v. Mitchell (1993) the Supreme Court unanimously held that state penalty-enhancement laws for hate crimes were constitutional and did not violate First Amendment rights to freedom of thought and expression.


Solitary confinement[edit]

More than 8,400 detained migrants—over a five-year period spanning both the Obama and Trump administrations—were placed in solitary confinement, which remains an ongoing practice as of May 2019. In half of the cases, detainees were being punished, but in the other half, the confinement was due to the person’s mental illness, physical disability, or sexual orientation. Journalists identified six suicides among this population.[45]

Conjugal visits[edit]

In the United States, four states permit conjugal visits to prisoners: California, Connecticut, New York, and Washington;[46] all of these U.S. states have legalized same-sex marriage in June 2015.[47] In June 2007, California, following the enactment in 2005 of a state law requiring state agencies to provide the same rights to domestic partners as to married couples, became the first U.S. state to allow same-sex conjugal visits. The new rules allowed for visits only by registered same-sex married couples or domestic partners, provided that the same-sex marriage or domestic partnership was established before the prisoner was incarcerated.[48] In New York, prior to the vote on same-sex visits, this state allowed 27 out of its 60 facilities to allow same-sex conjugal visits, but this law was not enforced state wide until April 2011. In 2014, both New Mexico and Mississippi banned conjugal visits.[49][50]

Military service[edit]

Prior to 1993, lesbian and gay people were not permitted to serve in the U.S. military. Under the "Don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) policy enacted that year, they were permitted to do so only if they did not disclose their sexual orientation. The Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 permitted homosexual men and women to serve openly in the armed forces following once designated government officials certified that the military was prepared for the repeal.[51] Since September 20, 2011, gays, lesbians, and bisexuals have been able to serve openly.[52]

Transgender women and other individuals that are assigned male at birth are still required to sign-up for the Selective Service.[53]

On July 13, 2015, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said that the current regulations banning transgender individuals from serving were outdated, and announced a six-month study to determine if lifting the ban would have any impact on the military's effectiveness.[54] On June 30, 2016, Carter announced that the ban on transgender troops from openly serving had been lifted.[55] The policy went into effect on October 1, 2016, and training on transgender issues was scheduled to begin a month later.

On October 24, 2016, 10 soldiers in the U.S. Army became the first to openly petition for a sex change since the ban on service by transgender individuals was lifted.[56]

The military was originally scheduled to complete its adjustment to openly transgender troops by July 2017.[56] That month, however, President Trump declared in a tweet that transgender people would be prohibited from serving in the military.[57] The next day, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford said, "There will be no modifications to the current policy until the President's direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidance. In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect."[58] Trump later published a memo on August 25, 2017 directing that an implementation plan be submitted to him by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Homeland Security by February 2018.[59] In November 2018, the Trump administration formally asked the Supreme Court to issue a ruling on the matter, even though lower courts were still hearing appeals.[60] Though the Supreme Court initially refused this request, on January 22, 2019, it granted temporary permission to the Trump administration to proceed with its ban,[61][62] and on March 12 the Department of Defense released a memorandum describing the terms of the ban to take effect on April 12, 2019.[63] The memorandum offers some protection for existing military personnel who were already diagnosed with "gender dysphoria" or who were already serving in their self-designated gender before the memorandum was issued.[64] However, new personnel must serve in their birth gender/sex and are disqualified from service if they have a recent history of gender dysphoria or if they have ever received hormones and surgery related to gender transition. Two bipartisan bills in Congress are pushing back against the ban.[65][66]

Blood and tissue donation[edit]

In the U.S., the current guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is to defer from donating blood for 12 months from the most recent contact a man who has had sex with another man during the past 12 months.[67] Furthermore, the FDA recommends to blood establishments that in the context of the donor history questionnaire, male or female gender should be self-identified and self-reported for the purpose of blood donation.[67]

Recognition of marriage and adoption for same-sex families[edit]


2011 protest in New Jersey by Garden State Equality in support of same-sex marriage rights and against deportation of LGBT spouses.

The movement to obtain civil marriage rights and benefits for same-sex couples in the United States began in the 1970s but remained unsuccessful for over forty years. On May 17, 2004, Massachusetts became the first U.S. state and the sixth jurisdiction in the world to legalize same-sex marriage following the Supreme Judicial Court's decision six months earlier.[68] Before nationwide legalization, same-sex marriage became legal in 36 states; 24 states by court order, nine by legislative action, and three by referendum. Some states had legalized same-sex marriage by more than one of the three actions.

On June 26, 2015 the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that states must license and recognize same-sex marriages. Consequently, same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Northern Mariana Islands. Officials in American Samoa discussed whether the ruling applies to the territory; currently same-sex marriages are neither licensed nor recognized there. Since Obergefell v. Hodges passed, Senator Greg Albritton has been proposing bills that act as a work around for same-sex marriages and ten out of sixty-eight judges have stopped issuing marriage licenses in Alabama. On April 10, 2019, the Alabama Senate passed a bill to end all marriage licenses.[69] Senator Albritton mimicked the bill that was voted down in Oklahoma in 2015.[70] The bill would allow people to marry by eliminating the ceremonial portion and requiring the couple to submit an affidavit or form to a probate judge, who would then record the marriage rather than issuing a marriage license which in the judges' eyes is granting permission when they do not approve of the relationship they would be granting permission to.[71][70]

Legislative history[edit]

Legislative history of same-sex marriage

Fourteen state and the District of Columbia legislators have passed same-sex marriage bills in their states, of which four were vetoed by the governors with Vermont overriding its governor's veto. In total ten states legalized same-sex marriage through legislation without judicial order.

Legislative history of civil unions and domestic partnerships

Prior to nationwide same-sex marriage, fifteen U.S. states had civil unions or domestic partnerships. Many of those state retain those laws as a continued choice for same-sex couples, and opposite couples in certain states.

Initiative and referendum history[edit]

Thirty-three states had initiatives to vote on same sex marriage and all but one passed a ban on same-sex marriage and/or civil union laws.[72] In the 2012 November elections, Maine, Maryland, and Washington all had referendums to vote on same sex marriage. In this same election, Minnesota had an initiative to add a constitutional ban on same sex marriage. Following the results of this election, Maryland, Maine, and Washington became the first states to allow same-sex marriage through popular vote.[73] while in turn Minnesota voters rejected the proposed ban.

Various other states had initiatives on banning LGBT individuals from certain positions or allowing certain anti-discrimination laws.


Defense of Marriage Act

The events of the Hawaii Supreme Court prompted the United States Congress to enact the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, which forbade the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and relieved states of the requirement that they recognize same-sex unions performed in other jurisdictions.

On June 26, 2013, Section 3 of DOMA ("Definition of marriage") was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor.

Former State constitutional amendments

There was a backlash after Massachusetts legalized same sex marriage during the 2004 election cycle where fourteen states amended their constitution to ban recognition of same-sex marriages and many banning civil unions as well.

All twenty-eight states who passed state constitutional amendments that banned same-sex marriage to be legalized by judicial or legislative action: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Hawaii voters approved a narrower constitutional amendment empowering the legislature to outlaw same-sex marriage, which they had already done in 1993.

On November 6, 2012, Minnesota became the first state to vote down a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The amendment failed with a 53% to 47% vote.[74]

All state constitutional bans have been declared unconstitutional in June 2015 in Obergefell v. Hodges.

State statutes

After the passage of the DOMA in 1996, many state legislators enacted state statutes, nicknamed mini-DOMA's, that ban same sex marriage.[75] Beginning in 1972 with Maryland, all states but New Mexico passed a statute banning same-sex marriage prior to nationwide legalization in Obergefell v. Hodges in June 2015.


Naturalized U.S. citizens whose biological children are born abroad may be unable to obtain U.S. citizenship for their children even if their spouse is also a U.S. citizen. This may disproportionately affect same-sex couples, given that typically only one spouse is biologically related to the child.[76]

State adoption laws[edit]

Boston gay pride march, held annually in June

Same-sex couples are allowed to adopt in states and territories following the ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing same-sex marriage. Prior to Obergefell, various states by legislative and judicial action had allowed joint adoption by same-sex couples.

Public opinion[edit]

A May 2018 Gallup poll found that 67% of Americans supported same-sex marriage.[77] A March 2014 public opinion poll by Washington Post/ABC News showed support for same-sex marriage at 59% among Americans,[78] and a February 2014 New York Times/CBS News opinion poll showed 56% support for same-sex marriage.[79] A November 2012 Gallup poll indicated 61% support for gays and lesbians being allowed to adopt children.[80]


The main supporters of LGBT rights in the U.S. have generally been political liberals and libertarians. Regionally, support for the LGBT rights movement has been strongest in the areas of the North and the West coast, and in other states with large urban populations. The national Democratic Party has held the official platform support most initiatives since 2012 for LGBT rights. However, there are some Republican groups advocating for LGBT issues inside the party include the Log Cabin Republicans, GOProud, Young Conservatives for the Freedom To Marry, and College Republicans of the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University. A poll in March 2014 found that 40% of Republicans support same-sex marriage,[81] a percentage that rose to 44% in 2018.[77] In 2013, 52% of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents between the age of 18–49 years old supported same-sex marriage in a joint Washington Post-ABC News poll.[82] A 2014 Pew Forum Poll showed that American Muslims are more likely than Evangelicals to support same-sex marriage 42% to 28%,[83] a percentage that according to the Public Religion Research Institute in 2018 rose to 51% and 34%.[84] According to Pew Research Center in 2017, Millennials and Generation X, younger white evangelicals born after 1964, have grown more supportive in favor same-sex marriage, up to 47%.[85] A 2017 Pew Research Center poll showed that 64% of White Americans, 60% of Hispanic and Latino Americans and 51% of African Americans support the right for same-sex couples to marry.[86]

Students kissing in front of protesters from Westboro Baptist Church at Oberlin College in Ohio.


The main opponents of LGBT rights in the U.S. have generally been religious fundamentalists. According to Pew Research Center, the majority, 59%, of white evangelical Protestants oppose same-sex marriage. Between 2016 and 2017, views among Baby boomers and the Silent Generation, older white evangelicals born before 1964, have shown practically no change from 25% then to 26% now.[85] Conservatives cite various Bible passages from the Old and New Testaments as their justification for opposing LGBT rights. Regionally, LGBT rights opposition has been strongest in the South and in other states with a large rural and conservative population, particularly the Bible Belt.

As the movement for same-sex marriage has developed, many national and/or international organizations have opposed that movement. Those organizations include the American Family Association, the Christian Coalition, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Save Our Children, NARTH, the national Republican Party,[87] the Roman Catholic Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church),[88] the Southern Baptist Convention,[89] Alliance for Marriage, Alliance Defense Fund, Liberty Counsel, and the National Organization for Marriage. A number of these groups have been named as anti-gay hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.[90]

Transgender rights in the United States[edit]

If a person identifies as transgender, this typically means their gender differs from their sex assigned at birth. Some transgender people have binary gender identities (male or female) and some transgender people have non-binary gender identities, (genderqueer, agender, pangender, culturally-specific third gender identities, and more).[91]

Discrimination rates are very high for the transgender community and especially for transgender people of color.[92] Some frequent examples of discrimination and other forms of oppression faced by the transgender community are violence and hate crimes,[93][94] homelessness,[95] poverty,[96] sexual assault,[97][98][99] housing discrimination,[100] employment discrimination,[101] harassment,[102] bullying,[103] disproportionate rates of arrest and incarceration,[104] prison and immigration violence and mistreatment,[105] airport security humiliation,[106][107] HIV/AIDS[108] and health disparities,[109][110] governmental/bureaucratic barriers to transitioning (documents and surgery requirements),[111] economic and societal barriers to transitioning (the high costs of medical care and the frequent denial of care),[112][113] to name only a few. Some (but not all), who experience exclusion from the workforce, turn to survival crimes, such as sex work, in order to have an income as a direct result of economic oppression and discrimination.[104] With the passage of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) bills, these individuals who turn to sex work are put in more danger because they are forced to turn back to more dangerous methods of finding work, such as through pimps and working on the streets, than online forums where they were able to vet clients.[114][115][116][117][118]

Frequently, the media, and politicians (and as a result, society) sensationalize transgender identities and oppression is reinforced. Aware of this trend, in 2016, a coalition of over 250 anti-sexual assault and domestic violence organizations have released a joint letter decrying the trend of portraying transgender people in restrooms as sexual predators as untrue and harmful. Likewise, GLAAD has released a media guide[119] for reporters covering restroom usage in relation to the transgender community.

Many transgender advocates also advocate for converting single-occupant, gender-segregated restrooms into single-occupant, all-gender restrooms by simply changing the signs due to the high rates of harassment and even violence faced by the transgender community when accessing gender-segregated restrooms according to their gender expression. All-Gender/Gender-Neutral restrooms are also beneficial to nursing mothers, parents with different-sex children, and people with disabilities.[120] Transgender advocates affirm all-gender restrooms as well as access to gendered restrooms as a matter of choice, safety, privacy, and dignity.[121]

Intersex rights in the United States[edit]

Intersex people in the United States have some of the same rights as other people, but with significant gaps, particularly in protection from non-consensual cosmetic medical interventions, from violence, and from discrimination.[122][123] Many non-consensual medical surgeries are being performed in order to "fix" these individuals when they are born or young. Some are also put on hormones in order to ensure that their bodies develop to the sex they were assigned. In August 2018, the California state legislature passed a law that condemns these types of surgeries. This law gives intersex minors rights to be involved in decisions being made about surgeries performed on their bodies and therefore the surgeries are put off until the individual is old enough to understand and participate in the decision-making process.[124][125][126][127] Actions by intersex civil society organizations aim to eliminate harmful practices, promote social acceptance, and equality.[128][129] In recent years, intersex activists have also secured some forms of legal recognition.[130]

United States Supreme Court decisions[edit]

In March 1956, a Federal District Court ruled that ONE: The Homosexual Magazine, was obscene under the Federal Comstock laws and thus could not be sent through the United States Postal Service. This ruling was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but in 1958, the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in One, Inc. v. Olesen, 355 U.S. 371 (1958), which overturned the previous rulings under a new legal precedent that had been established by the landmark case, Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476 (1957). As a result, gay newspapers, magazines and other publications could be lawfully distributed through the public mail service. On May 22, 1967, the Supreme Court upheld the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which among other things banned homosexuals, as constitutional. This ban remained in effect until 1991.[131]

In 1972, a Tacoma, Washington teacher of twelve years with a perfect record was terminated after a former student outed him to the vice-principal. The Washington Supreme Court found that homosexuality was immoral and impaired his efficiency as a teacher. The court supported its conclusion in various ways, including the definition of homosexuality in the New Catholic Encyclopedia, the criminal nature of homosexual conduct, and finding that an "immoral" person could not be trusted to instruct students as his presence would be inherently disruptive. On October 3, 1977, the Supreme Court denied certiorari, although Justices Brennan and Marshall would have granted cert. This was the first homosexual discrimination decision to be aired on national network news. In fact, it was simultaneously aired on all three national network evening news shows, reaching approximately 60 million viewers.[132][133][134][135][136]

In 1985, the Supreme Court heard Board of Education v. National Gay Task Force, which concerned First and Fourteenth Amendment challenges against a law that allowed schools to fire teachers for public homosexual conduct.[137] The Court affirmed the lower court by an equally divided vote 4–4 allowing the Tenth Circuit's ruling that partially struck down the law to stand without setting precedent.[138][139]

Also in 1985, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of Gay Student Services v. Texas A&M University, letting stand an appellate ruling ordering the university to provide official recognition of a student organization for homosexual students.[140][141]

On June 30, 1986, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Bowers v. Hardwick, that same-sex intimate conduct was not protected under the right to privacy established under the Fourteenth Amendment.

On May 20, 1996, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Romer v. Evans against an amendment to the Colorado state constitution that would have prevented any city, town or county in the state from taking any legislative, executive, or judicial action to protect homosexual or bisexual citizens from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation.

On March 4, 1998, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services that federal laws banning on-the-job sexual harassment also applied when both parties are the same sex. The lower courts, however, have reached differing conclusions about whether this ruling applies to harassment motivated by anti-gay animus.

On June 28, 2000, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale that the Boy Scouts of America had a First Amendment right to exclude people from its organization on the basis of sexual orientation, irrespective of any applicable civil rights laws.

On January 31, 2017, the Boy Scouts of America ruled that being a "male" is on base due to said gender identity. Also, Girl Scouts of the USA has said on their website that they will serve "culturally" trans girls.

Lawrence v. Texas and laws regarding same-sex sexual activity[edit]

U.S. sodomy laws by the year when they were repealed or struck down. Sodomy laws remaining as of 2003 were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas
  Laws repealed or struck down before 1970.
  Laws repealed or struck down from 1970 to 1979.
  Laws repealed or struck down from 1980 to 1989.
  Laws repealed or struck down from 1990 to 1999.
  Laws repealed or struck down from 2000 to 2002.
  Laws struck down by the Supreme Court of the United States in 2003.

On June 26, 2003, the Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that intimate consensual sexual conduct is part of the liberty protected by substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. The majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, explicitly overruled Bowers v. Hardwick.[142] Despite this ruling, some states have not repealed their sodomy laws[143] and local law enforcement officers have used these statutes to harass or arrest gay people.[144][145][146]

Prior to the 2003 Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, same-sex sexual activity was illegal in fourteen U.S. states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. military.

By that time, twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia, and five territories had repealed their state's sodomy laws by legislative action.[147][148] After the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell," the U.S. Congress repealed sodomy laws in the U.S. military. Twelve states have had state Supreme Court or state Appeals courts rule that their state's sodomy laws were unconstitutional. Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Virginia have all had their state sodomy laws struck down by the courts, but the legislatures have not repealed those laws.[149] On April 18, 2013, the governor of Montana signed a bill repealing that state's sodomy law; it had previously been nullified by the Montana Supreme Court.[150]

Rulings supporting marriage for same-sex couples[edit]

Ten years after the Lawrence decision, the Supreme Court ruled on June 26, 2013 by a 5–4 vote in United States v. Windsor that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, that forbade the federal government from recognizing lawfully performed same-sex marriages, was found to violate the Fifth Amendment. The federal government then began to recognize lawfully performed same-sex marriages, and provide federal rights, privileges and benefits.[151][152]

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex marriage cannot be prohibited by a state. Consequently, same-sex marriages are licensed and recognized as valid and enforced in all states and areas subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. Constitution.

Early U.S. presidents[edit]

George Washington[edit]

Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army[edit]

To train the new American Army in the latest military drills and tactics, General George Washington brought in Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (1730–94), who had been an officer on the German General staff. Von Steuben escaped Germany where he was threatened with prosecution for homosexuality. He joined Washington's army at Valley Forge in February 1778 accompanied by two young aides. Steuben became an American general, and a senior advisor to Washington. Despite rumors about sexual behavior at his parties, there never was an investigation of Steuben, and he received a Congressional pension after the war.[153][154]

The first evidence of discrimination to homosexuals serving in the United States military dates from March 11, 1778, when Lieutenant Frederick Gotthold Enslin was brought to trial before a court-martial. According to General Washington's report: "...Lieutt. Enslin of Colo. Malcolm's Regiment tried for attempting to commit sodomy ..." Washington's secretary described the results of the trial: "His Excellency the Commander in Chief approves the sentence and with Abhorrence & Detestation of such Infamous Crimes orders Lieut. Enslin to be drummed out of Camp tomorrow morning...."[155]

John Adams[edit]

In 1801, Congress enacted the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801 that continued all criminal laws of Maryland and Virginia in the now formally structured District, with those of Maryland applying to that portion of the District ceded from Maryland, and those of Virginia applying to that portion ceded from Virginia. At the time, Maryland had a sodomy law applicable only to free males with a punishment of "labour for any time, in their discretion, not exceeding seven years for the same crime, on the public roads of the said county, or in making, repairing or cleaning the streets or bason [sic] of Baltimore-town;" it imposed the death penalty for slaves committing sodomy. Similarly, Virginia had a penalty of 1–10 years for free persons committing sodomy, but imposed the death penalty for slaves committing sodomy. The law went into effect on February 27, 1801.[156]

Thomas Jefferson[edit]

Governor of Virginia[edit]

In 1779, Thomas Jefferson wrote a law in Virginia which contained a maximum punishment of castration for men who engaged in sodomy.[157] However, what was intended by Jefferson as a liberalization of the sodomy laws in Virginia at that time was rejected by the Virginia Legislature, which continued to prescribe death as the maximum penalty for the crime of sodomy in that state.[158]

Andrew Jackson[edit]

In 1831, Congress established penalties in the District of Columbia for a number of crimes, but not for sodomy. It specified that "every other felony, misdemeanor, or offence not provided for by this act, may and shall be punished as heretofore[.]" At the time, Maryland and Virginia had a penalty of 1–10 years for committing sodomy. It went into effect in March 2, 1831.[156]

William Henry Harrison[edit]

Governor of the Indiana Territory[edit]

In 1807, William Henry Harrison signed into law a comprehensive criminal code that included the first sodomy law for the Indiana Territory that eliminated the gender-specifics, reduced the penalty for a maximum of 1 to 5 years in prison, a fine of $100 to $500, up to 500 lashes on the back, and a permanent loss of civil rights.[159]

Benjamin Harrison[edit]

In 1892, Congress passed a law for the District of Columbia that states that "for the preservation of the public peace and the protection of property within the District of Columbia." Labeled in the law as vagrants were "all public prostitutes, and all such persons who lead a notoriously lewd or lascivious course of life[.]" All offenders had to post bond of up to $200 for good behavior for a period of six months. The law went into effect on July 29, 1892.[156]

Early 20th century presidents[edit]

William McKinley[edit]

In 1898, Congress deleted the word "notoriously" from the provision concerning a lewd or lascivious course of life, thereby allowing prosecution of persons without the condition of notoriety. The bond for good behavior was raised to $500, and the law was made gender-neutral. The law went into effect on July 8, 1898.[156]

In 1901, Congress adopted a new code for the District of Columbia that expressly recognized common-law crimes, with a penalty for them of up to five years and/or a $1,000 fine. The law went into effect on March 3, 1901.[156]

Woodrow Wilson[edit]

On December 14, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson vetoed the Immigration Act of 1917, which would have excluded individuals from entering the United States who were found "mentally defective" or who had a "constitutional psychopathic inferiority." A similar Public Health Service definition of homosexuals was used simultaneously by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to reinforce the language of the Immigration Act of 1917 and effectively ban all homosexual immigrants who disclosed their sexual minority status. On February 5, 1917, the Congress overrode Wilson's veto, implementing the Immigration Act of 1917 into law.[160]

On March 1, 1917, the Articles of War of 1916 are implemented. This included a revision of the Articles of War of 1806, the new regulations detail statutes governing U.S. military discipline and justice. Under the category Miscellaneous Crimes and Offences, Article 93 states that any person subject to military law who commits "assault with intent to commit sodomy" shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.[161]

On June 4, 1920, Congress modified Article 93 of the Articles of War of 1916. It was changed to make the act of sodomy itself a crime, separate from the offense of assault with intent to commit sodomy.[161] It went into effect on February 4, 1921.[162]

Franklin Roosevelt[edit]

Assistant Secretary of the Navy[edit]

In 1919, Democratic Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt requests an investigation into "vice and depravity" in the sea services after a sting operation in which undercover operatives attempt to seduce sailors suspected of being homosexual had already begun at the Naval base in Newport, Rhode Island. At least 17 sailors are jailed and court-martialed before public outcry prompts a Republican-led Senate committee to condemn the methods of the operation. Roosevelt denied he had any knowledge that entrapment had been used or that he would have approved of it.[163]


In 1935, Congress passed a law for the District of Columbia that made it a crime for "any person to invite, entice, persuade, or to address for the purpose of inviting, enticing, or persuading any person or persons...to accompany, to go with, to follow him or her to his or her residence, or to any other house or building, inclosure, or other place, for the purpose of prostitution, or any other immoral or lewd purpose." It imposed a fine of up to $100, up to 90 days in jail, and courts were permitted to "impose conditions" on anyone convicted under this law, including "medical and mental examination, diagnosis and treatment by proper public health and welfare authorities, and such other terms and conditions as the court may deem best for the protection of the community and the punishment, control, and rehabilitation of the defendant." The law went into effect on August 14, 1935.[156]

In 1941, Congress enacted a new solicitation law for the District of Columbia that labeled a "vagrant" any person who "engages in or commits acts of fornication or perversion for hire." The law went into effect on December 17, 1941.[156]

Harry Truman[edit]

In 1948, Congress enacted the first sodomy law in the District of Columbia, which established a penalty of up to 10 years in prison or a fine of up to $1,000 for sodomy. Also included with this sodomy law was a psychopathic offender law and a law "to provide for the treatment of sexual psychopaths in the District of Columbia, and for other purposes." The law went into effect on June 9, 1948.[156]

On May 5, 1950, the Uniform Code of Military Justice was passed by Congress and was signed into law by President Harry S. Truman, and became effective on May 31, 1951. Article 125 forbids sodomy among all military personnel, defining it as "any person subject to this chapter who engages in unnatural carnal copulation with another person of the same or opposite sex or with an animal is guilty of sodomy. Penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete the offence."[161]

On June 25, 1952, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 was vetoed by President Truman because he regarded the bill as "un-American" and discriminatory. The bill prohibits "aliens afflicted with a psychopathic personality, epilepsy, or a mental defect" from entry into the United States.[164][165][166] Congress would later override his veto and implemented the act into law.[160]

Dwight D. Eisenhower[edit]

On April 27, 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450 which prohibits Federal employees from being members of a group or organization considered subversive. The order lists "sexual perversion" as a security risk constituting grounds for termination or denial of employment. The order went into effect on May 27, 1953.[161]

Without explicitly referring to homosexuality, the executive order responded to several years of charges that the presence of homosexual employees in the State Department posed blackmail risks. Attorney General Herbert Brownell Jr. explained that the new order was designed to encompass both loyalty and security risks and he differentiated between the two: "Employees could be a security risk and still not be disloyal or have any traitorous thoughts, but it may be that their personal habits are such that they might be subject to blackmail by people who seek to destroy the safety of our country."[167]

The press recognized the revolutionary nature of the new executive order. The Washington Post said that it established not a loyalty test but a "suitability test." Some in government referred to their new "integrity-security" program. Some of those the press expected to be excluded from federal employment included "a person who drinks too much," "an incorrigible gossip," "homosexuals," and "neurotics."[167]

In 1953, Congress changed the solicitation law in the District of Columbia so that the jail term of up to 90 days was retained, but the maximum fine was raised to $250, and the reference to the power of judges to "impose conditions" on the defendant was removed. The law went into effect on June 29, 1953.[156]

Lyndon B. Johnson[edit]

Senator of Texas[edit]

On February 2, 1950, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson voted for Uniform Code of Military Justice.[168]


On October 19, 1964, Walter Jenkins, a longtime top aide to President Johnson, had been arrested by District of Columbia Police in a YMCA restroom. He and another man were booked on a disorderly conduct charge.[169]

After becoming a controversy prior to the 1964 presidential election, the American Mental Health Foundation wrote a letter to President Johnson protesting the "hysteria" surrounding the case:[170]

The private life and inclinations of a citizen, Government employee or not, does not necessarily have any bearing on his capacities, usefulness, and sense of responsibility in his occupation. The fact that an individual is homosexual, as has been strongly implied in the case of Mr. Jenkins, does not per se make him more unstable and more a security risk than any heterosexual person.

After reelection during his second term on October 3, 1965, Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which added "sexual deviation" as a medical ground for denying prospective immigrants entry into the United States. The bill went into effect on June 30, 1968.[160]

Presidents after Stonewall[edit]

Richard Nixon[edit]


In August 1970, Richard Nixon, on the issue of same-sex marriage, said "I can't go that far; that's the year 2000! Negroes [and whites], okay. But that's too far!"[171]

In 1972, San Francisco's Gay Activists Alliance disbanded and formed the Gay Voter's League, a group that campaigned for the reelection of President Richard Nixon.[172] In October 1972, representative of the Committee to Re-elect the President addressed gay voters on behalf of Richard M. Nixon's campaign in San Francisco. The event was organized by the Gay Voters League of San Francisco.[173]

Gerald Ford[edit]

House Minority Leader and Representative of Michigan's 5th congressional district[edit]

On August 25, 1965, Rep. Gerald Ford voted for the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.[174]


On March 5, 1976, when asked about the issue of gay rights, with respect to hiring, employment, and housing, Gerald Ford said "I recognize that this is a very new and serious problem in our society. I have always tried to be an understanding person as far as people are concerned who are different than myself. That doesn't mean that I agree with or would concur in what is done by them or their position in society. I think this is a problem we have to face up to, and I can't give you a pat answer tonight. I just would be dishonest to say that there is a pat answer under these very difficult circumstances".[175]

In 1976, during that year's presidential campaign, President Gerald Ford was "zapped" by activists in Ann Arbor, Michigan over federal immigration rules. The protests forced President Ford to admit that he was not aware that homosexuality was used as a basis for exclusion in immigration rulings.[172]

Post presidency[edit]

Gerald Ford, as former president, formally opposed the Briggs Initiative in 1977, which sought to ban homosexuals from teaching in public school. In October 2001, he broke with conservative members of the Republican party by stating that gay and lesbian couples "ought to be treated equally. Period." He became the highest ranking Republican to embrace full equality for gays and lesbians, stating his belief that there should be a federal amendment outlawing anti-gay job discrimination and expressing his hope that the Republican Party would reach out to gay and lesbian voters.[176] He also was a member of the Republican Unity Coalition, which The New York Times described as "a group of prominent Republicans, including former President Gerald R. Ford, dedicated to making sexual orientation a non-issue in the Republican Party".[177]

Jimmy Carter[edit]

Post governorship of Georgia[edit]

In February 1976, Carter said he opposed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but in June 1976 he withdrew his support of a gay rights plank in the Democratic Party platform.[178]


In 1977, under the guidance of Jimmy Carter, a policy was removed which barred employment of gays in the foreign service and Internal Revenue Service. That same year, fourteen gay and lesbian activists were invited to the White House for the first official visit ever. Jimmy Carter publicly opposed the Briggs Initiative. However, in March 1980, Carter issued a formal statement indicating he would not issue an executive order banning anti-gay discrimination in the U.S. federal government and that he would not support including a gay rights plank in the Democratic Party platform.[178][179] In September 1980, the United States Department of Justice announced that immigration officials would no longer be allowed to ask whether an individual entering the United States was gay and therefore ineligible for admission.[180] An individual would only be denied admission into the United States if the traveler self-identified as gay to the immigration official.[180]

Post presidency[edit]

In 2004, Carter came out for civil unions and stated that he "opposes all forms of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and believes there should be equal protection under the law for people who differ in sexual orientation".[181] In 2007, he called for ending the ban on gays in the military.[182] In March 2012, Jimmy Carter came out in favor of same sex marriage.[183]

Ronald Reagan[edit]

Post governorship of California[edit]

The first chapter of what would become the national Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) formed in 1978 to fight California's Briggs Initiative, a ballot initiative that would have banned homosexuals from teaching in public schools. The chapter worked diligently and successfully convinced Governor Reagan to publicly oppose the measure.[172] Reagan penned an op-ed against the Briggs Initiative in which he wrote, "Whatever else it is, homosexuality is not a contagious disease like the measles. Prevailing scientific opinion is that an individual's sexuality is determined at a very early age and that a child's teachers do not really influence this."[184]


On the 1980 campaign trail, he spoke of the gay civil rights movement:

My criticism is that [the gay movement] isn't just asking for civil rights; it's asking for recognition and acceptance of an alternative lifestyle which I do not believe society can condone, nor can I.[185]

No civil rights legislation for LGBT individuals passed during Reagan's tenure. Additionally, Reagan has been criticized by some LGBT groups for allegedly ignoring (by failing to adequately address or fund) the growing AIDS epidemic, even as it took thousands of lives in the 1980s. Reagan's Surgeon General from 1982 to 1989, Dr. C. Everett Koop, claims that his attempts to address the issue were shut out by the Reagan Administration. According to Koop, the prevailing view of the Reagan Administration was that "transmission of AIDS was understood to be primarily in the homosexual population and in those who abused intravenous drugs" and therefore that people dying from AIDS were "only getting what they justly deserve."[186]

On August 18, 1984, President Reagan issued a statement on the issue of same-sex marriage that read:

Society has always regarded marital love as a sacred expression of the bond between a man and a woman. It is the means by which families are created and society itself is extended into the future. In the Judeo-Christian tradition it is the means by which husband and wife participate with God in the creation of a new human life. It is for these reasons, among others, that our society has always sought to protect this unique relationship. In part the erosion of these values has given way to a celebration of forms of expression most reject. We will resist the efforts of some to obtain government endorsement of homosexuality.

Mr. Reagan made the comment in response to a questionnaire from the conservative publishers of the Presidential Biblical Scoreboard, a magazine-type compilation of past statements and voting records of national candidates.[187]

In 1981, during Nancy Reagan's 60th birthday party, White House interior decorator, Ted Graber, spent a night in the Reagans' private White House quarters with his male lover, Archie Case.[184]

George H. W. Bush[edit]

Vice presidency[edit]

In 1988, the Republican Party's nominee, Vice President George H. W. Bush, endorsed a plan to protect persons with AIDS from discrimination.[172]


As President, George H. W. Bush signed legislation that extended gay rights. On April 23, 1990, George H. W. Bush signed the Hate Crime Statistics Act, which requires the Attorney General to collect data on crimes committed because of the victim's race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. It was the first federal statute to "recognize and name gay, lesbian and bisexual people."[188] On July 26, 1990, George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. On November 29, 1990, Bush signed the Immigration Act of 1990, which withdrew the phrase "sexual deviation" from the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) so that it could no longer be used as a basis for barring entry of immigration to the U.S. for homosexuals.[172]

In a television interview, Bush said if he found out his grandchild was gay, he would "love his child", but tell him homosexuality was not normal and discourage him from working for gay rights. In February 1992, the chairman of the Bush-Quayle campaign met with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.[178] In May 1992, he appointed Anne-Imelda Radice to serve as the Acting Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.[189] Losing ground in the 1992 Republican president primary to President Bush's far-right challenger, Pat Buchanan, the Bush campaign turned to the right, and President Bush publicly denounced same-sex marriage.[190] The 1992 Log Cabin Republican convention was held in Spring, Texas, a Houston exurb. The main issue discussed was whether or not LCR would endorse the re-election of President George H. W. Bush. The group voted to deny that endorsement because Bush did not denounce anti-gay rhetoric at the 1992 Republican National Convention.[191] Many in the gay community believed President Bush had not done enough on the issue of AIDS. Urvashi Vaid argues that Bush's anti-gay rhetoric "motivated conservative gay Democrats and loyal gay Republicans, who had helped defeat Dukakis in 1988, to throw their support behind Clinton."[178]

In 1992, the Council of the District of Columbia passed the "Health Benefits Expansion Act", which was signed into law by the Mayor of Washington, D.C. The bill, which established domestic partnerships in the District of Columbia, became law on June 11, 1992. Every year from 1992 to 2000, the Republican leadership of the U.S. Congress added a rider to the District of Columbia appropriations bill that prohibited the use of federal or local funds to implement the Health Care Benefits Expansion Act.[192] On October 5, 1992, Bush signed the H.R. 6056 into law, which included the Republican rider to the appropriations bill.[193]

Post presidency[edit]

In 2013, former President George H. W. Bush served as a witness at a same-sex wedding of Bonnie Clement and Helen Thorgalsen, who own a general store together in Maine.[194] In 2015 the Boston Globe reported that Bush "offered to perform the ceremony but had a scheduling conflict."[195]

Bill Clinton[edit]

Governorship of Arkansas[edit]

In 1992, Governor Bill Clinton, as a candidate for President, issued a public statement of support for repeal of Arkansas's sodomy law.[196] Also in 1992, the Human Rights Campaign, America's largest LGBT rights organization, issued its first presidential endorsement in 1992 to Bill Clinton.[197]


Bill Clinton's legacy on gay rights is a matter of controversy. LGBT rights activist Richard Socarides credits Clinton as the first President to publicly champion gay rights,[197] but Clinton's signing of DOMA and DADT have led critics like Andrew Sullivan to argue Clinton was a detriment to rather than an ally for the LGBT rights movement, though DOMA passed Congress with veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate.[198]

In December 1993, Clinton implemented a Department of Defense directive known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", which allowed gay men and women to serve in the armed services provided they kept their sexuality a secret, and forbade the military from inquiring about an individual's sexual orientation.[199] The policy was developed as a compromise after Clinton's proposal to allow gays to serve openly in the military met with staunch opposition from prominent Congressional Republicans and Democrats, including Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Sam Nunn (D-GA). According to David Mixner, Clinton's support for the compromise led to a heated dispute with Vice President Al Gore, who felt that "the President should lift the ban ... even though [his executive order] was sure to be overridden by the Congress".[200] Some gay-rights advocates criticized Clinton for not going far enough and accused him of making his campaign promise to get votes and contributions.[201] Their position was that Clinton should have integrated the military by executive order, noting that President Harry Truman used executive order to racially desegregate the armed forces. Clinton's defenders argue that an executive order might have prompted the Senate to write the exclusion of gays into law, potentially making it harder to integrate the military in the future.[202] Later in his presidency, in 1999, Clinton criticized the way the policy was implemented, saying he did not think any serious person could say it was not "out of whack".[203]

On September 21, 1996, Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage for federal purposes as the legal union of one man and one woman, allowing individual states to refuse to recognize gay marriages performed in other states.[204] Paul Yandura, speaking for the White House gay and lesbian liaison office, said that Clinton's signing of DOMA "was a political decision that they made at the time of a re-election." In defense of his actions, Clinton has said that DOMA was an attempt to "head off an attempt to send a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to the states", a possibility he described as highly likely in the context of a "very reactionary Congress."[205] Administration spokesman Richard Socarides said, "... the alternatives we knew were going to be far worse, and it was time to move on and get the president re-elected."[206] Others were more critical. The veteran gay rights and gay marriage activist Evan Wolfson has called these claims "historic revisionism".[206] In a July 2, 2011 editorial The New York Times opined, "The Defense of Marriage Act was enacted in 1996 as an election-year wedge issue, signed by President Bill Clinton in one of his worst policy moments."[207]

Despite DOMA, Clinton, who was the first President to select openly gay persons for Administration positions,[208] is generally credited as the first President to publicly champion gay rights.[197] During his Presidency, Clinton controversially issued two substantial executive orders on behalf of gay rights, the first was Executive Order 12968 in 1995 that lifted the ban on security clearances for LGBT federal employees[209] and the second was Executive Order 13087 in 1998 that outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation in the federal civilian workforce.[210] Under President Clinton's leadership, federal funding for HIV/AIDS research, prevention and treatment more than doubled.[211] And Clinton also pushed for passing hate crimes laws for gays and for the private sector Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which, buoyed by his lobbying, failed to pass the Senate by a single vote in 1996.[212] Advocacy for these issues, paired with the politically unpopular nature of the gay rights movement at the time, led to enthusiastic support for Clinton's reelection in 1996 by the Human Rights Campaign.[197]

Clinton was the first President to select openly gay persons for Administration positions, appointing over 150 LGBT appointees.[213] The first openly gay U.S. ambassador, James Hormel, received a recess appointment from the President after the Senate failed to confirm the nomination.

On June 2, 2000, Clinton declared June to be Gay and Lesbian Pride Month, making him the first president to do so.[214]

Post presidency[edit]

In 2008, Clinton publicly opposed the passage of California's Proposition 8 and recorded robocalls urging Californians to vote against it.[215] In July 2009, he came out in favor of same-sex marriage.[216] On March 7, 2013, Clinton called for the overturn of the Defense of Marriage Act by the U.S. Supreme Court.[217]

George W. Bush[edit]

In his 1994 campaign to become the Governor of Texas, Bush pledged to veto any effort to repeal Texas's sodomy law, calling it "a symbolic gesture of traditional values."[218]

Governor of Texas[edit]

In 1997, Governor Bush signed into law a bill adding "A license may not be issued for the marriage of persons of the same sex" into the Texas Family Code.[219]

In a 1998 Texas Gubernatorial election political awareness test, he answered no to the questions of whether Texas government should include sexual orientation in Texas' anti-discrimination laws and whether he supports Texas recognizing same-sex marriage.[220]

In 1999, the Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, which would have increased punishment for criminals motivated by hatred of a victim's gender, religion, ethnic background or sexual orientation, was killed in committee by Texas Senate Republicans. Governor Bush was criticized for letting the hate crimes bill die in a Texas Senate committee. Bush spokesman Sullivan said the governor never took a position on the bill. According to Louvon Harris, sister of James Byrd, said that Bush's opposition to the bill reportedly revolved around the fact that it would cover gays and lesbians. The governor's office "contacted the family and asked if we would consider taking sexual orientation out of the bill, and our answer was no, because the bill is for everybody. Everybody should be protected by the law." said Harris. In a 2000 presidential debate, Al Gore would attack Bush for allowing the bill to die in committee, with Bush responding Texas already had a hate crimes statute, and nothing more was needed.[218] George W. Bush also stated his opposition New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that said the Boy Scouts of America must accept gays in their organization. "I believe the Boy Scouts is a private organization and they should be able to set the standards that they choose to set," Bush said.[221] Bush also expressed his support for bans on gay foster parenting and adoption,[222] urging agencies to place children in "traditional homes—man and wife."[223]

During the 2000 campaign he did not endorse a single piece of gay rights legislation. In a 2000 Republican presidential debate, George W. Bush, said he opposes same-sex marriage, but supports states' rights when it came to the issue of same-sex marriage. During the campaign he had refused to comment on Vermont's civil unions law.[221] On April 13, 2000, Governor Bush became first presumptive GOP presidential nominee ever to meet publicly with gay Republicans in Austin, Texas.[224] On August 4, 2000, Bush received the endorsement of the Log Cabin Republicans, the GOP's largest gay group, for president.[225] He also received the endorsement of the newly formed Republican Unity Coalition.[225][226] In a 2000 presidential debate with Al Gore, Bush stated he supported the Defense of Marriage Act and the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy. However, he stated that he opposed sodomy laws, a reversal of his position as governor of Texas.[221][227][228]


George W. Bush was mostly neutral towards LGBT rights as president. In his eight years of office, Bush's views on gay rights were often difficult to ascertain, but many experts feel that the Bush White House wanted to avoid bad publicity without alienating evangelical conservative Christian voters. Thus, he did not repeal President Clinton's Executive Order banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the federal civilian government, but Bush's critics felt as if he failed to enforce the executive order.[229] He retained Clinton's Office of National AIDS Policy and was the first Republican president to appoint an openly gay man to serve in his administration, Scott Evertz as director of the Office of National AIDS Policy.[230] Bush also became the second President, after President Clinton, to select openly gay appointees to his administration. Bush's nominee as ambassador to Romania, Michael E. Guest, became the second openly gay man U.S. Ambassador and the first to be confirmed by the Senate. He did not repeal any of the spousal benefits that Clinton had introduced for same-sex federal employees. He did not attempt to repeal Don't ask, don't tell, nor make an effort to change it.[221]

In April 2002, White House officials held an unannounced briefing in April for the Log Cabin Republicans. On June 27, 2002, President Bush signed a bill allowing death benefits to be paid to domestic partners of firefighters and police officers who die in the line of duty, permanently extending a federal death benefit to same-sex couples for the first time.[231]

In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that sodomy laws against consenting adults was unconstitutional. President Bush's press secretary Ari Fleischer refused to comment on the decision, noting only that the administration had not filed a brief in the case.[232] In 2004, Bush said "What they do in the privacy of their house, consenting adults should be able to do."[233]

Previously, Bush said he supports states' rights when it came to marriage, however, after the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, Bush announced his support for a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage on February 24, 2004.[234] Due to his support of the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA), the Log Cabin Republicans declined to endorse the reelection of George W. Bush in 2004[191] by a vote of 22–2.[235] The Palm Beach County chapter in Florida did endorse him, resulting in the revocation of their charter.[236] On September 22, 2004, the Abe Lincoln Black Republican Caucus (ALBRC), a group of young urban Black gay Republicans, voted in a special call meeting in Dallas, Texas, to endorse President Bush for re-election.[237] In an October president debate, Bush said he did not know whether homosexuality is a choice or not.[221] In October 2004, Bush said that he supported civil unions of same-sex couples.[238]

In 2007, Bush threatened to veto the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007, which would have included sexual orientation in hate crimes, and Employment Nondiscrimination Act of 2007.

In December 2008, the Bush administration refused to support the U.N. declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity at the United Nations that condemns the use of violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization, and prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity.[239]

Post presidency[edit]

In his post presidency interviews, he refused to take a position on the issue of same-sex marriage.[240][241]

Barack Obama[edit]

Illinois state senator[edit]

Obama supported legalizing same-sex marriage when he first ran for the Illinois State Senate in 1996.[242] When he ran for re-election to the Illinois Senate in 1998, he was undecided about legalizing same-sex marriage and supported including sexual orientation to the state's non-discrimination laws.[243][244] During his time as a state senator he cosponsored a bill amending the Illinois Human Rights Act to include protections for LGBT people which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace, housing, and all public places and supported Illinois gender violence act.

U.S. Senator from Illinois[edit]

Obama supported civil unions, but opposed same-sex marriage when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004 and for U.S. President in 2008.[242] He supported civil unions that would carry equal legal standing to that of marriage for same-sex couples, but believed that decisions about the title of marriage should be left to the states.[245][246]

During his time as senator, Obama co-sponsored the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, Tax Equity for Domestic Partner and Health Plan Beneficiaries Act, and Early Treatment for HIV Act.[247][248]

In the 109th United States Congress, Obama received a score of 89% by the Human Rights Campaign.[248]

In 2006, Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have defined marriage as between one man and one woman in the U.S. Constitution.[249]

In 2007, Senator Obama said he opposed the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and the Don't ask, don't tell policy when it passed and supported repealing it. He also said that homosexuality is not a choice, he supported adoption rights for same-sex couples, and he would work as president to extend the 1,000 federal rights granted to marriage couples to couples in civil unions. He also voted for the Kennedy Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 that would expand federal jurisdiction to reach serious, violent hate crimes perpetrated because of the victim's sexual orientation and gender identity and the Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde United States Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Reauthorization Act.[244][247]

In the 2008 presidential election, he expressed his opposition to state constitutional bans on same-sex marriage in California, and Florida on the November ballot,[250][251][252] but stated in a 2008 interview that he personally believes that marriage is "between a man and a woman" and that he is "not in favor of gay marriage."[253] In the 110th United States Congress, Obama received a score of 94% by the Human Rights Campaign.[248] In the 2008 election, Obama received the endorsement of the following gay rights organizations: Houston GLBT Political Caucus,[254] Human Rights Campaign,[255] and the National Stonewall Democrats.[256][257]


First Term[edit]

President Barack Obama took many definitively pro-LGBT stances. In March 2009, his administration reversed Bush administration policy and signed the U.N. declaration that calls for the decriminalization of homosexuality.[258] In June 2009, Obama became the first president to declare the month of June to be LGBT pride month; President Clinton had declared June Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.[214][259] Obama did so again in June 2010,[260] June 2011,[261] June 2012,[262] June 2013,[263] June 2014,[264][265] June 2015,[266] and June 2016.[267]

On June 17, 2009, President Obama signed a presidential memorandum allowing same-sex partners of federal employees to receive certain benefits. The memorandum does not cover full health coverage.[268] On October 28, 2009, Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which added gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability to the federal hate crimes law.[269]

In October 2009, he nominated Sharon Lubinski to become the first openly gay U.S. marshal to serve the Minnesota district.[270]

On January 4, 2010, he appointed Amanda Simpson the Senior Technical Advisor to the Department of Commerce, making her the first openly transgender person appointed to a government post by a U.S. President.[271][272][273] He has appointed the most U.S. gay and lesbian officials of any U.S. president.[274]

At the start of 2010, the Obama administration included gender identity among the classes protected against discrimination under the authority of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). On April 15, 2010, Obama issued an executive order to the Department of Health and Human Services that required medical facilities to grant visitation and medical decision-making rights to same-sex couples.[275] In June 2010, he expanded the Family Medical Leave Act to cover employees taking unpaid leave to care for the children of same-sex partners.[276] On December 22, 2010, Obama signed the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 into law.[277]

On February 23, 2011, President Obama instructed the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court.[278]

In March 2011, the U.S. issued a nonbinding declaration in favor of gay rights that gained the support of more than 80 countries at the U.N.[279] In June 2011, the U.N. endorsed the rights of gay, lesbian, and transgender people for the first time, by passing a resolution that was backed by the U.S., among other countries.[279]

On August 18, 2011, the Obama administration announced that it would suspend deportation proceedings against many undocumented immigrants who pose no threat to national security or public safety, with the White House interpreting the term "family" to include partners of lesbian, gay and bisexual people.[280]

On September 30, 2011, the Defense Department issued new guidelines that allow military chaplains to officiate at same-sex weddings, on or off military installations, in states where such weddings are allowed.[281]

On December 5, 2011, the Obama administration announced the United States would use all the tools of American diplomacy, including the potent enticement of foreign aid, to promote LGBT rights around the world.[282]

In March and April 2012, Obama expressed his opposition to state constitutional bans on same-sex marriage in North Carolina, and Minnesota.[283]

On May 3, 2012, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has agreed to add an LGBT representative to the diversity program at each of the 120 prisons it operates in the United States.[284]

On May 9, 2012, Obama publicly supported same-sex marriage, the first sitting U.S. President to do so. Obama told an interviewer that:[285]

over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or Marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don't Ask Don't Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.

In the 2012 election, Obama received the endorsement of the following gay rights organizations: Equal Rights Washington, Fair Wisconsin, Gay-Straight Alliance,[286][287] Human Rights Campaign,[288] and the National Stonewall Democrats. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) gave Obama a score of 100% on the issue of gays and lesbians in the U.S. military and a score of 75% on the issue of freedom to marry for gay people.[289]

Second Term[edit]

On January 7, 2013, the Pentagon agreed to pay full separation pay to service members discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."[290]

Obama also called for full equality during his second inaugural address on January 21, 2013: "Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law—for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well." It was the first mention of rights for gays and lesbians or use of the word gay in an inaugural address.[291][292]

On March 1, 2013, Obama, speaking about Hollingsworth v. Perry, the U.S. Supreme Court case about Proposition 8, said "When the Supreme Court asks do you think that the California law, which doesn't provide any rationale for discriminating against same-sex couples other than just the notion that, well, they're same-sex couples—if the Supreme Court asks me or my attorney general or solicitor general, 'Do we think that meets constitutional muster?' I felt it was important for us to answer that question honestly. And the answer is no." The administration took the position that the Supreme Court should apply "heightened scrutiny" to California's ban—a standard under which legal experts say no state ban could survive.[293]

On August 8, 2013, Obama criticized the Russian gay propaganda law.[294]

On December 26, 2013, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 into law, which repealed the ban on consensual sodomy in the UCMJ.[295]

On February 16, 2014, Obama criticized the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014.[296]

On February 28, 2014, Obama agreed with the Governor of Arizona Jan Brewer's veto of SB 1062.[297]

Obama included openly gay athletes in the 2014 Olympic delegation, namely Brian Boitano and Billie Jean King (who was later replaced by Caitlin Cahow).[298][299] This was done in criticism of Russia's anti-gay law.[299]

On July 21, 2014, President Obama signed Executive Order 13672, adding "gender identity" to the categories protected against discrimination in hiring in the federal civilian workforce and both "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the categories protected against discrimination in hiring and employment on the part of federal government contractors and sub-contractors.[38]

Obama was criticized for meeting with anti-gay Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni at a dinner with African heads of state in August 2014.[300]

Later in August 2014, Obama made a surprise video appearance at the opening ceremony of the 2014 Gay Games.[301][302]

On February 10, 2015, David Axelrod's Believer: My Forty Years in Politics was published. In the book, Axelrod revealed that President Barack Obama lied about his opposition to same-sex marriage for religious reasons in 2008 United States presidential election. "I'm just not very good at bullshitting," Obama told Axelrod, after an event where he stated his opposition to same-sex marriage, according to the book.[303]

In 2015, the U.S. appointed Randy Berry as its first Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons.[304]

In April 2015, the Obama administration announced it had opened a gender-neutral bathroom within the White House complex, located in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door to the West Wing.[305] President Obama also responded to a petition seeking to ban conversion therapy (inspired by the death of Leelah Alcorn) with his pledge to advocate for such a ban.[306]

Also in 2015, when President Obama declared May to be National Foster Care Month, he included words never before included in a White House proclamation about adoption, stating in part, "With so many children waiting for loving homes, it is important to ensure all qualified caregivers have the opportunity to serve as foster or adoptive parents, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. That is why we are working to break down the barriers that exist and investing in efforts to recruit more qualified parents for children in foster care." He was the first president to explicitly say gender identity should not prevent anyone from adopting or becoming a foster parent.[307]

On October 29, 2015, President Barack Obama endorsed Proposition 1 in Houston, Texas.[308]

On November 10, 2015, Obama officially announced his support for the Equality Act of 2015.[309]

In June 2016, President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden met with the victims and families of victims of the Orlando Pulse nightclub massacre. Obama and Biden laid 49 bouquets of white roses to memorialize the 49 people killed in the tragedy impacting the LGBTQ community.[310]

On June 24, 2016, President Obama designated the Stonewall National Monument in Greenwich Village, Lower Manhattan, as the first national monument in the United States to honor the LGBT rights movement.[3]

On October 20, 2016, Obama endorsed Kate Brown as Governor of Oregon.[312] On November 8, Brown became the first openly LGBT person to be elected governor in the United States. Brown is a bisexual woman who has also come out as a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence.[313][314] Before being elected in her own right, Brown had assumed the governorship due to a resignation. During that time, she signed legislation to ban conversion therapy on minors.[315]

Donald Trump[edit]

During his U.S. presidential campaign, Donald Trump did not emphasize LGBT issues. His answers to questions on the subject were ambiguous.[316][317]

At the beginning of his campaign, Trump continued to oppose same-sex marriage and said he was in favor of "traditional marriages".[318] In January 2016, when asked about the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges which had legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, Trump said he would "strongly consider" appointing Supreme Court justices who would overturn Obergefell.[319] However, in November 2016, a few days after the presidential election had taken place, Trump suggested that he did not plan to nominate justices who would overturn the Obergefell ruling. He considered the Obergefell ruling as "settled", and said he was "fine" with the legalization of same-sex marriage[320][321][322] (though some expressed skepticism that he had really changed his position).[323] On October 13, 2017, Trump became the first sitting president to address the Values Voter Summit, an annual conference sponsored by the Family Research Council.

A month after a mass shooting at a gay nightclub, while speaking to the 2016 Republican National Convention, Trump promised to "protect our LGBT citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology",[324] but did not describe specifically what he would do to support LGBT people's safety. Many observed that this comment primarily served to demonize Islam rather than to support LGBT rights.[325][326][327][328][329]

Jerri Ann Henry, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said in a television interview on December 7, 2018 that, while she perceived Trump as having been "vocally supportive" of LGBT people compared to other Republican presidents and presidential candidates, nevertheless "there's a lot of ups and downs in the last two years with some of the administration's actions."[330]


Cuts to HIV/AIDS policy and funding have a wide-ranging effect. In 2017, Trump dissolved the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP, founded in 1993) and the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA, founded in 1995). His 2019 budget proposal did not include any funding for two existing programs run under the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program.

The Trump administration has attacked transgender rights on multiple fronts.

  • Students' bathroom access: On February 10, 2017, the Department of Justice dropped a defense of transgender students' access to bathrooms. Obama-era guidance had allowed students to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity. The right had been challenged by a Texas District Court, and the Department of Justice had previously asked the court to lift its stay, but the Department of Justice (under the new Attorney General Jeff Sessions) withdrew its request.[331] On February 22, 2017, Trump reversed a directive from the Obama administration that allowed transgender students who attend public schools to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity.[332] Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, questioned before the House Education and Labor Committee on April 10, 2019 about the previous rollback, acknowledged that she had been aware of the effects of the stress of discrimination on transgender youth; these effects include depression, anxiety, lower attendance and grades, and attempted suicide.[333] In May 2019, the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to a Pennsylvania school regarding its bathroom policy, suggesting that schools may continue to set their own policies to accommodate transgender students.[334]
  • Military ban: Trump succeeded in implementing restrictions on transgender military personnel, an idea he first announced via Twitter. On July 26, 2017, Trump tweeted that transgender individuals would not be accepted or allowed to serve "in any capacity" in the U.S. military, citing medical costs and disruption related to transgender service members.[335][336] This announcement took Pentagon officials by surprise.[337] There are about 6,000 transgender military personnel on active duty, according to a 2014 study,[338] and the Trump administration provided no evidence that they pose a problem. Many key military leaders advocated for continuing to support transgender servicemembers. They include "the chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force; the commandant of the Marine Corps; and the incoming commandant of the Coast Guard,"[339] as well as retired leaders like Vice Admiral Donald C. Arthur, Major General Gale Pollock, and Rear Admiral Alan M. Steinman (who served as the Surgeon General or equivalent of the Navy, Army, and Coast Guard respectively and who coauthored a Palm Center report in April 2018).[340] On August 25, 2017, Trump directed the Pentagon to stop admitting any new transgender individuals into the military and to stop providing medical treatments for sex reassignment, intended to take effect on March 23, 2018.[341] On August 29, 2017, Secretary of Defense James Mattis put a freeze on expelling transgender service members who are currently in the military, pending a study by experts within the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security.[342] Federal courts temporarily delayed the implementation of the Trump administration's proposed ban by issuing four injunctions. On November 23, 2018, the day after Thanksgiving, the Trump administration formally requested the U.S. Supreme Court to issue an emergency ruling on whether transgender personnel may continue to serve,[343] and on January 22, 2019, without hearing arguments or explaining its own decision, the Court allowed the Trump administration to move ahead with the ban.[344][345] On March 12, 2019, the Department of Defense released a memorandum with specifics of the ban, essentially allowing existing personnel to continue to serve if they had already come out as transgender prior to the memorandum, but disqualifying anyone who was newly discovered to have a transgender body, identity, or history.
  • Employment: On October 4, 2017, the Attorney General published a memo considering “discrimination against transgender individuals” in employment and concluding that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “does not prohibit discrimination based on gender identity per se. This is a conclusion of law, not policy.”[346] On August 16, 2019, the Justice Department filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that “Title VII does not prohibit discrimination against transgender persons based on their transgender status,” "gender identity," or "disconnect" between biological sex and gender identity. The brief related to a pending case, Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC.[347]
  • Prisoners' rights: In May 2018, the Trump administration ordered the Bureau of Prisons to house transgender prisoners according to their "biological sex." Treating prisoners as members of the gender with which they identify "would be appropriate only in rare cases.” This reverses guidance created by the Obama administration in 2012, and it conflicts with the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003.[348] In 2018, the Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico operated a unit for transgender women; the women were housed together regardless of the reason for their detention. The building served as a federal prison, county jail, Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention, and housing for asylum-seekers.[349] Reporters were granted access for the first time in June 2019; there were 27 inmates at that time.[350]
  • Defining gender as sex: On October 21, 2018, the New York Times revealed a Department of Health and Human Services memo that planned to establish a definition of gender based on sex assignment at birth across federal agencies, notably the departments of Education, Justice, and Labor, which, along with Health and Human Services, are responsible for enforcing Title IX nondiscrimination statutes. The Justice Department would have to approve any new definition that Health and Human Services might suggest. The memo argued in favor of a definition of gender “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable” and the government's prerogative to genetically test individuals to determine their sex.[351] Over the following days, thousands of protesters gathered in Washington, D.C.;[352][353] San Diego;[354] Portland, Maine;[355] Minneapolis;[356] Los Angeles;[357] Milwaukee;[358] Boston;[359] and other cities across the country, and on November 2, nearly 100 lawmakers signed a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar asking him not to implement this change.[360] On July 8, 2019, the State Department created the Commission on Unalienable Rights to initiate philosophical discussions of human rights that are grounded in the Catholic concept of "natural law" rather than modern identities based on gender and sexuality. Most of the twelve members of the commission have a history of anti-LGBT comments.[361]
  • Healthcare: Since 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has explicitly interpreted the word "sex" in the nondiscrimination provisions of the Affordable Care Act (Section 1557) to recognize and include transgender people, although a federal court injunction on Dec. 31, 2016 prevented HHS from enforcing its nondiscrimination rule. Under the Trump administration, HHS lawyers began working on permanently reversing the rule,[362] and on May 24, 2019, the proposed reversal was formally announced.[363][364]
  • Homelessness: On May 22, 2019, HUD proposed a new rule[33] to weaken the 2012 Equal Access Rule, an existing federal nondiscrimination protection that requires equal access to housing regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. (The previous day, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson had told Congress that he had no plans to change this protection.) Under the proposed change, shelters receiving federal funding would be given leeway in "determining sex for admission to any facility" based on factors including the transgender person's "official government documents," the shelter operators' "religious beliefs," and any invented "practical concerns" or concerns about "privacy" or "safety." This could allow shelters to place transgender women in men's housing or to deny transgender people admission altogether. Within the proposed rule, HUD said that the treatment of transgender people would be considered valid as long as the shelter applied its own rules consistently and that this would not conflict with HUD's existing nondiscrimination policy. HUD has been moving in the direction of weakening this rule since 2017 when it withdrew proposals to require emergency shelters to post information about LGBT rights and updated its website to remove guidance for serving transgender people.[365]
On October 27, 2018, hundreds of protesters marched in downtown San Diego to protest the Trump administration's plans to define gender as sex assigned at birth.[354]

Early on, the Trump administration interrupted the government's efforts to begin counting LGBT-identified people. In March 2017, the U.S. Census Bureau released its proposed questions for the 2020 census (the census is conducted once every ten years) and the American Community Survey (conducted annually). For the first time ever, the proposed questions covered topics about sexual orientation and gender identity. However, the questions were immediately retracted. The Census Bureau claimed that the topic had been included "inadvertently" (in fact, it was included because nearly 80 members of Congress had asked for it the previous year). The Census Bureau added: "This topic is not being proposed to Congress for the 2020 Census or American Community Survey. The report has been corrected."[366][367] Ultimately, questions about same-sex relationships were added back into the census,[368] but this limited approach doesn't offer a way to attribute lesbian, gay, or bisexual identity to those who are not currently in any relationship or who are in a different-sex relationship, nor can it attribute transgender identity to anyone.[369] The same month, the Trump administration released a draft of the annual National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants (NSOAAP), administered by Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Questions about sexual orientation and gender identity added in 2014 were removed from the 2017 draft.[370] In April 2019, HHS indicated their intention to stop asking foster youth, parents and guardians to self-report sexual orientation to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System.[362]

The Trump administration has also opposed efforts to protect LGBT people from employment discrimination. On March 27, 2017, Trump reversed a directive from the Obama administration (Executive Order 13673, "Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces") that had required companies with large federal contracts to prove their compliance with LGBT protections and other labor laws.[40] On July 26, 2017, the Trump administration intervened in a private employment lawsuit, Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc. The Department of Justice, taking the opposite side of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, urged a federal appeals court to rule that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not prohibit job discrimination based on sexual orientation.[371][372] (The court ruled, however, that it does.) The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, and the Justice Department is expected to file a brief in late August 2019.[347] On November 30, 2018, Trump signed the United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement which contained a footnote exempting the United States from complying with the agreement's call for an end to "sex-based discrimination".[373]

A major way the Trump administration enables discrimination is by providing exemptions to antidiscrimination law on the basis of "conscience" or "religious freedom." On December 5, 2017, when asked by a White House reporter if President Trump agreed that it would be okay for bakers to put up signs in their business windows saying "We don't bake cakes for gay weddings," as his solicitor general had argued before the Supreme Court, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that the president believes in religious liberty and "that would include that."[374] On January 18, 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the creation of the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within its Office for Civil Rights (OCR).[375] Its purpose is to enforce federal laws that related to "conscience and religious freedom"; that is, to enable individuals and businesses to exempt themselves from obeying nondiscrimination laws. On January 23, 2019, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said that Miracle Hill Ministries, a foster care agency in Greenville, S.C., could be exempted from an Obama-era nondiscrimination regulation. Miracle Hill will continue to receive federal funds and is allowed to refuse services to prospective foster parents who are non-Christian or LGBT. It must refer the rejected applicants to another agency.[376] In August 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor, referencing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, proposed a new rule to exempt "religious organizations" from obeying nondiscrimination law in their employment practices if they invoke "sincerely held religious tenets and beliefs" as their reason to discriminate.[377]

On October 3, 2017, the Trump administration voted against a UN resolution to condemn the death penalty (which condemned the use of that penalty for homosexuality in particular), thus making the United States one of only 13 countries to vote against the resolution (including Saudi Arabia where the death penalty for gay sex is practiced).[378] However, this was in accordance with longstanding policy, as the Obama administration had also voted against it.[379] Jessica Stern, executive director of the LGBT rights group OutRight, said the group criticized the Trump administration's "many rights violations, its many abuses of power from LGBTI violations to xenophobia, but this particular instance is not an example of a contraction of support on LGBTI rights... It would be a mistake to interpret its opposition to a death penalty resolution to a change in policy."[379]

On February 19, 2019, the administration took a more pro-LGBT approach by announcing a new campaign to decriminalize homosexuality worldwide, to be led by Richard Grenell, the openly gay U.S. Ambassador to Germany.[380] On that day, Grenell hosted a meeting in Berlin with 11 activists from different European countries; it appears that no U.S. individuals or groups were invited.[381] The next day, a reporter asked the president about the initiative, and he seemed unaware of it. In the official White House transcript of that interview, Trump asked the reporter to repeat the question, and finally responded, "I don't know, uh, which report you're talking about. We have many reports."[382] Grenell told NBC News on February 20 that the intent was to use U.S. economic aid as a bargaining chip to persuade other countries to change their laws, and to partner with European countries in this endeavor. "This is not a new policy; it's a new push," he said.[383] On May 31, 2019, Trump tweeted that Americans should "stand in solidarity with the many LGBT people who live in dozens of countries worldwide that punish, imprison, or even execute" people for their sexual orientation. He referenced his administration's "global campaign to decriminalize homosexuality." It was the first time since taking office that he used the word "LGBT," or "Pride" in an LGBT context, in a tweet. Nonetheless, that same week, the Trump administration was instructing U.S. embassies not to fly the Pride flag.[384]

Mike Pence[edit]

Pence has long opposed the expansion of LGBT rights throughout his political career. In May 2016, Indiana Governor Mike Pence said that transgender students' bathroom access may use should be handled on the state level.[385] He said this in response to direction given by the Obama administration to allow students to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender with which they identify. A month later, on June 15, 2016, Trump announced Pence as his vice presidential running-mate.[386] The decision was criticized by LGBT advocates due to Pence being known for committed opposition to same-sex marriage and his support for "religious freedom laws" that allow individuals and companies to claim religious exemptions from providing services to LGBT people, including an Indiana law that he signed while governor.[387][388] During the campaign, while discussing gay rights with a legal scholar, Trump allegedly joked that Pence "wants to hang them all"; the comment was not revealed until October 2017.[389][390][391][392] Secretary Hillary Clinton, who ran against Trump in the 2016 presidential election, called Pence "the most extreme pick in a generation."[388]

In 1993, Pence published numerous anti-LGBT letters in the Indiana Policy Review Foundation publication Indiana Policy Review, allegedly including one that urged employers to not hire members of the LGBT community, claiming they are "promiscuous," carry "extremely high rates of disease," and are "not able bodied."[393][394]

In 2000, Pence's Congressional campaign website stated that Congress should fund the Ryan White Care Act only after an audit confirmed that "organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus" would be ineligible for funding, and that "resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior."[395][396] The latter comment has been interpreted by some to be a statement of support for conversion therapy, an accusation that was not addressed until after Pence's election as Vice President, when Pence's spokesperson called the accusation a "mischaracterization."[397] However, conversion therapy was endorsed within the Republican Party platform adopted at the July 2016 convention.[398]

In a 2006 speech, he said that "the deterioration of marriage and family" causes "societal collapse" and that "God's idea" is to prevent same-sex marriage.[385]

In 2007, he voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act which would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation.[385]

In 2010, he opposed allowing soldiers to openly identify as gay.[385]

Although gay and bisexual men in the United States remain disproportionately affected by HIV, accounting for two-thirds of all new HIV diagnoses in 2016,[399] Pence gave a speech for World AIDS Day 2018 without mentioning LGBT people.[400] (The previous year, Trump had given the World AIDS Day speech with the same omission.)

U.S. political parties[edit]

Democratic Party[edit]

The Democratic Party started to support some LGBT rights in the 1990s. Despite signing the Defense of Marriage Act, Bill Clinton was the first president who openly supported LGBT rights; he appointed several openly gay government officials during his administration. In the 2012 national platform, the Democratic Party supported the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and "equal responsibility, benefits, and protections" for same-sex couples;[401] President Barack Obama came out in support of same-sex marriage in 2012. The Democratic Party explicitly supports same-sex marriage.[402]

In the Democratic Party's 2016 national platform, the Democratic Party adopted its most progressive agenda in supporting LGBT rights. According to that agenda, "Democrats believe that LGBT rights are human rights and that American foreign policy should advance the ability of all persons to live with dignity, security, and respect, regardless of who they are or who they love."

The agenda is supportive of:

The agenda opposes:

  • Anti-LGBT state laws including anti-transgender legislation

In the section on HIV/AIDS:

Democrats believe an AIDS-free generation is within our grasp. But today far too many Americans living with HIV are without access to quality care and too many new infections occur each year. That is why we will implement the National HIV and AIDS Strategy; increase research funding for the National Institutes of Health; cap pharmaceutical expenses for people living with HIV and AIDS; reform HIV criminalization laws; and expand access for harm reduction programs and HIV prevention medications, particularly for the populations most at risk of infection. Abroad, we will continue our commitment to the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and increase global funding for HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment. Democrats will always protect those living with HIV and AIDS from stigma and discrimination."[403]

Pete Buttigieg's run for the 2020 Democratic nomination for President made him America's first openly gay Democratic presidential candidate.[404]

Republican Party[edit]

The Republican Party opposes several LGBT rights, but is primarily opposed to same-sex marriage and transgender rights. However, according to a Pew Research Center survey published in October, 2017, 54% of Republicans now feel that society should accept homosexuality while only 37% feel it should be discouraged.[405] Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump expressed his support to the LGBT community at the 2016 Republican National Convention. Trump, as president, signed a memo in August 2017 prohibiting transgender individuals from joining the armed services in most cases.[406]

The Republican Party's 2016 Platform's opposes:

Fred Karger's run for the 2012 Republican nomination for President made him America's first openly gay Republican presidential candidate.[409][410]

Libertarian Party[edit]

The Libertarian Party has endorsed libertarian perspectives on LGBT rights by supporting "religious freedom" and promoting marriage equality since it was created in 1971. The Libertarian Party also wished to lift the bans on same-sex marriage, but with the ultimate goal of marriage privatization.[411]

Green Party[edit]

The Green Party has been in favor of sweeping LGBT rights and protections since the party's inaugural platform in 2000.[412]

The more informal coalition of State Green Parties that existed in America from 1983 to 2000 also backed LGBT rights.

Constitution Party[edit]

The Constitution Party (United States) is strongly opposed to LGBT freedoms, and supports criminal laws against homosexuality and cross-dressing.

The party is very conservative and has ties to Christian Reconstructionism, a far-right, political movement within conservative Christian churches.

Other political parties[edit]

While many American socialist and communist political parties initially preferred to ignore the issue, most now support gay rights causes. Socialist groups generally integrate a stronger approach to gender identity issues than mainstream parties. The Socialist Party U.S.A nominated an openly gay man, David McReynolds, as its (and America's) first openly gay presidential candidate in 1980.[413]

Religious affiliations[edit]

According to the 2014 Pew Research estimate, a plurality of the LGBT+ population is affiliated with Christianity (48%), followed by the non-affiliated (41%) and non-Christian faiths (11%).[414]

Religion Percentage of LGBT+ population affiliated
Protestant 29%
Catholic 17%
Jews 2%
Buddhist 2%
Mormon 1%
Other Christians 1%
Muslim 1%
Hinduism 1%
Other Non-Christian faiths 5%
Atheist 8%
Agnostic 8%
Other Unaffiliated 25%
Total 100%

Summary table of LGBT rights in the United States[edit]

This is simplified for international comparison with other Wikipedia LGBT rights articles. A ☑Y denotes that the right exists, while a ☒N denotes it doesn't; a ☑Y and ☒N in the same column means the right varies on a state-by-state basis.

LGBT Right Federal Protection State Level Protection
Same-sex sexual activity legal
Yes[415] Yes
Equal age of consent
Yes Yes
Anti-discrimination laws in employment
No (Yes for federal employees) Yes/No[416] (see above)
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services
No Yes/No[417]
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas
No Yes/No
LGBT anti-discrimination law in health insurance
No No
LGBT anti-bullying law in schools and colleges
No Yes/No
LGBT anti-discrimination law in schools and colleges
No Yes/No
LGBT anti-discrimination law in hospitals
No No
Surrogacy legal for gay/bi male couples
Yes Yes/No
Same-sex marriages
Yes[418] Yes
Recognition of same-sex couples
Yes[418] Yes
Step-child adoption by same-sex couples
Yes[419] Yes
Joint adoption by same-sex couples
Yes[419] Yes
LGBT people allowed to serve openly in the military
Yes[420] Yes
Right to change legal gender
Yes Yes/No (see map)
Legal recognition of gender diversity beyond the female/male binary
No Yes/No (see link)
Intersex minors protected from invasive surgical procedures
No No
Conversion therapy banned on minors
No Yes/No (see map)
MSMs allowed to donate blood
Yes[421][422] (see above) No

State-by-state summary table of LGBT rights in the United States[edit]

State or Territory Sexual Orientation Employment Discrimination Protections Gender Identity Employment Discrimination Protections
 Alabama No state-level protections No state-level protections
 Alaska Protections only in public employment No state-level protections
 Arizona Protections only in public employment No state-level protections
 Arkansas No state-level protections No state-level protections
 California Protections for all employment Protections for all employment
 Florida No state-level protections No state-level protections
 Georgia No state-level protections No state-level protections
 Illinois Protections for all employment Protections for all employment
 Michigan Protections for all employment Protections for all employment
 New Jersey Protections for all employment Protections for all employment
 New York Protections for all employment Protections for all employment
 Ohio Protections only in public employment[423] Protections only in public employment[423]
 Pennsylvania Protections for all employment Protections for all employment
 Texas No state-level protections No state-level protections
 North Carolina Protections only in public employment Protections only in public employment
 Massachusetts Protections for all employment Protections for all employment
 Indiana Protections only in public employment Protections only in public employment
 Virginia Protections only in public employment Protections only in public employment
 Missouri Protections only in public employment No state-level protections
 Washington Protections for all employment Protections for all employment
 Maryland Protections for all employment Protections for all employment
 Oregon Protections for all employment Protections for all employment
 Kentucky Protections only in public employment Protections only in public employment
 Tennessee No state-level protections No state-level protections
 Colorado Protections for all employment Protections for all employment
 Wisconsin Protections for all employment Protections only in public employment
 Minnesota Protections for all employment Protections for all employment
 Louisiana No state-level protections No state-level protections
 South Carolina No state-level protections No state-level protections
 Oklahoma No state-level protections No state-level protections
 Nevada Protections for all employment Protections for all employment
 Kansas Protections only in public employment Protections only in public employment
 Connecticut Protections for all employment Protections for all employment
 Iowa Protections for all employment Protections for all employment
 Mississippi No state-level protections No state-level protections
 Utah Protections for all employment Protections for all employment
 Hawaii Protections for all employment Protections for all employment
 Maine Protections for all employment Protections for all employment
 District of Columbia Protections for all employment Protections for all employment
 New Mexico Protections for all employment Protections for all employment
 West Virginia No state-level protections No state-level protections
 Nebraska No state-level protections No state-level protections
 New Hampshire Protections for all employment Protections for all employment
 Rhode Island Protections for all employment Protections for all employment
 Idaho No state-level protections No state-level protections
 South Dakota No state-level protections No state-level protections
 Delaware Protections for all employment Protections for all employment
 Vermont Protections for all employment Protections for all employment
 Montana Protections only in public employment Protections only in public employment
  North Dakota No state-level protections No state-level protections
 Wyoming No state-level protections No state-level protections

See also[edit]

United States topics[edit]

Global LGBT topics[edit]

LGBT history topics[edit]



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External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Burack, Cynthia/ “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Human Rights Assistance in the Time of Trump,” Politics and Gender 14:4 (2018): 561-580.
  • Carlson-Rainer, Elise. “Will Sexual Minority Rights Be Trumped? Assessing the Policy Sustainability of LGBTI Rights Diplomacy in American Foreign Policy.” Diplomacy and Statecraft 30:1 (March 2019): 147-163. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09592296.2019.1557422 review of article
  • Dietrich, John W. "The U.S. Human Rights Policy in the Post-Cold War Era." Political Science Quarterly 121, no. 2 (2006): 269–94.
  • Lax, Jeffrey R., and Justin H. Phillips. "Gay Rights in the States: Public Opinion and Policy Responsiveness." The American Political Science Review 103, no. 3 (2009): 367–86.
  • Robinson, John M. "The LGBT Movement Springs from the Stonewall Riots." State Magazine June 2011: 9. (retrieved October 12, 2016).
  • Robinson, John M. "Moving Forward in the Fight for LGBT Equality." State Magazine June 2013: 8. (retrieved October 12, 2016).
  • Tilcsik, András. "Pride and Prejudice: Employment Discrimination against Openly Gay Men in the United States." American Journal of Sociology 117, no. 2 (2011): 586–626.