PA misses top 20 in new HRC State Equality Index

The Pennsylvania state flag
The Pennsylvania state flag. (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Pennsylvania did not meet criteria for the top tier in the annual Human Rights Campaign (HRC) State Equality Index (SEI), coming in 25th out of 50 states and Washington, D.C. in the report released on Jan. 30. New Jersey came in seventh, Delaware 15th and New York third. 

SEI is a comprehensive state-by-state report that provides a review of statewide laws and policies that affect LGBTQ+ people and their families. The SEI rates all 50 states plus Washington, D.C. in six areas of law and assigns the states to one of four distinct categories. In this latest report, much of what PGN has been reporting about anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in the states runs parallel to the findings in which there is a clear red-purple-blue state divide.

For the SEI, HRC worked with the Equality Federation, which is a broad network of state-based LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations, to determine the LGBTQ+ rights records of all 50 states and D.C. That involved examining nondiscrimination laws, relationship recognition, hate-crimes statutes, laws affecting young people and healthcare access and other points.

In a statement, HRC President Kelley Robinson said, “This year’s SEI reveals a complex and varied landscape of LGBTQ+ equality, shaped by the legislative actions taken by states. It highlights both progress and setbacks for the LGBTQ+ community.”

Robinson noted the “concerning trend” of legislative focus on queer, transgender and nonbinary youth. She said, “A significant number of bills have been introduced that aim to restrict their rights and access to vital services. In fact, these anti-LGBTQ+ bills accounted for more than half of all anti-equality bills filed in state legislatures this year alone. This represents a distressing increase compared to previous years.”

Fran Hutchins, the executive director of Equality Federation Institute, said in a statement, “The greatest opportunities for victories to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people are in the states — where the work is hard, but the impact is great. As the national partner dedicated to building power in our network of state-based LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations, Equality Federation Institute knows this well. We are proud to partner with HRC on the State Equality Index at this critical time for LGBTQ+ rights nationwide.”

Twenty states plus D.C. — the same number as last year — ranked in the highest-rated category, “Working Toward Innovative Equality.” Those states were, in order of ranking: California, Maine, New York, Colorado, Nevada, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Illinois, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Maryland, Washington, Delaware, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New Mexico and Virginia.

Five states fell in the next category, “Solidifying Equality”: Michigan, Alaska, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Pennsylvania. Two were in the third category “Building Equality”: Utah and Arizona.

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

The SEI states, “Following an unprecedented state legislative session in 2023, the Human Rights Campaign officially declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ people in the United States for the first time ever. Despite the increasing number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills in recent history, 2023 far exceeded expectations, more than doubling last year’s record-breaking number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills passed into law.”

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

More than 30 states introduced gender-affirming care bans during the 2023 legislative session, meaning half of all transgender youth in the U.S. were at risk of losing access to gender-affirming care. In some states, laws have also made it more difficult for adults to access care as well, particularly through bans on public funds for healthcare.

The SEI reports that in 2023, 253 pro-equality bills were introduced in state legislatures around the country. Of those, 50 were signed into law.

At the other end of the legislative spectrum, in 2023, 571 anti-equality bills were introduced in state legislatures. Among those, 77 were signed into law.

Hutchins noted, in 2023 “we saw more than double the number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills pass than the previous year. But thanks to the incredible work of advocates organizing their communities and telling our stories, more than 87% of all anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced failed to pass.”

Hutchins also said some states did strong work for LGBTQ+ people. “Advocates and leaders in Michigan organized decision-makers to amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to explicitly protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.” 

As a consequence of this work — and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signing pro-LGBTQ+ legislation — Michigan, which was in the lowest category in the 2022 report, moved into the lead position in the second category.

Hutchins said, “Minnesota also took a positive step by implementing a ban on the harmful practice of so-called ‘conversion therapy,’ as well as joining other states and cities in enacting legislation designed to safeguard transgender and nonbinary youth and their families who travel to these places seeking gender-affirming care.”

Arizona also improved, moving up from the lowest category into “Building Equality” after newly elected Democratic governor Katie Hobbs issued an executive order protecting state employees and contractors from anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination.

But Utah, Kentucky and North Dakota all dropped a category after passing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. All three banned gender-affirming care for transgender minors, North Dakota passed a “bathroom bill” and Kentucky passed a “don’t say gay” parental rights bill.

Among the things missing for Pennsylvania according to the report are a statewide law or policy protecting LGBTQ+ people, a ban on conversion therapy, access to fostering and adoption for LGBTQ+ couples, changes in religious exemptions allowing discrimination, book bans and classroom censorship, and more. 

Robinson put the anti-LGBTQ+ actions and legislation cited in the report in perspective, saying, “These attacks are out of touch with the American people — and they are a losing political strategy. We are the majority, and we will not stop until we are setting new records in support of LGBTQ+ people in every corner of the country.”

Read the full report here: reports.hrc.org/2023-state-equality-index.