New map shows which states are least safe for LGBTQ+ people

(Screenshot: lgbtmap.org)

The Movement Advancement Project (MAP) has created an interactive map to show which states in the U.S. are the safest for LGBTQ+ people to live and work. MAP also tracked those with declining levels of safety. New Jersey and New York were in the safest category, Delaware in the second safest, but Pennsylvania ranked in the third of five categories, as only fair, with 20 states plus Washington, D.C. ranking higher.

MAP, an independent, nonprofit think tank, is dedicated to “rigorous research, insight, and communications that help speed equality and opportunity for all.”

MAP has tracked LGBTQ+ laws and policies across the country and tracks over 50 different LGBTQ-related laws and policies. This new interactive map shows the overall policy tallies (as distinct from sexual orientation or gender identity tallies) for each state, Washington, D.C. and the five populated U.S. territories — Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

A state’s policy tally scores the laws and policies within each state that shape LGBTQ people’s lives, experiences and equality. The major categories of laws covered by the policy tally include: Relationship & Parental Recognition; Nondiscrimination; Religious Exemptions; LGBTQ Youth; Health Care; Criminal Justice; and Identity Documents.  

MAP scored each state based on those laws and policies: the higher the score, the more protective that state’s or territory’s laws are with regard to LGBTQ+ people. The lower the score a state receives, the more harmful its policies are towards LGBTQ+ people. There are five categories: high, medium, fair, low and negative.

States must score between 75% to 100% of possible points to end up in the high category, between 50% to 74.9% for the medium category, between 25% to 49.9% for the fair category, 0 to 24.9% for the low category, and less than zero to be placed in the negative category.

MAP states, “These scores are an excellent measure of the current LGBTQ policy landscape across a wide range of issues, but the scores do not necessarily reflect the entire political or social landscape for LGBTQ people.”

The interactive map is color-coded, with states highlighted in red being places where LGBTQ+ people have few protections or are actively precluded from living freely as an LGBTQ+ person. Those states scored as negative on MAP’s criteria: Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, South Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, Tennessee, South Carolina and Louisiana. 

States that scored in the highest category are highlighted in green on the map. These are rated as places where LGBTQ+ people are safest and have the most legal, social and healthcare protections under the laws and policies of those states: California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, New York, Vermont, Illinois, Minnesota, Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Maryland and Washington D.C.

MAP emphasized that their map reflects existing laws and policies that are already in place and does not include bills currently under consideration by state legislatures. MAP also doesn’t categorize enforcement of existing laws. The tally also does not reflect the social climate in a state, the efforts of advocates, and/or opportunities for future change.

MAP notes, “States with lower scores might shift rapidly with an influx of resources, and states with higher scores might backslide, or they might expand equality for LGBTQ people in ways that can provide models for other states. In other words, these scores are an excellent measure of the current LGBTQ policy landscape across a wide range of issues, but the scores do not necessarily reflect the entire political or social landscape for LGBTQ people.”

MAP explains that negative laws are those that specifically target LGBTQ+ people and/or restrict access to rights, services or programs for LGBTQ+ people. Examples of negative laws that specifically target LGBTQ+ people include: “Don’t Say Gay” laws that explicitly prohibit educators from discussing LGBTQ+ issues or people in a positive manner or from mentioning LGBTQ+ people at all in schools; religious exemption laws that allow medical providers, child welfare agencies, or private businesses to explicitly refuse to serve people if they feel doing so would conflict with their religious beliefs, including people of different faiths, races or genders or sexualities; HIV criminalization laws, which disproportionately impact gay and bisexual men, transgender people and people of color (and LGBTQ+ people of color).

According to the organization’s research, 44% of the overall LGBTQ+ population live in states with high scores, 4% of the LGBTQ+ population lives in states with medium overall policy tallies, 9% of the LGBTQ+ population lives in states with fair overall policy tallies, 16% of the LGBTQ+ population lives in states with low overall policy tallies and 27% of LGBTQ+ population lives in states with negative overall policy tallies — which means more than half of LGBTQ+ Americans live in places that have poor policy tallies.

MAP cites the number of LGBTQ+ adults as half a million in Pennsylvania, 343,000 in New Jersey, 40,000 in Delaware and 913,000 in New York.

The State Policy Tallies are a wide-ranging look at state and local laws and policies that protect or harm LGBTQ+ people. As of January 2023, MAP tracks over 50 LGBTQ-related laws and policies in all 50 states, D.C., and the five U.S. territories. For each of these policies, MAP assigns a score or point value, and then adds these scores to create a “policy tally” for each state.

Harmful or discriminatory policies earn negative points or point deductions, while LGBTQ-inclusive or protective laws earn positive points. Fractions of a point may be awarded for states that have enacted a portion of a law, or in cases where local laws provide some protection but do not cover the entire state population.

The tally does not look at who benefits from the law, rather it looks at what characteristics are covered by the legislative language. Examining sexual orientation and gender identity laws separately illustrates how LGBQ-related versus transgender-related policies are differently progressing both within a state and across the country.

MAP was founded in 2006 with the mission to “create a thriving, inclusive, and equitable America where all people have a fair chance to pursue health and happiness, earn a living, take care of the ones they love, be safe in their communities and participate in civic life.”

MAP notes: “The Equality Maps are updated in real time. As soon as a bill is signed into law or a policy becomes effective, we update our maps and citation sheets (available to the lower left of each map). However, tracking over 50 laws and policies across 50 states, D.C., and five territories is a complex task, and we sometimes miss things. If you see an area where our maps or state profiles are out of date, please email us at [email protected].”