New Democracy Maps

Under Fire Report: How Opponents of LGBTQ Equality Attack Voting Rights and Democracy to Make Fighting Back More Difficult for Everyone

Rebecca Farmer, Movement Advancement Project | 303-578-4600 ext 122

June 21, 2023

Today the Movement Advancement Project released the third in its Under Fire: The War on LGBTQ People in America report series. This new report, Under Fire: Erecting Systems and Structural Barriers to Make Change Harder, focuses on how attacks on voting rights and democracy make it more difficult to advance LGBTQ equality—and to counter anti-LGBTQ attacks. 

The majority of Americans across the political spectrum continue to support LGBTQ equality. Yet state legislatures have introduced a horrifying and record-breaking number of anti-LGBTQ bills in recent years. In 2023 alone, state legislatures introduced at least 735 bills targeting LGBTQ people, especially transgender youth. At the same time, concerted efforts are underway to reshape access to the ballot and undermine democracy; in 2023, at least 380 bills have been introduced in state legislators that would restrict voting and undermine democracy.  

As the report explains, the chasm between public support for LGBTQ people and fast, furious political attacks on LGBTQ people are connected to ongoing attacks on voting rights and democracy overall, which have also increased in recent years.  

“Too many people face barriers to voting or live in gerrymandered states where they effectively aren’t able to elect lawmakers who reflect their values on LGBTQ equality and other issues,” said Brian Hinkle, Senior Voting Policy Researcher at MAP. “Our opponents know this and have spent years creating these systemic barriers on purpose for political gain.” 

Comparing the Strength of State Democracies to LGBTQ Equality 
MAP compared data from its LGBTQ Equality Maps and its Democracy Maps to illustrate the connections between a healthy democracy and LGBTQ equality.  

Overall, the state with the highest rankings for LGBTQ equality also have the highest rankings for democracy and voting rights. Similarly, most states that score poorly for LGBTQ equality also score lower on democracy and voting rights. For example:  
  • Six states rank in the bottom 10 for both democracy and LGBTQ equality: Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Tennessee. 
  • Five states rank in the top 10 on both the Democracy Maps and the LGBTQ Equality Maps: California, Colorado, Nevada, Vermont, and Washington. 

Five Ways Opponents of Democracy and LGBTQ Equality Accomplish Their Goals 
The report notes that opponents have deployed a wide range of tactics that undermine democracy and systematically make it even more difficult to advance policies for LGBTQ equality and so many other issues. The five main tactics that undermine democracy and make change harder are: 

Tactic 1 - Restricting voting rights: Tactic 2 - Gerrymandering districts to make it harder to hold lawmakers accountable: 
  • Manipulating legislative maps allows politicians to choose their voters, rather than voters choosing their lawmakers as intended in a democratic system. This in turn allows for more extreme policies to become law even when they don’t reflect the will of the voters. 
  • Of the 10 states that rank lowest in the LGBTQ Equality Maps, all but one allows their legislature to draw legislative maps without protections against partisan gerrymandering.  
  • Legislatures in states with manipulated legislative districts may not truly reflect the will of the majority of voters in the state. This is illustrated, for example, in states win which one party controls the legislature, but statewide offices—which are not impacted by gerrymandering— such as the governor are held by a different political party. For example:  
  • Kansas’ Republican-controlled legislature has introduced dozens of anti-LGBTQ bills since 2021. Kansas’ Democrat Governor vetoed six of those anti-LGBTQ bills just in 2023. 
  • Seven states currently have a Republican-controlled legislature and a Democrat governor; in six of those states the governors have vetoed anti-LGBTQ legislation since 2021.  

Tactic 3 - Reshaping the judiciary by removing checks and balances: 
  • Opponents of democracy, fairness, and equality have spent decades reshaping the federal judiciary into an instrument of partisan activism, rather than an independent branch of government functioning as a check and balance against the legislative and executive branches, as intended in this country. 

Tactic 4 - Making it more difficult to shape policy through direct democracy: 
  • Currently 19 states have direct democracy policies allowing for citizen-led ballot measures. While this process has often been used in the past to both restrict and advance fairness and equality, some progressive advocates are using this process as an important tool for change, including to protect access to abortion, to expand healthcare coverage, and to eliminate partisan gerrymandering. For example:  
  • In 2020, Michigan voters approved two pro-democracy ballot measures that implemented same-day voter registration, automatic voter registration, easier voting by mail, and eliminated partisan gerrymandering.  
  • In 2022 Michigan voters approved a ballot measure that implemented pro-democracy policies in the state that the legislature had failed to pass, including nine days of in-person early voting.
  • During the same 2022 election, new election maps resulted in the election of more supporters of LGBTQ equality who went on to pass new nondiscrimination protections that previous legislatures had refused to even bring for a vote.

Tactic 5 - Silencing lawmakers who disagree: 
  • A disturbing new tactic is emerging of legislatures silencing democratically elected legislators simply for opposing harmful policies. Just this year Tennessee expelled two Black legislators and Montana barred its first openly transgender legislator from the House floor. A Nebraska legislator with a transgender child is under investigation for a supposed conflict of interest and Oklahoma’s first openly nonbinary, Muslim legislator was censured after opposing anti-transgender legislation.  

“When our democracy is strong, LGBTQ people and other marginalized communities can more effectively advance policies that benefit all of us,” said Naomi Goldberg, MAP’s Deputy Director and LGBTQ Policy Director. “As horrifying political attacks continue targeting LGBTQ people, especially transgender people, it’s critical that we also keep advocating for voting rights and the principles of democracy that help us to move forward an inclusive vision for the world.” 


MAP's mission is to provide independent and rigorous research, insight and communications that help speed equality and opportunity for all. MAP works to ensure that 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. 

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Sexual Orientation Policy Tally

The term “sexual orientation” is loosely defined as a person’s pattern of romantic or sexual attraction to people of the opposite sex or gender, the same sex or gender, or more than one sex or gender. Laws that explicitly mention sexual orientation primarily protect or harm lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. That said, transgender people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual can be affected by laws that explicitly mention sexual orientation.

Gender Identity Policy Tally

“Gender identity” is a person’s deeply-felt inner sense of being male, female, or something else or in-between. “Gender expression” refers to a person’s characteristics and behaviors such as appearance, dress, mannerisms and speech patterns that can be described as masculine, feminine, or something else. Gender identity and expression are independent of sexual orientation, and transgender people may identify as heterosexual, lesbian, gay or bisexual. Laws that explicitly mention “gender identity” or “gender identity and expression” primarily protect or harm transgender people. These laws also can apply to people who are not transgender, but whose sense of gender or manner of dress does not adhere to gender stereotypes.

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