New Democracy Maps

Public Places at Heart of Fight for LGBT Equality

New report and ad shows patchworks of nondiscrimination protections in public accommodations put LGBT people at risk

Denver, CO, January 16, 2018—The U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to issue a ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case involving a business asking the Court for a Constitutional right to refuse service to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. The central issue in this case is about public accommodations—places of business, public transit, taxi cabs, restaurants—and whether or not they can turn customers away just because of who they are or whom they love.

Today, the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) launched a new report, LGBT Policy Spotlight: Public Accommodations Nondiscrimination Laws, that provides a comprehensive overview of the patchwork of federal, state, and local protections against discrimination in public spaces. The report is released in partnership with the Equality Federation Institute, Freedom for All Americans, and the National Center for Transgender Equality.

To accompany the report, MAP’s latest ad, “Movie Theater,” depicts how transgender people can experience harassment, discrimination and denial of equal treatment in places of public accommodation. View the ad at

“This report highlights what is at stake in our courts, at the ballot, and in our legislatures: basic human dignity. The very ability of LGBT people to be in public and participate fully in everyday life is under coordinated attack,” said Ineke Mushovic, MAP executive director. “From bathroom bans to ballot measures aimed at stripping away nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people, it’s shameful that we are still debating whether it should be legal to discriminate against someone or turn them away from a business simply because of who they are.”

The report finds that discrimination facing LGBT people is pervasive. A 2016 Center for American Progress survey found that one in four LGBT respondents experienced discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that in the past year alone, out of respondents who visited a place of public accommodation where staff thought they were transgender, 31% were denied equal treatment, harassed, or physically assaulted because of being transgender.

The report also highlights the gaps in protections that leave LGBT people vulnerable to discrimination. Nineteen states and Washington D.C. have laws protecting people from discrimination in public accommodations based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex, leaving LGBT people in 31 states at risk for legal discrimination. A new survey of city and county policies finds that at least 313 cities and counties have local nondiscrimination ordinances prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations based on sexual orientation, including 280 that also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. Currently, no federal law prohibits discrimination in public accommodations based on sexual orientation or gender identity. MAP’s Equality Maps track federal, state, and local laws and policies:

High rates of discrimination against LGBT people are not surprising given the increase in coordinated attacks on the ability of LGBT people to live their lives in public. The report details four distinct strategies:

  • Bathroom bans that would limit transgender people’s access to restrooms such as North Carolina’s bill HB2, and Texas’s bill SB6;
  • Ballot measures to repeal nondiscrimination protections including in Anchorage in April and Massachusetts in November;
  • State preemption of cities and counties prohibiting them from enacting local ordinances; and,
  • Efforts to create religious exemptions to nondiscrimination laws.

Despite these efforts, several states, including New Hampshire and Wisconsin, are considering legislation to expand nondiscrimination protections to include transgender people, and cities in many states are working to pass local ordinances that would protect LGBT people in public spaces.

Half of LGBT people live in states lacking nondiscrimination protections for public accommodations despite broad public and business support for such protections. A 2017 PRRI poll found that 72% of Americans support laws that protect LGBT from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations, and a 2017 Small Business Majority poll found that 65% of business owners are opposed to businesses being permitted to deny service to LGBT people because of religious beliefs.

“We need protections from discrimination in the places we frequent in our everyday lives--from our morning coffee shop to our bus ride home, from a quick trip to the restroom at the mall to the annual trip to the DMV--because when LGBTQ people are able to live full lives and provide for themselves and their families, free from discrimination, our communities are stronger,” said Fran Hutchins, Equality Federation Institute deputy director.

"Securing comprehensive public accommodations protections is a critical component of winning full LGBTQ equality in America," said Masen Davis, CEO of Freedom for All Americans, the campaign to secure LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections nationwide. "Passing laws that prohibit discrimination in public places because of who they are, or who they love, allows LGBTQ people to go about their daily lives with comfort and security, and to be their most authentic selves. Like anyone else, LGBTQ people must access places of public accommodation—such as shopping malls, restaurants, hotels, and doctors’ offices—to take care of themselves and their loved ones. This important resource demonstrates what's at stake when cities and states permit discrimination at the most fundamental level."

“Most people take for granted that they can use the same businesses and services as other people without fear of being turned away or mistreated for who they are, whether for day-to-day needs like going to the store, or for life-saving services like accessing a domestic violence shelter. For many transgender people, however, these kinds of public accommodations can be sites of routine discrimination, humiliation, and even violence. Those high rates of discrimination—including denial of treatment, harassment, and physical assault—were reflected in 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, a study of nearly 28,000 transgender adults. When places of public accommodation are free to discriminate against transgender people, entire transgender communities are given a clear and painful message that they are not welcome to take part in public life. LGBT Policy Spotlight: Public Accommodations Nondiscrimination Laws highlights the real dangers of anti-LGBTQ discrimination in public accommodations, and the real need for laws that protect everyone from mistreatment in these settings.”

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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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