LGBT People Living in U.S. Territories Face Unique Legal Landscape; Even Marriage Equality Was Initially Challenged(Boulder, CO)
June 11, 2019—Progress towards full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the United States has ebbed and flowed, resulting in an often-confusing patchwork of legal protections. Nowhere is that truer than for the residents of the five populated U.S. territories, as detailed in the first comprehensive review of LGBT laws and policies in those territories.
Today, the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), in partnership with Lambda Legal, released a new report, LGBT Policy Spotlight: LGBT Equality in the U.S. Territories
, focused on the status of LGBT equality for the more than 3.5 million residents of American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. For more than 10 years, MAP has tracked state-level LGBT laws and policies across the 50 states and the District of Columbia. With the release of this report, MAP is now actively tracking LGBT-related laws and policies in the five populated U.S. territories. The Equality Maps can be found here: http://www.lgbtmap.org/equality-maps
“The United States' long history of territorial expansion has resulted in a truly complicated system of governance and legal protections for territory residents, where even the U.S. Constitution doesn’t always apply,” said MAP executive director Ineke Mushovic. “By tracking LGBT laws and policies in the territories, MAP will advance increased understanding of the territories as a whole, and of LGBT equality within these regions.”
“As a native of Puerto Rico, I’m proud of the work Lambda Legal has done to make sure that LGBT people in the territories have access to the same protections as all other LGBT people in the United States. In addition to helping same-sex couples gain marriage equality in Puerto Rico and Guam, Lambda Legal also won for transgender Puerto Ricans the right to correct the gender marker on their birth certificates,” said Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan. “It has always taken longer for equal rights to trickle down to the territories, but the impact of discrimination on LGBT families is the same. We are proud to have partnered with the Movement Advancement Project in preparing this groundbreaking report. The report will help ensure that as we to fight in the courts for LGBT equality, LGBT people in the territories won’t be left behind.”
MAP classifies various laws and policies that impact LGBT people into two broad categories: sexual orientation-related laws and policies, and gender identity-related laws and policies. Examined together, these polices are combined to calculate an “Overall Policy Tally.”
- Puerto Rico has the highest overall LGBT policy tally of the five territories (21.75 out of a potential 40.5) as well as the highest sexual orientation policy tally (11.5/20) and gender identity policy tally (10.25/20.5). Based on its LGBT-related laws and policies, Puerto Rico has a similar overall LGBT policy tally as Delaware and Maine.
- Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands all have a “low” LGBT policy tally. American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands fall between North Dakota, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and South Carolina (0.5/40.5), while the U.S. Virgin Islands (5.5/40.5) falls between Arizona and Kentucky. Guam (7/40.5) falls between Kentucky and Indiana.
- Guam has a “medium” sexual orientation policy tally identical to that of Pennsylvania and Michigan, while the other three territories have “low” sexual orientation policy tallies. Notably, both Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands have “negative” gender identity policy tallies similar to Arizona and Alabama, respectively. American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands have “low” gender identity policy tallies.
In addition, report looks at seven broad categories including relationship and parental recognition, non-discrimination laws, LGBT youth laws and policies, healthcare laws and policies, criminal justice laws, and accurate identity documents. Within these categories, the report reviews the more than 39 laws and policies that impact LGBT people and their families. Key findings include:
- Guam has the highest relationship recognition policy tally of the five territories because of their family and medical leave law that permits leave for a child for whom a parent is standing?in loco parentis.?
- Both Puerto Rico and Guam have nondiscrimination protections in employment for sexual orientation and gender identity. Puerto Rico also has advanced healthcare nondiscrimination laws and policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV status.
- Earlier this year, the governor of Puerto Rico signed an executive order banning conversion therapy by licensed medical professionals. Puerto Rico also has a “Students’ Bill of Rights” that ensures equal access to education regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Both Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands have hate crime laws that enumerate sexual orientation and gender identity. All five territories are covered by the federal hate crime law, which explicitly enumerates sexual orientation and gender identity. Notably, however, both Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have harmful HIV criminalization statutes.
- Only Puerto Rico has taken proactive steps to update policies and procedures for allowing transgender people to update identity documents.
Click here to read the report and view the updated Equality Maps, which include territory pages here.
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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. www.lgbtmap.org
Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and everyone living with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.