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LGBTQ Policy Spotlight: Mapping LGBTQ Equality in the U.S. South

More LGBTQ people live in the U.S. South than in any other region of the United States. But for the one in three LGBTQ adults who call the South home, the South is the most hostile LGBTQ state policy landscape in the country.  The Movement Advancement Project (MAP) released a new report, LGBTQ Policy Spotlight: Mapping LGBTQ Equality in the U.S. South, which details how a dearth of progressive laws and policies in 14 Southern states has led to distinct challenges along with unique opportunities for advancing legal equality for LGBTQ people in the region.

This report is released in partnership with PRIDELAND, a new Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) digital series and television special that follows queer actor Dyllón Burnside on a journey across the South to meet diverse members of the LGBTQ community. From a lesbian rodeo champ in Texas to an African American mayor ally in Alabama, he discovers how LGBTQ Americans are finding ways to live authentically and with pride in the modern South.

MAP’s southern policy tally aggregates nearly 40 LGBTQ-related laws and policies into a concise yet comprehensive way to gauge the LGBTQ-related policy landscape in the region. Compared to the Northeast, West, and Midwest regions, the South has more harmful LGBTQ laws than any other region—whether in criminal justice, religious exemptions, or laws targeting transgender youth—and  fewer positive laws than any other as well.

While these challenges show the significant work remaining in the South, Southern states have made progress over the last decade due to the intersectional and coalitional model of Southern LGBTQ advocacy. However, the findings presented in the report illustrate how an LGBTQ person’s legal rights and protections in the South exist in extremely hostile policy climates at the state and local levels, even in 2020.  It is critical that advocates for Southern LGBTQ equality continue to work for progress in cities and counties, in state legislatures, and in the halls of Congress.


Recommended citation: 
Movement Advancement Project. May 2020. LGBTQ Policy Spotlight: Mapping LGBTQ Equality in the U.S. South. www.lgbtmap.org/regional-south-tally. [Date of access].

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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.