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Frequently Asked Questions: Equality Maps & Policy Tally

Last updated February 2020

1. What are the “State Policy Tallies”? How did you come up with the tally and how did you choose which policies to include?


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 1, 2020, MAP tracks nearly 40 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. A state’s total possible tally score ranges from -18.5 to 38.5, as of January 1, 2020. 

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. 

Policies are evaluated and scored based on their relevance to both sexual orientation and gender identity. As a result, each state has three tallies: a Sexual Orientation tally, a Gender Identity tally, and then an Overall (combined) tally. Having both the sexual orientation and gender identity tallies illustrates how LGBQ-related versus transgender-related policies are differently progressing both within a state and across the country.

States are also categorized as “negative,” “low,” “fair,” “medium,” or “high,” based on their tally score relative to the total tally points possible. This categorization allows for additional and easy big-picture comparison of the LGBTQ policy landscape across states. 

Depending on a state’s score, the state could have the same categorization for all three tallies, or different categorizations for each. Table 1 shows the cut-offs for each categorization in each of the three tallies. 

Table 1: Cutoffs for Each Tally

Category
Sexual Orientation Tally
Gender Identity Tally
Total Tally
High
(75-100% of points possible)
14 to 18.5
15 to 20
29 to 38.5
Medium
(50-74.9% OF POINTS POSSIBLE)
9.25 to 13.75
10 to 14.75
19.25 to 28.75
Fair
(25-49.9% of points possible)
4.75 to 9
5 to 9.75
9.75 to 19 
Low
(0-24.9% of points possible)
0 to 4.5
0 to 4.75
0 to 9.5
Negative
(<0 points)
<0
<0
<0
Total points possible
18.5
20
38.5

Our tally system is dynamic and updated in real time – meaning that as new laws pass, whether anti-LGBTQ or pro-LGBTQ, we will update the maps and include the new laws in the tally and citation/references sheet available beneath each map.

Importantly, the policy tally only looks at existing laws and policies, and is therefore only one measure of LGBTQ equality and experiences. The tally and maps do not reflect active policy or legislation which has been proposed but not passed, nor does it reflect social climate, public opinion, the efforts of advocates to prevent further negative laws from happening, or the opportunities for future change. States with low tallies might shift rapidly with an influx of resources, and states with higher tallies might continue to expand equality for LGBTQ people in ways that can provide models for other states.

We select policies to include in the tally based on their relevance to the LGBTQ community and movement, including based on feedback from LGBTQ community members and advocates. If you have a suggestion for LGBTQ policies to add to our tracking, or other ideas for expanding the maps, please email us at info@lgbtmap.org.  


2. What is considered a “Negative Law”?


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 LGBT people include:

  • -“Don’t Say Gay” laws that explicitly prohibits 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 (including LGBTQ people).
  • -HIV criminalization laws, which disproportionately impact gay and bisexual men, transgender people, and people of color (and LGBTQ people of color).


3. How often do you update the equality maps?


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 nearly 40 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 info@lgbtmap.org.  


4. Why does the tally look at sexual orientation and gender identity separately? what makes a policy count in one tally and not the other?


The term “sexual orientation” is loosely defined as a person’s pattern of romantic or sexual attraction (or lack thereof) to other people.

“Gender identity” is a person’s deeply-felt inner sense of their own gender, including 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, each of which could be described as masculine, feminine, or something else. Gender identity and expression are each independent of sexual orientation, and transgender people may identify as heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, or something else.

Legislative language refers to these two protected characteristics, so this is what the tally counts. For example, rather than protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination, a law will typically instead prohibit discrimination “on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity.” A law may have protections for neither, only one, or both sexual orientation and gender identity. 

In general, laws covering sexual orientation affect lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and other non-heterosexual people, while laws covering gender identity primarily affect transgender people—but there is also significant overlap. For example, many LGBQ people may express themselves or their gender in ways that do not conform to gender stereotypes, and therefore benefit from laws that provide protections based on a person’s gender identity and expression. Similarly, transgender people may also be lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, or another orientation. 

In short, 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.


5. Why are there different amounts of points possible under “sexual orientation” than “gender identity”?


Based on the laws we currently track, there are slightly more laws or policies that implicate or target gender identity than sexual orientation. If you have a suggestion for LGBTQ policies to add to our tracking, or other ideas for expanding the maps, please email us at info@lgbtmap.org.  


6. Are states with High or Medium equality tallies better for LGBTQ people to live in than states with Lower tallies?


The tallies look only at existing laws—they do not look at the social climate of a state, nor do they take into account implementation of each state’s laws. The tally does reflect local-level progress in conversion therapy and nondiscrimination protections in private employment, housing and public accommodations, but not in other areas—so for example, a state may have made significant progress with local school districts, or a city within a state may have a high level of equality even though the state itself has lower  statewide equality. Determining the extent of LGBTQ legal equality in state cannot possibly capture the vitality of a community.

That said, research suggests that the lack of legal equality has negative impacts on LGBTQ people. Anti-LGBTQ laws—at the federal, state, and local levels—have the emotional impact of telling LGBTQ people that they matter less than others, that their families and their health are not as important, and that their contributions at work are less valued. Outdated and discriminatory laws also have serious economic impacts, causing LGBTQ people to have a harder time becoming financially secure and providing for their families. For more information on the economic ramifications of anti-LGBTQ discrimination, please see our report Paying an Unfair Price.


7. Why is there so much variation between the states?


Some areas of the country have had greater resistance to equality for LGBTQ people, resulting in a tougher challenges for advocates, who often also face a double-whammy of meeting greater resistance with fewer resources. States with low tallies might shift rapidly with an influx of resources, whereas those states with high tallies might continue to expand equality for LGBTQ people in ways that can provide models for other states. Contact your state's LGBTQ advocacy group (find them here) or your local LGBTQ community center (find them here) to get involved in the fight for equality where you live!


8. What’s next for states with High policy tallies?


States with High policy tallies are be able to expand equality in new and innovative ways. Some states are working to guarantee access to healthcare and other social services, whereas others are enacting legislation to protect LGBTQ youth and older adults, or working on issues affecting LGBTQ people of color, LGBTQ immigrants, and LGBTQ people in the criminal justice system. For example, High equality states have led recent efforts to ban harmful and discredited conversion therapy practices used on LGBTQ minors. Others are focusing on implementation, for example, by providing education and cultural competency training to medical providers. Where possible, the policy tallies will be updated as new issues emerge. If you have a suggestion for LGBTQ policies to add to our tracking, or other ideas for expanding the maps, please email us at info@lgbtmap.org.  


9. Why did you do this?


As a result of the uneven and uncertain progress for LGBTQ equality, LGBTQ people in America face an almost incomprehensible patchwork of laws. An LGBTQ individual or family may have high levels of legal equality in one state, while their LGBTQ counterparts in a neighboring state face only hostile or negative laws. Constructing in-depth policy tallies by state gives us an idea of the legislative landscape and illustrates the gaps in protections across the U.S. The tally also helps illustrate the differences in legal equality based on sexual orientation versus gender identity and expression, and that progress in one area does not necessarily mean progress in the other.


10. where can i learn more about each of these policies?


Along the top of our website, click "Policy" and then look for more resources based either on your population of interest (e.g., bisexual people, LGBTQ people of color, transgender people) or your issue of interest (e.g., criminal justice, religious exemptions, rural issues). Or just use the search function along the very top of the page!

You can also click "Equality Maps" along the top, and then select "Choose an Issue" or "Choose a State" to find more resources about a specific issue or the policy landscape in a specific state.


11. My question isn't answered here.


Have a question or suggestion that isn’t answered by this FAQ? Contact us at info@lgbtmap.org.

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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.