The State of LGBTQ+ Equality

with Brandie Balken of Freedom for All Americans

LGBTQ+ Americans are not fully protected from discrimination in 29 states, meaning they do not have explicit federal protection from being evicted, denied a job, refused service at a business, or facing discrimination because of their identity.

​Brandie Balken, Executive Director of Freedom for All Americans, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss the state of LGBTQ+ equality.

Posted on:

May 27, 2022

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: A recent study from the Center for American Progress shows lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in America face persistent discrimination in their personal lives, the workplace, and in their access to critical healthcare. So LGBT people are left to make adjustments to their everyday lives to lessen the risk of experiencing discrimination. And sometimes, that means hiding their authentic selves. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Despite the significant advancements of LGBT rights over the past decade, the population still isn't fully protected by anti-discrimination laws. As a result, LGBT people are at risk of being denied housing or kicked out of school simply because of who they are or who they love. Joining me to talk about all of this is Brandie Balken, executive director of Freedom for All Americans. And, Brandie, thank you so much for being here.

Balken: Well, thank you for having me, Tetiana. It's a pleasure to be here with you.

Anderson: So, we know that laws are different in different states, and that's been slow to change, but what makes getting federal nondiscrimination rights for LGBT community so urgent right now?

Balken: It's a great question, Tetiana. And to your first point, we do know that, daily, LGBTQ Americans are currently experiencing discrimination. As a matter of fact, the Center for American Progress did a study in 2020, and they found that 1 in 3 LGB Americans had experienced discrimination. That number increases to 3 in 5 if we are talking about transgender Americans. And the issue is even further exacerbated if you happen to be an LGBTQ person of color or a black LGBTQ American. So not only do we know that discrimination is happening and it's happening today, we know that it's happening across the country and in states that currently have no explicit protection based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

Anderson: So, what do you say to folks who say this really is a states-rights issue? How does leaving this up to the states impact the individuals and the communities that you're working to protect?

Balken: Well, I think it impacts the individuals because you really -- Individual people are currently having to make the decision, "Can I take this job in X state? Will I be safe? Will my kids be respected in school? Will my spouse be able to find a job?" And not only is this a burden on an individual as they seek to go about their everyday lives and engage in society, but it's also a real issue for businesses. It's a real issue for corporations who have businesses or locations in multiple states or even globally. When they want to promote someone or move them to a different area, they have to consider, "Oh, can I move this employee to this state? Will they be safe there? Will their spouse be safe? Will their kids be able to access school?" And this has become a real burden. I think this piecework, this piecemeal of protections across the country that make it really difficult for both individuals and businesses to navigate.

Anderson: And even if someone is careful not to disclose their sexual identity in an unfriendly state, is it really realistic to expect that this is something that wouldn't even come up naturally? I mean, how can this topic sort of creep into everyday conversation to the point that it could actually be detrimental, especially for our friends who also may be co-workers who are communicating all the time at work?

Balken: Absolutely. It's a great point. I mean, imagine if you yourself felt like you couldn't disclose anything about your life outside of work when you were at work because it would put you at risk. You couldn't discuss anything about your family. You couldn't discuss anything about your weekend. You couldn't disclose if you had a very exciting date. Even with people who are your friends, even with people that you trust. And I think that there's a more nuanced difference that I'd like to bring up if you happen to be transgender. So, many transgender Americans live in states where they don't have access to changing their current identification or their birth-certificate identification. And if they have done any work under their previous first name, then if they disclose that on a résumé, that, obviously, you are disclosing information about yourself that the employer may not like. And in some states, if they do a check for Real ID, they check your Social Security number. You may not even choose to disclose that, but they will find out information about the difference between your current name and the name that is on your government-issued documentation. So, in some cases, people don't even have the opportunity to restrict the information that they share. It is accessible through government files, and there's nothing they can do to prevent it.

Anderson: Your organizational goal is to get federal legislation passed by 2025. Share your progress on that front. And is your strategy still the same as it was in 2020 or have you had to sort of evolve how you do your work?

Balken: It's, again, a very good question, Tetiana. We've always had to be responsive in our strategy. The wave of anti-LGBTQ bills that we're seeing currently in this legislative cycle are a result of, I think, a small, well-funded very vocal minority who are putting forward these bills across state legislatures. And to date, we've seen over 200 of these bills introduced. So, of course, we've had to change our strategy somewhat in deepening our work with state partners to push back on these incredibly harmful bills, most of which seek to prevent children from participating in sports or accessing medically necessary and appropriate care. So our strategy to pass federal nondiscrimination legislation still stands. We believe that every American deserves to be their authentic selves at home and at work and be able to do that and not be at risk. And we've had to be responsive. We know now that it is critical for us to continue to have conversations with people we know and love about the LGBTQ community, about the importance of their persistence, the importance of their placement in the fabric of American lives and communities.

Anderson: And, Brandie, if people want to find out more about your organization, where should they go?

Balken: Thank you. We are at www.freedomforallamericans.org all spelled out. And if you go there, you can find information about how you can get involved at the federal level or with a state or local partner.

Anderson: Brandie Balken of Freedom for All Americans, thank you so much for being here.

Balken: Thank you for having me.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well, for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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