May 2021 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

A new report from Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) shows remarkably broad support for protecting LGBTQ Americans from discrimination.

According to PRRI, 76% of Americans “favor laws that would protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans from discrimination in jobs, housing, and public accommodation. Less than one in five Americans (19%) oppose nondiscrimination protections for LGBT Americans.”

PRRI added, “Majorities of nearly every subgroup of Americans favor LGBT nondiscrimination protections, across race, age, religious, and partisan lines.” The organization also found that “support for LGBT non­discrimination protections since 2015 has largely come among Americans of color and white mainline Protestants.”

Of special interest to Americans United is the question of discrimination against LGBTQ people by the owners of businesses who raise religious objections. PRRI found that opposition to such forms of discrimination had been on the decline but is now inching upward.

“From 2016 to 2019, Americans’ opposition to allowing small businesses to refuse products or services to gay or lesbian people if doing so violates their religious beliefs declined, from 61% in 2016 to 56% in 2019,” reported PRRI. “This trend reversed itself in 2020, with 61% of Americans opposing such religiously based refusals, bringing opposition back up to 2016 levels. One-third of Americans (33%) favor allowing a small business to refuse service to gay and lesbian people if doing so violates their religious beliefs.”

Despite these views, the United States lacks federal legislation to protect LGBTQ Americans from discrimination. The Equality Act, a bill that would enshrine such protections into federal law, has passed the U.S. House of Representatives but hasn’t cleared the Senate.

A separate piece of legislation, the Do No Harm Act, would also offer protections to members of the LGBTQ community by ensuring that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is not used in ways that cause harm to third parties. It is pending in Congress. (AU supports both bills.)

Rising support for LGBTQ rights hasn’t stopped Christian nationalist groups and their allies in state legislatures from trying to roll back those rights. Recently, a flurry of bills that target the transgender community has been introduced in state legislatures. A measure that would restrict the right of trans teens to participate in public school sports programs consistent with their gender is now law in Mississippi.

A similar measure was enacted by executive order in South Dakota by Gov. Kristi Noem (R). In addition, a separate provision in Arkansas that bans transgender youth under the age of 18 from receiving specialized medical care such as hormone treatments passed the legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R). The legislature is expected to pass it over the governor’s veto.

In Virginia, Christian nationalist groups have filed a federal lawsuit to block implementation of rules developed by the state Department of Education that call on public schools to maintain safe, supportive and inclusive school environments for transgender students. (Family Foundation v. Virginia Department of Education)

Trans people are becoming more visible, but growing public support for their rights has not persuaded Religious Right groups to temper their rhetoric. On March 24, the U.S. Senate voted 52-48 to confirm Rachel Levine as assistant secretary of health. Levine, who previously served as secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, will be the highest-ranking transgender person in the federal government.

Shortly after the vote, the Family Research Council issued a press release attacking Levine. The group called her an “extremist,” labeled her “a biological man identifying as a woman” and repeatedly used the pronoun “he” to refer to her.