How Does Your State Rank On “The Civil Rights Issue Of Our Time”?
In 2010, Vice President Joe Biden made headlines when he said that transgender discrimination is “the civil rights issue of our time.” And, while there are still many civil rights battles to be fought, this past year has included incredible advances in turning American attention to not just transgender rights, but transgender life. Jill Soloway’s Transparent, about a family learning that their father is transgender, has been a huge success. Congressman Mike Honda of California has openly supported his transgender granddaughter. Baby steps, but steps nonetheless.
We started with four categories: Work & School: Do the state's laws protect trans workers and students from discrimination?
Health Care: Is there access to insurance that covers trans-related health care, and hospitals that don’t discriminate?
Safety: Does the state have hate-crime laws that include gender identity?
Community: How easy does the state make daily life for a trans person? This includes discrimination laws covering restaurants and bars, anti-bullying legislation, and rules for changing the gender of drivers’ licenses and official documents.
For each category, states were given a numerical score. Those scores were weighted to reflect how important that category is, and then the category scores were added up to get a state's total score. We ranked each state by its score to get the map above and our ranking, below.
We used data and maps from the NCLR, Transgender Law Center, Human Rights Campaign, the MAP project, the ACLU, and other organizations who are fighting for gender equality — along with our own research. (If you a full deep-dive into how we did it, click here.) Read our full Trans America series here Check out the list in order, from best to worst — or click on a state below to see how it stacks up.
California is the clear winner when it comes to trans livability in the U.S. One place where the state shines is in acknowledging the egregious employment inequality that trans people face. For example, the Transgender Economic Empowerment Initiative (TEEI), based in San Francisco, is a collaboration between The Transgender Law Center, the San Francisco LGBT Center, and the Jewish Vocational Service. According to its website, it is “the nation’s first coordinated program to transform the economic health of transgender communities by turning around the high rates of unemployment and creating stability for transgender people and their families.” The initiative offers job training, career fairs, mentoring workshops, and more. Rating: Very Good
Protected by statewide non-discrimination laws, California’s trans population has good access to health care: Over three-quarters of the state’s healthcare facilities don’t discriminate based on gender identity, and with a population nearing 40 million, that means a lot of people are getting the treatment they need. The state also won points for the strength of its trans communities, especially in the big cities; San Francisco and LA are home to some of the safest and most accommodating enclaves of gender-nonconforming people in the country. Total: 97/100
Vermont’s scores were nearly perfect across the board. In addition to good legal protections, the state is home to a number of advocacy groups that support trans people. Outright Vermont, one such group, started with a focus on gay rights in the late ‘80s and has since widened its mission to support the trans community. Total: 96/100
Washington’s transgender community is supported both legally and through the state’s network of nonprofits. One group doing great work is the excellently named Center for Gender Sanity based in Bellingham, WA. The organization’s aim is to help people come out and transition in the workplace — and to help often clueless (if well-intentioned) HR departments and management support their trans employees.
Rating: Very Good
Washington state was an early adopter of transgender rights, including gender identity in its housing, school, and anti-bullying laws. And, 92% of its hospitals include transgender people in their patient bills of rights. Total: 89/100
With its employment policies and sensitivity in regards to school regulations, anti-bullying, and housing, Oregon joins California and Washington State to create a healthy, supportive environment all along the west coast. Let’s call it the Trans Coast. Total: 88/100
Colorado continues to shatter its “square” image, enacting protections for transgender people in all our criteria. With all its progressive social policies, the state is leading the way in the Southwestern U.S. Total: 86/100
Illinois is the top Midwestern state on our list, and one reason is the healthcare access it gives its trans citizens. Last July, the state’s insurance department asked all private insurance carriers to comply with the non-discrimination policies of the Affordable Care Act, the Illinois Human Rights Act, and the Illinois Mental Health Parity Act. “Together, these laws prohibit discrimination against transgender persons because of their actual or perceived gender identity or health conditions,” says the bulletin. Advocacy groups cheered the ruling, calling it a big step toward ridding the state of discrimination against trans people and their right to health care. Essentially, this means many insurance plans sold in Illinois are forbidden from discriminating against trans people — and must provide them with coverage for the same medical treatment available to cisgender policyholders. Rating: Good
Illinois not only possesses protections across the board for trans people, but it is breaking new legislative ground in providing them with health care and health insurance protections. Total: 79/100
With its statewide laws banning discrimination in housing, schools, and public accommodation, Maine remains a welcoming environment for LGTBQ people. Total: 79/100
With near-perfect scores in all other categories, Connecticut ends up in 8th place because only about half the state’s residents have access to a trans-friendly healthcare provider. Total: 78/100 Correction: A previous version of this list incorrectly ranked Connecticut in 12th.
Minnesota is one of the top-ranking states off the coasts, coming in just behind Illinois in the Midwest. It scores well in all the big categories, except for health care.
In 2012, Massachusetts signed into law the Transgender Equal Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination against trans people in employment, housing, education, and lending. The bill also expands the state’s definition of hate crimes to include trans people. Last year, Governor Deval Patrick signed a different measure that banned private insurance companies from excluding procedures relating to gender dysphoria. Rating: Good
Massachusetts received perfect scores in the work and school categories, as well as safety. But, it ended up at the bottom of the top 10 because of lower scores on community and healthcare access, especially outside cities like Boston. Total: 71/100
Iowa’s big loss was in safety: The state does not have a hate-crime law that includes gender identity. Total: 70/100
Hawaii was docked points for lacking laws that ban insurance discrimination — and the islands aren’t home to a single insurance provider that covers gender-reassignment surgery or trans-related care. Total: 70/100
New Jersey protects its trans residents with anti-discrimination and hate-crime laws. It just loses out because of less-than-perfect healthcare access. Total: 70/100
Setting aside examples like the one above, Delaware deserves its “good” ranking; the state’s laws do an above-average job of protecting members of its trans communities.
Rhode Island sits near the top of this 50-state list because the majority of the state’s healthcare facilities prohibit discrimination against trans people. Total: 65/100
Maryland deserves its “good” rating, but there’s still work to be done: The state’s law bans discrimination against gender identity in the areas mentioned above, but not in schools. The state also has no laws banning insurance discrimination. Total: 61/100
Nevada scored well in most categories other than health care, where we awarded it 5/30. Residents have access to no insurance companies that include trans-related procedures or that ban gender-identity discrimination. Total: 56/100
New Mexico has a statewide anti-discrimination bill that includes trans people, plus a hate-crime law that includes gender identity, but the state loses points for healthcare access. Total: 51/100
Despite the liberal reputation of its biggest city, New York has our list’s first zero, for work and school. New York’s employment laws don’t consider gender identity a protected category, meaning your employer could legally fire you for for being trans. Total: 38/100
The first Southern state on our list, North Carolina lost out to many of its Northern neighbors — but it feels downright welcoming to its transgender residents in comparison to the rest of the South. Total: 30/100
Michigan got our first “very bad” ranking for its transgender rights: There are no statewide laws banning discrimination based on gender identity in work or school, and few protections in any other areas. Total: 27/100
One of our four criteria — community — takes into account things like this: Are the state’s laws sympathetic to an ordinary transgender person, or seemingly designed to make something like a document change challenging? ND seems like the latter. Total: 20/100
Missouri’s hate-crime law — noted above — is a nice exception to the state’s otherwise lacking protections. Total: 20/100
The first state to get zeroes in three categories (work and school, safety, and community), Tennessee also gets the dubious distinction of being the first on our list where state documentation simply can’t be changed. Total: 18/100
Utah’s pretty much a long list of zeroes: no housing or employment protection on the basis of gender identity, nor any insurance or hospital laws preventing anti-trans discrimination. The state allows document changes, but only with a court order. Total: 18/100
Lacking most basic legal protections for trans people, Pennsylvania is the second-worst-ranking Northeastern state, just a few notches above New Hampshire. Total: 17/100
In keeping with its reputation as the epicenter of American conservatism, Texas lacks most basic legal rights for trans Americans. But, the state is also home to more liberal cities; Dallas, for example, passed a city law banning discrimination based on gender identity or expression. Total: 17/100
Last year marked a milestone in Indiana, when a court of appeals gave a trans man a new (correctly gendered) birth certificate. “The 26-year-old applicant will now have legal documents that consistently identify his gender with an ‘M,’” wrote Zack Ford at Think Progress, “which could very well protect him from being profiled as suspicious or denied access to various government services.” It's worth nothing the process, while ultimately successful, took over 18 months. Rating: Very Bad
Like many of the states on this portion of the list, Indiana lacks legal protections for trans people in work and school, and has no gender-identity-inclusive hate-crime or bullying laws. Total: 17/100
With proof of surgery provided, a trans Kentuckian can have their documents changed. In terms of rights for trans folks, that’s pretty much it. Total: 16/100
New Hampshire is the only New England state that doesn’t have a nondiscrimination law that pertains to gender identity, although it does have laws protecting individuals based on sexual orientation, gender, race, creed, marital status, and disability. The state also lost big points for its lack of trans-friendly healthcare options. Total: 16/100
A number of cities and towns in the third most populous state have individual ordinances banning discrimination based on gender identity, but there are no statewide bills protecting workers or students. Total: 15/100 A Florida bill that would make it a crime to use a bathroom that doesn’t match your birth gender is currently gaining traction in that state — R29 is teaming up with the ACLU to stop it. Learn more here.
Arkansas got a 3/30 for non-discriminatory and trans-friendly health care — one of the lowest scores on our list. Total: 15/100
Rating: Very Bad
Like most states near it on this list, Wisconsin has no statewide anti-discrimination bill covering trans people at work or school, nor does it include gender identity in its hate-crime legislation. Total: 14/100
Like most states in this portion of the list, Arizona offers virtually no legal protections for its trans community. Total: 14/100
While the Commonwealth of Virginia has no anti-discrimination policies for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, there’s one bright spot: The state’s governor, Terry McAuliffe, signed an executive order in January 2014 prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation for state employees. Total: 14/100
The City of Omaha protects its residents against employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity, but that’s pretty much the only place in the state you’ll find such protections. Total: 13/100
If it weren’t for Atlanta, where a city ordinance prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity, Georgia would be even lower on this list. Total: 12/100
Like its neighbors on the list, West Virginia doesn’t have much in the way of legal protection or rights for trans people — outside of a few towns with specific protections, like Charleston and Harpers Ferry. Total: 12/100
Across the board, Oklahoma offers zero or next-to zero support for transgender individuals when it comes to seeking employment, housing, or access to education and health care. Total: 12/100
Except for the ordinances in New Orleans and Shreveport, Louisiana has no protections for transgender people (and few for lesbians, gays, and bisexuals) in employment, schools, or housing. Total: 12/100
When it comes to seeking employment, housing, or access to education and health care, transgender people strike out in South Carolina. Total: 10/100
Like last-place finisher Mississippi, South Dakota lacks basic protections in all categories. The state only avoids last place by having a slightly higher percentage of its population with access to health care with anti-discrimination laws. Total: 10/100
Several cities in Ohio (including Cleveland and Cincinnati) have some degree of discrimination protection for trans people, but there’s no state law. It’s also one of just a few states to flatly disallow gender-marker changes on state IDs. Total: 9/100
There are nine cities in Idaho that include gender identity in their local anti-discrimination policies. But, on a statewide level, Idaho still sits near the bottom of this list — for its lack of statewide laws protecting trans people and for its outright ban on document changes. Total: 9/100
For its across-the-board lack of legislative initiative when it comes to transgender identity, Alaska sits low on this list. Total: 8/100
Across the board, Kansas offers zero support for transgender individuals when it comes to employment, housing, or education, and little by way of protected health care. Total: 8/100
Alabama seems to be fighting tooth and nail to prevent marriage equality for gay couples, so it may not be surprising to learn that trans rights are even further behind. Total: 8/100
Outside the single town of Jackson, basic rights — anti-discrimination laws at work, anti-bullying laws in school, and hate-crime legislation — are missing. Total: 8/100
Montana has a small smattering of anti-discrimination ordinances (including in Helena and Butte) that include gender identity, but nothing statewide. On employment and health care, the state earns straight zeroes. Total: 7/100
In our final list of criteria, Mississippi’s got a lot of zeroes: no hate-crime laws or anti-discrimination bills — and little or nothing in the rest of our categories. Total: 6/100
Want to read more stories about the lives and rights of transgender Americans? Check out our full Trans America series here.