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US states to see more anti-LGBT ‘religious freedom’ bills in 2016, rights group warns

US states to see more anti-LGBT ‘religious freedom’ bills in 2016, rights group warns

Anti-LGBT bills likely to be considered in at least 27 states in the United States this year, the Human Rights Campaign says in a new report previewing state and local legislative battles for the year ahead.

It noted in the report that many of the more than 115 anti-LGBT bills introduced in at least 31 states last year are still pending while new anti-equality bills may be introduced in other states.

‘2016 will prove a critical year for the fight for LGBT equality in states across the country,’ said HRC President Chad Griffin.

‘The progress our movement has made is threatened by an organized effort to pass discriminatory legislation that seeks to rollback our hard-won rights. We will have much work to do to defend our rights this year, but we will not waver in our fight to expand the map for LGBT equality to every corner of this country.’

In 2016, HRC expects more than two dozen state legislatures to consider anti-equality measures. These include legislatures in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

The Preview 2016 report says the largest number of anti-LGBT bills introduced in 2015 were aimed to authorize individuals, businesses, and taxpayer-funded agencies to cite religion as a reason to refuse goods or services to LGBT people.

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Alabama, the Carolinas and Texas saw proposals that included legislative attacks that sought to allow individuals, businesses, and government employees to refuse goods and services related to same-sex marriages.

In Florida, Michigan, Mississippi and elsewhere, lawmakers proposed allowing adoption and foster care agencies to discriminate against LGBT prospective parents.

Other anti-LGBT bills last year sought to restrict transgender people from accessing bathrooms, to eliminate the ability of local governments to protect LGBT residents and visitors, and even to promote the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called ‘conversion therapy.’

While not in session this year, in Texas alone, last year at least 20 vicious anti-equality bills attacking LGBT Texans and their families were introduced in the state’s legislature.

On the positive side, efforts to pass pro-equality legislation at the state level are expected to continue in 2016. There are campaigns in many states including Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio and Pennsylvania to amend existing state anti-discrimination laws to protect against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Lawmakers in Massachusetts will continue trying to pass a bill to add gender identity protections to existing state laws that already include protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in public accommodations.

In states where there are pro-equality legislative majorities and existing state-level protections against anti-LGBT discrimination, the HRC says it expects to see increased focus on bills to address bullying in schools, protect youth from so-called ‘conversion therapy,’ simplify name and gender marker changes on identity documents, and require LGBT cultural competency training for medical and social service providers.

To read full report, click here (PDF).