Only half of Americans are protected against anti-LGBT employment discrimination, a report from the Movement Advancement Project found.
According to the study, released Tuesday, 51 percent of the U.S. population lives in cities, states or counties with regulations protecting workers from discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. These protections explicitly prevent employers from firing workers for their sexual orientation or gender identity.
MAP's researchers found a significant geographic divide in who is protected at either the state or local level. According to the group's analysis, employment protections are concentrated in 30 percent of the country geographically, with most non-discrimination ordinances and laws clustered in the West, Midwest and Northeast. The study also found that a LGBT individual living in an urban area is 50 times more likely to be protected against workplace discrimination than a person living in a rural county.
Ineke Mushovic, MAP's executive director, praised cities and counties for passing key protections for their residents. However, Mushovic said, federal and state-level ordinances are also critical to ensure protections extend beyond urban areas.
"There is a deep rural-urban divide when it comes non-discrimination protections for LGBT people," Mushovic said in a statement. "Vast geographic stretches in this country -- mostly in rural areas -- lack LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination laws. ... State and federal-level nondiscrimination laws are also essential to provide protections for everyone."
A poll released by Public Religion Research Institute in June found that almost 70 percent of Americans support non-discrimination protections. However, the same poll also found that 75 percent of Americans incorrectly believe such discrimination is already outlawed at the federal level.
Federal attempts at passing such legislation have been unsuccessful. In 2013, the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would have made it illegal for employers to discriminate against LGBT individuals. However, the GOP-controlled House blocked the legislation.
Earlier this year, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) introduced the Equality Act, which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include protections for LGBT individuals. The bill goes beyond employment, also outlawing discrimination in housing, education and public accommodations, and does not include the religious exemptions that ENDA did.
"The time has come for us as a nation to be bolder and better in ensuring full rights for the LGBT community," Merkley said in a statement in June. "Every person deserves to live free from fear of discrimination, regardless of who they are or whom they love. Enacting the Equality Act will bring us another significant step forward in our nation’s long march towards inclusion and equality. It will extend the full promise of America to every American."
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