LGBTQ rights and laws

In the United States, LGBTQ people have specific rights. Some rights depend on where you live.
Read about LGBTQ rights at work, protection for HIV-positive employees, housing rights, public place discrimination.  Find out about legal protection for LGBTQ people.


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LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans (transgender/transsexual), and queer. Read about LGBTQ and other definitions

In the U.S., it is against the law to discriminate against people from the LGBTQ community. Discrimination means being treated differently, unfairly, or prejudicially because of age, sex, gender, or sexuality. Not everyone follows the laws, and attitudes toward LGBTQ rights are different all over the country. There are anti-discrimination laws in many states and cities. It is essential to know what the laws are in your state.

LGBTQ rights at work

Your employer cannot discriminate against you for being LGBTQ. All employees have the following rights:

  • Your employer cannot force you to talk about whether you are LGBTQ.
  • Your employer cannot insult you or make jokes about your gender identity or sexual orientation.
  • Your employer cannot make you do more work or punish you because you are LGBTQ.
  • Your employer cannot fire you for being LGBTQ.

Beyond these fundamental rights, there are different rights for public and private employees. Public employees work for the county, state, or national government, for example, those who work at a local public school. Private employees work for businesses, such as factories or stores.

Laws protect public employees from being fired for their identity. But if you work at a private company, your job might have different rules and actions about harassment. When you start your job, talk to your human resources department if you have questions. They will keep your questions and information private. If you believe you are suffering discrimination at work, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You can also report your case to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Employees with HIV

People in the LGBTQ community have high rates of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). HIV is a contagious virus that attacks your immune system. It can lead to an illness called AIDS.

If you have HIV, most workplaces have to keep your status private. They cannot tell other employees or people outside of work if you are HIV-positive. 

An employer can not ask you if you are HIV-positive before making you a job offer. They could ask you medical questions:

  • If you need reasonable accommodations.
  • If others are being asked the same questions (after receiving the job offer). 
  • If you can’t perform your job or are a risk due to your condition.
  • If you need to set up benefits like the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

You have the right to get reasonable accommodations due to your medical condition. For example, take breaks, frequent visits to the doctor, permission to work from home, paid time off to go to appointments, and others. If you suffer discrimination due to your medical condition, you can contact EEOC or call 800-669-4000 (voice) or 800-669-6820 (TTY).

Undocumented employees

If you are undocumented, you have the same rights as other LGBTQ employees. The agency that monitors workplace discrimination cannot look at your citizenship. Your employer cannot punish you if you report discrimination; this is the law. But your employer could report you to immigration services; this is not allowed, but sometimes it happens. Find more information on undocumented rights at work.

LGBTQ rights in housing

About 50% of LGBTQ people in the United States say that they have been discriminated against when looking for housing. Housing rights are not the same in every state. Federal law protects you from discrimination from your landlord. Also, it’s illegal to discriminate against people with HIV/AIDS; the Fair Housing Act protects them.

Currently, many states and the District of Columbia support laws that stop transgender discrimination. If you rent or buy property in those states: 

  • People cannot ask about your gender identity or ask you about your sexual orientation.
  • People cannot turn you away because you are transgender or gay.
  • People cannot force you to leave because you are transgender or gay. If you have a lease or contract, it is legal for you to stay.

Homelessness

LGBTQ people are more likely to be homeless. If you are currently homeless, you are not alone. You can look for a shelter to stay in overnight. LGBTQ housing and shelters might not publish their addresses. This is to protect the safety of people living there.

Your nearest LGBTQ community center may help you find a shelter that is not listed. They may also help you find more long-term housing.  

Safe Place is a national program for young people who need emergency help and safety; Safe Place labels organizations as ‘Safe Places’ where LGBTQ people can go in an emergency. Places can be libraries, fire stations, social services, and more. They will keep you safe and help you. If they can’t help you with your problem, they will find someone else who can.

Anti-bullying laws

Bullying is a common word used to talk about harassment. Bullying includes saying mean things and any unwanted physical contact. Cyberbullying is when someone sends mean or threatening messages online. This usually happens through social media such as Facebook.

Bullying can happen to people of any age and is a serious issue in the USA. In 21 states and the District of Columbia, it is against the law to bully someone because of their gender or sexual orientation. If someone is bullying you in your workplace, tell your manager.

If your child is being bullied at school, you should talk to their teacher. You might not live in a state where bullying is illegal. But even without such laws, schools must protect their students and employees. School officials will talk to the bully. If the problem is serious, the bully will probably get punished.

Public place discrimination

State and local laws can protect you from discrimination in public places like restaurants, shopping malls, and theaters. There is no federal law that prohibits discrimination in public places. 

Protection in Schools

Schools must respond to discrimination complaints from LGBTQ people. Federal law bans discrimination and harassment in public schools, also protects students from being harassed for their appearance and behavior.

It’s illegal if your school reveals if you are LGBTQ.

If you feel you are being discriminated against in your school, document what is happening. Report the incident to the school authorities; you can report the situation to ACLU if nothing is done.

Legal organizations take cases for people who have experienced discrimination. There are general organizations and LGBTQ organizations. LGBTQ organizations support specific needs and do a lot of work for the LGBTQ community.

Lambda Legal is the biggest national LGBTQ legal aid organization. Lambda Legal’s helpdesk can review your case and connect you to local representatives. 

The ACLU gives free legal help to people whose rights are being abused. The ACLU has programs for LGBTQ rights and represents LGBTQ people who have been harassed. If you need legal help, find your nearest ACLU location.

The information on this page comes from the US government and other trusted sources. It is intended for guidance and is updated as often as possible. USAHello does not give legal advice, nor are any of our materials intended to be taken as legal advice. If you are looking for a free or low-cost lawyer or legal help, we can help you find free and low-cost legal services.