Sexual Orientation

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Sex? Sexual Orientation? Gender Identity? Gender Expression?

Knowing the difference can make all the difference to students who do not conform to binary norms.

If you’re an educator, chances are you have struggled to support students who question their sexual identity or don’t fit neatly into social expectations of what it means to be a boy or a girl. Perhaps you can relate to situations like these:

One of my students wants to be referred to as a boy. The student’s mother is adamant: “My daughter is a girl!”

My 7-year-old is tired of students constantly questioning why he plays with dolls. I am supportive of him, but I don’t know what to do.

Two colleagues in the teachers’ room discussed a boy who is sensitive and not into sports. One of them said, “He’s going to be gay for sure.”

At the heart of these scenarios lies confusion about the nature of gender, sex and sexual orientation. When adults don’t understand the complexity of these concepts, young people must navigate these and other challenging situations by themselves.

In a recent blog post titled, “I’m An 18-Year-Old Boy Who Wears Blue Nail Polish—Get Over It,” blogger Nasir Fleming wrote: “Enforced gender roles do not only affect those who break them, but also those who give their blood, sweat and health just to fit in with them.”

Fleming’s choice of words is not an exaggeration. Imagine being a transgender student who dehydrates himself to avoid using the girls’ bathroom all day, or a student who is ready to drop out of school because she is bombarded with verbal or physical abuse about her perceived sexual orientation. Imagine being one of the nameless students represented in studies that document the disproportionate risks for assault, rejection and self-harm in schools that are not accepting of fluid gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation.

A Binary System

A significant barrier to creating fully inclusive schools is the presumption that sex, gender and sexual orientation fit neatly into a binary model.

This binary world is populated by boys and girls who are viewed as polar opposites. This world conflates biology, gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation, relegating people to rigid categories: male or female, gay or straight.

Schools have a history of reinforcing binary perceptions of sex and gender. Even before children enter most schools for the first time, parents or guardians are asked to check male or female boxes on registration forms. On the first day of school, teachers might shepherd students to class in boy and girl lines. Restrooms are designated for boys and girls. Everywhere there are expectations about what kind of imaginative play and dress-up is appropriate for whom, about who is naturally rambunctious and who is predestined to quiet studying. As students get older, they are subjected to gendered expectations about extracurricular activities, dating and dress—even what colleges and careers they’re encouraged to pursue after graduation.

If we truly want to include all students, we need to look beyond binaries to create practices that include school communities’ diverse representation of biological sex, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation.

Biological Sex

Sex refers to a person’s anatomy, physical attributes such as external sex organs, sex chromosomes and internal reproductive structures.

For most people, the anatomical indicators of sex line up in a way that is typically understood as male or female. However, intersex conditions also occur naturally in all species, including humans. Intersex refers to a variety of conditions in which an individual is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the typical understanding of female or male bodies.

In the past three decades, more than 25 genes have been identified that were once believed to be associated solely with male or female biology, but in fact exhibit more complex, nonbinary variations. With the advent of new scientific knowledge, it is increasingly evident that biological sex does not fit a binary model. Intersex conditions are increasingly being recognized as naturally occurring variations of human physiology.

Following years of organizing by intersex activists, momentum is growing to end what was once a standard practice of “gender-normalizing surgery” performed on intersex infants with ambiguous genitalia. In 2013, the United Nations condemned the use of this unnecessary surgery on infants, putting it in the same category as involuntary sterilization, unethical experimentation or reparative therapy when enforced or administered without the free and informed consent of the person receiving the surgery.

Gender Identity

Gender identity is an individual’s deeply held sense of being male, female or another gender. This is separate from biological sex.

Some children become aware at a very young age that their gender identity does not align with their physical sex characteristics, even expressing the disconnect as soon as they can talk. Other transgender and gender-expansive people recognize their gender identity during adolescence or adulthood.

Individuals whose biological sex and gender identity “match” rarely think about the alignment of biology and identity because they have the privilege of being considered normal by society. People whose gender identity and biological sex align are called cisgender. Cisgender is an important word because it names the dominant experience rather than simply seeing it as the default.

Individuals living comfortably outside of typical male/female expectations and identities are found in every region of the globe. The calabai and calalai of Indonesia, the two-spirit Native Americans found in some First Nation cultures, and the hijra of India all represent more complex understandings of gender than a binary gender model allows. At least seven countries—including Australia, Bangladesh, Germany, India, Nepal, New Zealand and Pakistan—recognize a third gender for legal documents. As people around the world use a growing variety of terms to communicate their gender identities, Facebook now offers its users 52 options with which to define their gender.

Won’t Students Get Confused?

Studies show that children of any age are able to understand that there are more than two gender categories when the concept is explained to them in a simple, age-appropriate manner. The same is true of diversity related to biological sex and sexual orientation.

Wondering how YOU might answer questions that parents and colleagues might have? See Gender Spectrum’s responses to Common Questions and Concerns from Parents and Guardians.

Gender Expression

Gender expression can be defined as the way we show our gender to the world around us. Societal expectations of gender expression are reinforced in almost every area of life. Even very young children are clear about the gendered choices that boys and girls are “supposed to” make in relation to toys, colors, clothes, games and activities.

Girls whose gender expression is seen as somewhat masculine are often considered tomboys. Depending on the context and the degree to which they transgress norms, tomboys might be seen positively, neutrally or negatively. For example, a girl who identifies as a gamer geek, cuts her hair short and wears clothing perceived as masculine may be labeled as a “cute tomboy” or met with words intended to hurt, such as dyke or freak.

Positive or neutral labels are harder to come by for boys whose sex and gender expression are seen as incongruent. Common words used to describe such boys tend to be delivered with negative—sometimes hateful—intentions, words like sissy and faggot. There also is little room for boys to expand their gender expression. Just wearing a scarf or walking in a stereotypically feminine way can lead to abuse from peers, educators or family members.

Bias related to race, economic status, religion and other identities also influences responses to young people who break out of gender constraints. School-discipline data provide a disturbing example of this, as seen in the report Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected. The report reveals that African-American girls who act in ways considered stereotypically masculine are far more likely to be disciplined by their teachers than white girls who exhibit similar behaviors.

Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation is about our physical, emotional and/or romantic attractions to others. Like gender identity, sexual orientation is internally held knowledge. In multiple studies, LGBT youth reported being aware of their sexual orientation during elementary school, but waited to disclose their orientation to others until middle or high school.

Students might identify as bisexual, pansexual, queer, asexual or use a host of other words that reflect their capacity to be attracted to more than one sex or gender or not to feel sexual attraction at all. This emerging language illuminates a complex world in which simple either/or designations such as gay or straight are insufficient.

The overlap and conflation of gender identity and sexual orientation can be confusing for individuals trying to make sense of their own identities as well as for those who are clear about their identities. It can also be complicated for anyone seeking to support them. In her book Gender Born, Gender Made, psychologist Diane Ehrensaft describes a teenage client who, over the course of a few weeks, identified in seemingly contradicting ways, including as androgynous, as a gay boy and—eventually—as a heterosexual transgender female. This young person was involved in a dynamic process that illustrated both the way sexual orientation and gender identity are intertwined and how they are separate.

Embracing a Spectrum Model

As we have seen, binary notions of gender, biology and sexual orientation exclude large swaths of human diversity. This diversity can be better understood by using spectrum-based models. Spectra make room for anyone whose experiences do not narrowly fit into binary choices such as man/woman, feminine/masculine or straight/gay.

Gender-expansive and genderqueer are two of many terms used by people to describe themselves as somewhere on a gender spectrum—outside of the either/or choices relating to sex and gender.

A spectrum model not only makes room for people who are gender-expansive but for those who are perceived to be more typical as well. A spectrum provides an avenue to a deeper understanding of the separate yet interrelated concepts of biological sex, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. For educators, this understanding is a critical first step toward changing school-based practices and toward being advocates for all students—regardless of where they fit on any spectrum.

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 Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace occurs when an employee is subjected to negative employment action, harassment, or denial of certain benefits because of their sexual orientation, or the sexual orientation of someone they are close to. Sexual orientation discrimination has been part of the workplace in America for decades, and while federal, state and local laws, as well as increased social awareness have improved the situation dramatically, many people who are not heterosexual still face obstacles at work related to being gay, bisexual, asexual, or pansexual. It is important for employees to have the right information about what constitutes discrimination based on sexual orientation, what constitutes harassment, and how sexual orientation discrimination can tie in with other prohibited forms of discrimination like, sex, disability, gender identity, and marital status.

Sexual orientation discrimination can affect your job status, your working environment, your health benefits, and a host of other issues in the workplace. The law in this area is changing rapidly for the better. If you feel you might have been discriminated against because of your sexual orientation, read below for more information and resources about sexual orientation discrimination.

1. What is sexual orientation discrimination?

2. Which federal law covers sexual orientation discrimination?

3. Are there any other laws which make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation?

4. What if I am being harassed by someone of the same sex or because of my sexual orientation, how does harassment relate to sexual orientation discrimination?

5. Are homophobic jokes or slurs against the law?

6. What if my employer does not know my sexual orientation?

7. Can I be asked not to discuss my sexual orientation or display a picture of my same-sex partner at work?

8. Am I entitled to employment benefits for my partner and family?

9. Can my employer justify their discrimination on religious grounds?

10. Can I take leave to care for my partner or my partner's family members?

11. What is the difference between sexual orientation discrimination and gender identity discrimination?

12. Who enforces the law?

13. How can I file a complaint?

14. What are the remedies available to me?

15. How much time do I have to file a charge of discrimination?

1. What is sexual orientation discrimination?

Sexual orientation discrimination means treating someone differently solely because of his or her real or perceived sexual orientation: lesbian, gay (homosexual), bisexual, asexual, pansexual, or straight (heterosexual). This means that discrimination may occur because of others' perception of someone's orientation, whether that perception is correct or not. It may also occur based on an individual's association with someone of a different sexual orientation. Someone who is discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation may also be discriminated against or harassed on the basis of sex, gender identity, disability (such as actual or perceived HIV status) or marital status.

Examples of sexual orientation discrimination include:

Different treatment: you are not hired, not promoted, disciplined, or fired specifically because your boss thinks you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or straight etc. This goes beyond simply being yelled at for showing up late. Being overlooked for a promotion, wrongful termination, receiving a write-up with no basis, and other serious negative employment actions may qualify as different treatment. Some companies have policies that explicitly discriminate against lesbian, gay and bisexual employees, while in other companies the discrimination is more subtle but no less real. You may find that you start to be treated differently once you come out as homosexual to coworkers or place a photograph of your same-sex partner on your desk. The discrimination may come from just a few people in the company, from your supervisor, or from the company's CEO.

Harassment: you are forced to experience comments about your mannerisms or sexual activity, sexual jokes, requests for sexual favors, pressure for dates, touching or grabbing, leering, gestures, hostile comments, pictures or drawings negatively portraying a specific sexual orientation, or sexual assault or rape. Your harasser may be an employer, supervisor, co-worker, or customer, and may be of the opposite or same sex.

If any of these things have happened to you on the job, you may have suffered sexual orientation discrimination.

2. Which federal law covers sexual orientation discrimination?

In light of the Supreme Court's recent decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, same-sex couples are guaranteed by the Constitution, the freedom to marry in every state and territory, being afforded the same benefits and protections heterosexuals have always had in marriage. Outside of the newly clarified right to marry, there is currently no federal law prohibiting other types of sexual orientation discrimination. Sexual orientation is not protected by federal law the way race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, and disability are for private employers. Around two dozen states still don't have anti-discrimination laws protecting individuals from being discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation.

Nonetheless, many companies, workplaces, and legislators are working to change that. While there are efforts underway to pass additional federal laws to make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation illegal, no bills on this topic have become law yet.

Despite the Supreme Court ruling that LGBT Americans can now legally get married, they are still at risk of being denied services and risk being fired simply for being married. Due to the lack of legal protections, new legislation has been introduced but not passed in Congress. The Equality Act is a comprehensive federal LGBT non-discrimination act that would provide permanent protections for LGBT individuals in the most important aspects of their lives, including but not limited to matters of employment, housing, access to public places, federal funding, credit, education and jury service. In addition, it would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in federal funding and access to public places.

Aside from federal legislation, President Obama has also pushed for sexual orientation, and gender identity fairness in the workplace. On July 21, 2014 President Obama signed an Executive Order that amended previous executive orders and added sexual orientation and gender identity protections for all federal workers, including contractors and subcontractors of the Federal government. Previous executive orders only protected workers from workplace discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Additionally, many federal government employees are covered by provisions in the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 which prohibit sexual orientation discrimination. One of these provisions 5 U.S.C. 2302(b)(10) makes it illegal for any employee who has authority to take certain personnel actions from discriminating among employees or job applicants on the basis of conduct that does not adversely affect employee performance. This language has been interpreted to prohibit discrimination based upon sexual orientation.

Currently, 22 states and the District of Columbia, as well as several hundred municipalities (counties and cities) also have laws that prohibit sexual orientation discrimination. 20 of these states prohibit sexual orientation discrimination in both private and government workplaces. This number is constantly changing, so you should also check with an attorney or local gay legal or political organization to see whether any new laws apply to you.

3. Are there any other laws which make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation?

As noted in the last question, many federal employees are covered by anti-discrimination provisions. Since the recent EEOC holding discussed below, these protections are also extended to private employees who file EEOC claims. Similarly, some states, counties and cities, even those without specific laws protecting all employees, have executive orders and/or civil service provisions making discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation illegal for state and/or local governmental employees. In fact, 22 states and the District of Columbia have laws explicitly protecting LGBT workers from being fired because of their sexual orientation. However, this means that there are still 28 states that allow an employee to be terminated on the basis of sexual orientation, and in those states legal remedies are often narrow for private sector employees.

Many union collective bargaining agreements (contracts) include an anti-discrimination provision, which may include sexual orientation. If such a provision is included in your union contract, it gives you a basis to file a grievance if you have been discriminated against because of your sexual orientation. Additionally, many workplaces are implementing their own rules on this issue. In fact, 91 percent of Fortune 500 companies prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 61 percent prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has been helping to pave a legal avenue for those individuals who have been discriminated against in the workplace based on both gender identity and sexual orientation. In July 2015 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) addressed the question of whether discrimination against LGBT individuals is covered by the ban on sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In a 3-2 vote by the five person independent commission, the EEOC ruled that existing civil rights laws do bar sexual-orientation based employment discrimination. The ruling will apply to federal employees' claims as well as any private employee who files a claim with EEOC offices nationwide. The decision says that sexual orientation is inherently a sex-based consideration and the agency will look to whether the agency relied on any sex-based considerations or took gender into account when making the alleged employment action. While this ruling is recent and only the Supreme Court can give a conclusive interpretation, the EEOC ruling is still groundbreaking, and paves the way for further decisions much like this as Federal courts give EEOC decisions significant deference. The Justice Department announced a similar view to the EEOC in December 2014.

The law in this area is constantly changing, with numerous legislative efforts currently in progress around the country to add sexual orientation to state laws, local ordinances, governmental regulations, and corporate policies. You should check with a local attorney, gay and lesbian rights organization, or your corporate human resources department to see whether there have been any recent changes in the law or policies affecting your employment. Even if there is not legal protection affecting your employment, you may be able to encourage your employer to voluntarily cease discriminatory activity and/or to educate others in your workplace to help improve your employment situation.

For more information on which states have anti-discrimination laws see

4. What if I am being harassed by someone of the same sex or because of my sexual orientation, how does harassment relate to sexual orientation discrimination?

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that is prohibited by federal law and the laws of most states, regardless of whether the state also has a law against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. However, many courts have focused on the differences between the two legal concepts to prevent gay and lesbian employees who have been harassed from having the same legal protections available to non-gay employees who have been subjected to similar comments. These courts have ruled that comments focused on the victim's sexual orientation represent discrimination on that basis, not covered under federal law, instead of sexual harassment, a form of sex discrimination that is covered under federal law. Other courts have ruled that these types of sexual comments, as they relate to gender stereotypes, are a form of illegal sex discrimination under federal law.

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature is considered sexual harassment, when submission to, or rejection of, this conduct affects your employment, unreasonably interferes with your work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. The U.S. Supreme Court has specifically ruled that the victim does not have to be of the opposite sex to be able to bring a legal claim for sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances:

  • The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
  • Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic harm to the victim, such as loss of a job.

The harasser's conduct must be unwelcome.

Recently, individuals who were terminated because of their sexual orientation have tried to sue for sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Their argument is that they are being harassed and discriminated against because they do not conform to male and female stereotypes since being gay is not considered stereotypically male or female, and they do not conform to their traditional gender stereotypes. Thus, their termination should be considered unlawful sex discrimination. While this argument has received some recent success, the results have not been consistent overall due to some early court rulings explicitly holding that Title VII does not protect sexual orientation discrimination. However, the EEOC recently issued a decision that sexual orientation is inherently a sex-based consideration, and that existing civil rights laws do bar sexual-orientation based employment discrimination. While only the Supreme Court can provide a conclusive legal interpretation of the existing civil rights laws, Federal courts will give EEOC decisions significant deference, thus paving the road to protection for sexual orientation.

If you are being sexually harassed, you should directly inform the harasser that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. If you are a union member, it may also be helpful to contact a union civil rights committee for appropriate action. You should use any employer complaint mechanism or grievance system available, as your employer is under a legal obligation to take immediate and appropriate action when an employee complains. For more information, see our page on sexual harassment. If you have been subjected to these types of comments, you may wish to consult with an attorney who specializes in sexual harassment and/or sexual orientation discrimination to determine what laws may offer legal protection in your state.

5. Are homophobic jokes or slurs against the law?

It depends. Jokes or slurs about your sexual orientation may be considered a form of harassment, which courts have held is a form of discrimination under the law. However, federal law and the laws of most states does not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not extremely serious. The conduct must be sufficiently frequent or severe to create a hostile work environment or result in a "tangible employment action," such as hiring, firing, promotion, or demotion. For more information, see our page on sexual harassment.

6. What if my employer does not know my sexual orientation?

You may choose to keep your sexual orientation a purely private matter; nothing requires you to disclose this information to your employer if you do not choose to do so.

However, if you are undergoing discrimination or harassment at work, you may wish to disclose your sexual orientation when speaking with your company's human resources department and/or a member of management to see whether your employer can work with you to solve the problems you are facing. Otherwise, your company may claim it was unaware of your sexual orientation, and as a result incapable of resolving any discrimination or harassment against you on the basis of your sexual orientation.

Also, as more and more people become aware of their gay co-workers, neighbors, family members, friends, and professionals, withholding basic civil rights protections in employment becomes increasingly difficult for an employer to justify, so you may wish to disclose your sexual orientation to your employer for that reason.

7. Can I be asked not to discuss my sexual orientation or display a picture of my same-sex partner at work?

If you live in a state or city with provisions which make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation illegal, the answer would generally be no, especially if other employees are allowed to discuss activities with their spouses or opposite-sex partners, or to display pictures of their spouses, opposite-sex partners, or children on their desks.

In the absence of any legal protections, however, private sector employees are employed "at-will," which means the employer has the right to terminate your employment at any time, for no reason at all or for any reason (including a bad one), so long as the reason is not illegal even if your performance has been outstanding. Therefore, if you disobey your employer's request, you may find yourself without any legal recourse.

If you find yourself in this situation, you may wish to speak with your company's human resources department, other supervisors and co-workers, or a local attorney to determine whether you can work with your employer to resolve this issue. Even if there are not legal protections affecting your employment, you may be able to encourage your employer to voluntarily change its discriminatory policies and/or to educate others in your workplace to help improve your employment situation.

8. Am I entitled to employment benefits for my partner and family?

Many employers subsidize all or a large portion of health, dental, vision, and other benefits for spouses and families of married employees without giving similar compensation to unmarried and/or childless workers in some other form. Recently the Supreme Court, in Obergefell v. Hodges held that the recognition of same sex marriage is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution. Once married, your spouse and family are entitled to your employee benefits including health insurance. Denying benefits solely because you are married to a person of the same sex violates federal law. Additionally, some states have domestic partnership laws which provide the basis for some companies to provide equivalent benefits to unmarried couples who meet the state's partnership or civil union requirements.

At the federal level, since the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), employers were already required to provide benefits for both opposite sex and same sex married couples and their children. That decision, however, only protected Federal employees, and did not require states to change their own discriminatory laws. Now, under Obergefell employee benefit plans, are required by the Constitution to treat same sex and opposite sex married couples equally.

Prior to the Obergefell decision, many employers, even in states where same sex marriage was illegal, had already extended employee benefits to domestic partners of gay employees since they did not have the option to legally wed. And many employers extended those benefits to opposite sex couples as well. In fact, 66 percent of Fortune 500 companies offered domestic partner benefits to employees prior Obergefell. Since same-sex marriage is now the law and same sex spouses are now afforded the same employee benefits as opposite sex spouses, it is unclear whether those companies will continue offering domestic partner benefits.

Some companies may continue to offer domestic partner benefits. But others, including Verizon, Delta Air Lines, IMB and Corning, have already, or will soon give their employees a time frame to marry or lose their partner's benefits, thus replacing domestic benefits with spousal coverage. Human rights advocates are encouraging employers to keep domestic partner benefits for everyone. Some groups suggest the best way to handle domestic partnerships is to implement cafeteria-style benefits programs in which all workers, regardless of marital or familial status, receive the same amount of credits to be used for benefits. Giving domestic partner benefits to same-sex and heterosexual unmarried couples also helps eliminate discrimination against unmarried workers who have a partner. Some companies have adopted an "extended family" benefits program to fairly compensate unmarried employees who live with a dependent adult blood relative.

If you feel you have been treated unfairly due to your sexual orientation, or marital or familial status, you may wish to explore with your employer's personnel or human resources department whether additional options are currently available or under consideration, and discuss with other workers whether they also object to the difference in benefits.

9. Can my employer justify their discrimination on religious grounds?

In states where sexual orientation discrimination is explicitly prohibited, if you work for a non-religious employer, your employer may find it difficult to maintain a legitimate business justification for policies or practices which discriminate against employees based on sexual orientation. The personal religious beliefs of a particular supervisor would rarely, if ever, be a legitimate basis for discrimination in this situation, especially if other company employees had been treated differently.

Most employees of religious organizations are also still protected by federal, state and local non-discrimination laws that prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, although in some states, religious employers, like churches and private religious schools are exempted from anti-discrimination laws. If you work for a religious organization and perform religious duties as part of your job, your employer may not be subject to non-discrimination laws. Some places of worship and religiously-affiliated institutions are entitled to hire employees who share the religious beliefs of the organization.

With respect to sexual orientation discrimination against members of the public, in April 2015, Indiana passed controversial religious freedom legislation prohibiting the passage of any law that would substantially burden a person's or company's exercise of their religion. The law would arguably protect business owners who discriminate, on religious grounds, against same-sex couples in providing goods and services. Amid pressure from big businesses including Apple, Angie's List, and Wal-Mart, lawmakers amended the law to state that businesses cannot use the law as a legal defense for refusing to provide goods, services, facilities, or accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other factors. Governors in both Michigan and North Dakota have urged their legislatures to extend their current anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBT individuals amid the uproar in Indiana and a similar situation in Arkansas.

The law is rapidly changing in this area, and it is not yet clear whether a customer or coworker could use these laws to justify refusing to work with particular employees on the basis of their sexual orientation. Based upon precedents in other areas of discrimination law, an employer typically cannot use customer or coworker preference as a justification for discrimination.

10. Can I take leave to care for my partner or my partner's family members?

The primary federal law protecting the right to take family or medical leave without losing your job and health insurance benefits, or suffering retaliation is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the definition of "spouse" did not historically include an unmarried partner. However, since the Supreme Court's decision to repeal Section 3 of Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodgesand since the Department of Labor issued a regulatory change to the definition of spouse, effective March 27, 2015, eligible employees may use FMLA to take leave to care for a same-sex spouse, or legal common law partner., no matter where they live, even if they reside in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage so long as the place they entered into the same-sex marriage or common law marriage does. This allows the individual to take unpaid, job-protected, leave to care for their spouse or family member, including step-child or step-parent, even if the employee does not have in loco parentis (day to day responsibilities over the individual or financial support). These changes in DOMA, and in addition to the new same-sex marriage ruling, ensure that the FMLA gives spouses in same sex marriages the same ability as opposite-sex spouses to exercise FMLA rights. However, these changes still do not include Civil Unions or domestic partnerships since civil unions and domestic partnerships are not considered marriages under the FMLA. Under FMLA, if you are also the parent of your partner's child, through adoption or acting in a parental capacity, you may be able to take FMLA leave to care for you and your partner's child.

The law in some states may be more protective than federal laws. For example, California law requires that employers offer sick leave to care for domestic partners and/or your partner's children. Your company's leave policy, especially if you have domestic partnership benefits and/or a non-discrimination clause which includes sexual orientation, may provide for leave even though it is not required by law. If you need leave for this reason, consult your company handbook or corporate human resources department to determine whether your employer will allow you to take leave.

11. What is the difference between sexual orientation discrimination and gender identity discrimination?

The term "sexual orientation" is generally understood to refer only to whether a person is homosexual (gay), heterosexual (straight), or bisexual, while "gender identity" refers to one's self-identification as a man or a woman, as opposed to one's anatomical sex at birth. Not all transgender people are gay. Many transgendered people identify as straight; many transgender women have male partners and many transgender men have female partners. For more information, please see our page on gender identity discrimination.

While 22 states and the District of Columbia make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, only nineteen states and D.C. define 'sexual orientation' to either include 'having or being perceived as having a self- image or identity not traditionally associated with one's biological maleness or femaleness, or specifically make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity. In other states, where courts have analyzed the state's sexual orientation anti-discrimination law, courts have been divided: some narrowly interpreting the laws to exclude gender identity, while others interpret the law to provide some protection with respect to gender identity.

12. Who enforces the law?

Protections under state and local laws are generally enforced by state or local anti-discrimination agencies, which may be called a "fair employment," "civil rights," or "human rights" commission or agency. For more information about your state and local agencies, see our page on filing a complaint.

13. How can I file a complaint?

To file a complaint under state and local statutes, please contact your state or local anti-discrimination agency or an attorney in your state. For more information, see our page on filing a complaint.

14. What are the remedies available to me?

For remedies available under state and local statutes, please contact your state or local anti-discrimination agency or an attorney in your state. For more information, see our page on filing a complaint.

15. How much time do I have to file a charge of discrimination?

Because there are many sources of state and local laws relating to discrimination based on sexual orientation, there are too many different deadlines to summarize here. To protect your legal rights, it is always best to contact your state or local governmental agency, or an attorney promptly when discrimination is suspected. For more information, see our page on filing a complaint.

Talk with your kids about sexual orientation

Many kids are getting incorrect ideas about what it is from the streets and TV and are developing unhealthy attitudes about normal things. This is about explaining what it is, not moral or tolerance issues as many have already dealt with those.

1. Explain you can't tell for sure if someone is gay by how they act or look and that a person's masculinity or femininity doesn't relate to their sexual orientation. Some males are "effeminate" and some females are "masculine" but are not gay. Some males are "masculine" and some females are "effeminate" but are gay. Every person is different and orientation won't define anything other than the person's attraction.

2. Explain how some people refer to the term. Your children need to understand other kids may tell them that certain things are signs of homosexuality but they are wrong. For example wearing speedos or brief underwear doesn't make you gay neither does having a lisp, males having a high voice, females having a low voice, hugging someone of the same gender, seeing someone of the same gender naked,taking a nude shower in a locker room, listening to show tunes etc. This list could go forever.

3. They should know that it is normal for kids to be curious about the bodies of others of the same gender: This does not make anyone a homosexual.

4. Kids should know it's common to have sexual experiences with friends of the same gender in adolescence, it does not mean they will be gay in adulthood.

5. Not showing interest in the other sex doesn't mean anyone's gay. Some people just don't have or show interest.

6. You should never lose your virginity to prove to yourself or others that you're not gay. Some kids really have done this.

More Tips

1. Be supportive no matter what and help them understand that they should never use any derogatory names they might have heard.

2. Tell your child if someone denies being homosexual they should be believed.

3. It's Important to go over the steps above, if your child exhibits the behavior above he or she could have a sexual identity crisis later.

4. Remember to explain that locker room nudity has nothing to do with homosexuality. This way your child will not feel uncomfortable in locker rooms as a teen or adult.

5. Tell your children they should never jump to the conclusions about someones sexuality. This can really hurt someone.

6. Teach your kids the difference between an intimate friendship and a romance. Two friends can love each other without being gay.

Source: National Mental Health Association or

How to Talk to Your Kids About Sexuality and Sexual Orientation

Wondering how to have a conversation with your children about sexuality and sexual orientation?

These days, it's becoming more and more impossible to define "normal." That's a good thing. Go into nearly any classroom and you'll see the physical landscape of children looks vastly different than it did a generation ago. And that's before we even meet their parents. Most children these days have friends or neighbors whose families aren't exactly -- or, in some cases, remotely -- like their own.

There's not one "normal."

And yet, many of the messages children receive through pop culture -- whether it's animated films and television shows, music, or books -- continue to enforce one kind of "standard" romantic relationship, and that's the one between a man and a woman. Many parents question how, and when, to talk to their kids about sexuality, and the fact that despite this, there's not one "normal."

Some people -- particularly proponents of "don't say gay" legislation in states like Missouri and Tennessee, which aims to forbid public schools from mentioning that homosexuality exists at all -- argue that kids are too young to learn about sex. But talking about gay love needn't include a lesson in the mechanics of sex, gay or otherwise. Instead, it's a conversation about what it means to have love and friendship and respect for someone else -- all those things that you want them to understand about being good people. It's a conversation that's only awkward if you make it awkward.

8-year-old Ned first met his parents' gay friends Brett and Carl when he was three years old. The talk Ned's mother, Alice, had with Ned preceding their visit was less a discussion than a check-in and went something like: "'Brett and Carl are a couple, just like Mommy and Daddy, and love each other very much.'" Later, Ned asked some specific questions -- did they sleep in the same bed, like Mommy and Daddy? Did they kiss goodnight? -- and Alice always answered honestly, and age-appropriately. Ned wasn't old enough to have a discussion about how sex works, so she saved that for later. But it was perfectly normal to talk to him about how people in a couple support and love one another, and all the other non-sexual things that make gay love no different from straight love.

Helping encourage this creation of a new normal extends beyond sexuality.

For most children, being "different" in any sort of way is undesirable. But the more we talk about our own differences and others', the more "normal" they become, and the less undesirable they feel. When talking to your kids about their gay friends, neighbors, or relatives; their friends' gay parents; or your own sexuality, the most important thing to do is keep dialogue open and to keep it light. Sexuality is a big deal. But the principles are the same as any other discussion you'll have with them about growing up right: Practice kindness and love and treat others as you'd like to be treated. Plain and simple.

Every student deserves to learn and thrive in school—including students who are transgender

And our schools should strive to protect all students from bullying, harassment, and discrimination.

Although our country has made great strides in LGBTQ protections in some states, most LGBTQ youth today still experience increased levels of bullying and harassment in schools -- including 3 in 5 trans youth who report being forced to use school restrooms that don’t match their gender identity, as reported in GLSEN’s National School Climate Survey. For example, forcing a student who identifies and lives life as a girl to use a boys restroom can put them at severe risk for harassment and assault.

By signing up as a safe schools advocate, we’ll let you know when harmful legislation is proposed in your state that would cause harm to queer and trans youth, and we’ll make it easy for you to take action to speak out and stop it.

LGBTQ Youth: Young, Out and Afraid

Our Tomorrow is a campaign to engage LGBTQ people across the country in a conversation about the future of their community. To better understand the hopes and challenges faced by LGBTQ people in America today, the Our Tomorrow research team reviewed more than 100 reports and surveys from more than 50 leading researchers -- presenting "a clearer picture than ever before of the U.S. LGBT community," according to The Advocate.

Over the next two weeks, we'll be sharing what we've learned about the lives of LGBTQ Americans in a series of posts focusing on each stage of life -- from childhood through the golden years.

While many of us celebrate the victory for marriage equality in the U.S. Supreme Court, research shows that LGBTQ people face significant challenges throughout their lives -- beginning at a very early age.

LGBTQ youth are coming out earlier than ever...

In a Pew Research Center study, LGB adults said they first felt they might not be heterosexual around the age of 12. Today, the average age of coming out is 16 years old -- compared to 21 in the 1980s.

For those who identify as transgender, the process of understanding gender identity can start much earlier. According to the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, psychologists believe that children begin identifying their unique gender identity between the ages of 3 and 6.

...and they're not as happy as their straight peers.

While LGBTQ youth feel comfortable being true to who they are, there's also cause for concern: Only 37 percent of LGBTQ youth say they're happy, according to a 2012 survey by the Human Rights Campaign -- compared to 67 percent of non-LGBTQ youth.

When LGBTQ youth were asked to describe "the most important problems facing their lives right now," each of the top three concerns relate to a desire for acceptance from people in their families, schools and communities. See chart.

A lack of acceptance can leave LGBTQ youth feeling unwelcome and unsafe, especially at the one place where they spend most of their time -- school.

Discrimination at school is a big problem.

In a survey of LGBTQ youth conducted by GLSEN, 8 out of 10 said they had been verbally harassed at school, while 5 of 10 said they had heard homophobic remarks from a teacher or other staff member. Meanwhile, three out of ten reported suffering from physical harassment.

LGBTQ youth are held to a double standard for romantic behavior at school. Columbia Gender and Law Journal reported that they're twice as likely as their peers to be disciplined for age-appropriate romantic activities, such as holding hands or hugging.

These staggering figures point to a need for greater understanding and acceptance in schools--especially among the adults who lead them.

Problems at home can lead to devastating crises.

Far too often, these challenges follow LGBTQ youth home after the bell rings. Lack of acceptance by family members remains the top concern reported by LGBTQ youth, and rejection after coming out can create significant emotional trauma -- with potentially devastating results.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, LGBTQ youth are more than four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. A 2011 study found that 26 percent of gay and lesbian youth surveyed had attempted suicide, compared to only 6 percent of straight youth.

Too frequently, young people are kicked out of the house after coming out to their family. As a result, four out of ten homeless youth in the United States are LGBTQ.

Whether at school or at home, these problems require swift solutions and concerted effort. Many people and organizations are already dedicating significant time, energy and resources to provide support for LGBTQ youth -- but we have a long way to go before the youngest among us feel truly safe, loved and accepted.

What more can the LGBTQ community do to support our youth? Join the conversation and share your ideas today at

So You Call Yourself an Ally: 10 Things All ‘Allies’ Need to Know

As happens every time that I read something from Black Girl Dangerous , I recently found myself snapping, nodding, and yelling out “YES!” while reading a piece from Mia McKenzie.

Her article “No More ‘Allies ’” made me profoundly uncomfortable – which is a good thing.

I was uncomfortable because it was a call to reflection about my own “ally” identifications and my own work.

It’s time for those of us who fashion ourselves “allies” or as “currently operating in solidarity with” to have a conversation.

More and more, I am seeing precisely what McKenzie is describing – people of identity privilege who are identifying as “allies” almost as if it is a core part of their identity.

What’s worse, I keep seeing people respond to criticism about their oppressive language or problematic humor with, “But I’m an ally!”

For instance, I recently saw an acquaintance (who notably identifies as Straight) post a pretty problematic joke about Gay men on Twitter.

Aside from expressing my discontent in a tweet, I reached out to her in a private message to explain why I took issue with her joke.

Her response, though, was to say, “Jamie, you know that I’m an LGBT ally! I speak out for Gay rights all the time! This was clearly just a joke.”

And therein lies the problem.

The identification of “ally” was so prominent in this person’s mind that she couldn’t even hear criticism of how her actions were out of alignment with her professed desire to be an “ally!”

So “allies,” let’s talk.

Credit Where Credit is Due

Before I say anything else, though, I should note something important about this article.

None of what I am writing here are my ideas.

They are drawn from Mia McKenzie’s piece, from conversations I’ve had with people of many different marginalized identities, from theorists, novelists, bloggers – but none of them are inherently mine.

They are the ideas of the People of Color, Queer-identified people, women, differently-abled people, poor folks, Jewish people, Muslim people, Atheists, undocumented citizens, and others.

And noting this is important.

Because part of being an ally means giving credit where credit is due and never taking credit for the anti-oppressive thinking, writing, theorizing, and action of the marginalized and oppressed.

Which I guess leads me to my point.

10 Things Every ‘Ally’ Needs to Remember

There are lots of ways to be a great “ally” – and innumerable ways to be a terrible one.

But it’s not rocket science.

There are simple things you can keep in mind and do in order to be a better person “currently operating in solidarity with” the marginalized or oppressed.

And while this list is not comprehensive, it’s definitely somewhere to start.

1. Being an Ally is About Listening

As McKenzie puts it, “Shut up and listen.”

As someone striving to be an ally, the most important thing we can do is listen to as many voices of those we’re allying ourselves with as possible.

Now, does this mean that we should assume that just because, say, one Person of Color said it that it’s the absolutely truth that we should parrot? Absolutely not.

If that were the case, then Don Lemon would clearly speak for all Black people.

But listening to a diversity of marginalized voices can help you understand the core of any given issue.

And it also can help you understand why the opinion of your one gay friend is not necessarily the best defense of your use of heterosexist language.

2. Stop Thinking of ‘Ally’ as a Noun

Being an ally isn’t a status.

The moment that we decide “I’m an ally,” we’re in trouble.

As Mia McKenzie puts it:

“’Currently operating in solidarity with’ is undeniably an action. It describes what a person is doing in the moment. It does not give credit for past acts of solidarity without regard for current behavior. It does not assume future acts of solidarity. It speaks only to the actions of the present.”

3. ‘Ally’ is Not a Self-Proclaimed Identity

Really, being an ally is not an identity at all, but it’s vitally important that we understand that we cannot simply decide we are allies.

Being in solidarity is something we can strive for, but in the end, it is the choice of those we are attempting to ally ourselves to as to whether they trust us enough to call us an ally.

Additionally, just because one person considers me an ally, that does not mean that every person of that marginalized identity considers me an ally or should!

Trust is something earned through concerted action, not given simply because of our actions in a particular arena or context.

4. Allies Don’t Take Breaks

The thing about oppression is that it is constant.

Those who are oppressed and marginalized in our society do not get to take breaks and respites.

Thus, if you truly want to act in solidarity, you cannot simply retreat into your privilege when you just don’t want to engage.

This is one of the hardest things for me in being an ally.

Sometimes I just don’t have the energy to respond to my super classist uncle or to that racist comment form a Facebook friend.

I don’t want to get into an endless discussion about how they “didn’t mean it that way” or how I’m “just being too PC or sensitive.”

But People of Color have no choice but to resist racism every single day of their lives. Women have no choice but to weather the shit storm of misogyny every day of their lives. Differently abled people have no choice but to deal with and respond to ableism every day of their lives.

And in the end, part of the privilege of your identity is that you have a choice about whether or not to resist oppression.

And falling back into your privilege, especially when you are most needed, is not being in solidarity.

5. Allies Educate Themselves Constantly

Standing in solidarity with a marginalized or oppressed person or people means that we need to know our shit.

We need to educate ourselves about the issues facing those with whom we want to be allied and about the history of said oppression.

One of the most important types of education is listening (see #1), but there are endless resources (books, blogs, media outlets, speakers, YouTube videos, etc.) to help you learn.

What you should not do, though, is expect those with whom you want to ally yourself to teach you.

That is not their responsibility.

Sure, listen to them when they decide to drop some knowledge or perspective, but do not go to them and expect them to explain their oppression for you.

6. You Can’t Be an Ally in Isolation

To a certain degree, it is entirely possible for someone to stand in solidarity with a group of marginalized people even if they have no relationships with said people.

At a surface level, you can support the cause and advocate in your community for equal rights or speak out against oppression.

But solidarity in total isolation lacks one vital thing: accountability.

This is particularly important for people of privilege, but really any person who wants to act in solidarity needs to recognize that allyship cannot exist in isolation.

This is not to say that your “one Black friend” legitimizes all of your actions and self-professed “allyship.”

In fact, some of the most important accountability comes from relationships that are not friendships.

But without a diverse community to engage with and without other activists to hold you accountable, your understanding of “solidarity” can very quickly become paternalism or, worse, outright recreation of oppression.

7. Allies Don’t Need to Be in the Spotlight

I can’t help but acknowledge the irony of my writing this one, as my work literally puts me in the spotlight in some conversations about oppression, but hang with me.

True solidarity means supporting the work of those you’re allying yourself to, not solely creating a platform for your own voice and work.

Sure, your privilege may afford you the spotlight sometimes, and there are times when you can use that spotlight to talk to people who share your identity (see #8), but whenever possible, allies turn that spotlight away from themselves and to the voices that are so often marginalized and ignored.

In my own work, I work hard to ensure that my work is grounded squarely in the scholarship and lived experiences of those with whom I ally myself, and I work hard to share or abdicate the spotlight to those with whom I attempt to act in solidarity whenever possible.

Perhaps I fail more than I succeed in this realm, but it is something I must continue to keep central in my praxis.

8. Allies Focus on Those Who Share Their Identity

As a person who benefits every single day from White privilege, it is not my place to engage People of Color in a discussion about what is or is not racist. That’s not solidarity.

However, I have a very specific responsibility in engaging conversations about racism: talking to other White people.

Beyond listening, arguably the most important thing that I can do to act in solidarity is to engage those who share my identity.

As a man, I have a specific responsibility to engage men in building a more positive masculinity and standing up to misogyny and sexism.

As a White person, I have a responsibility to stand up to racism and work to bring White people into the anti-racist conversation in a way that they can hear and access.

As an able-bodied person, I have a responsibility to call out examples of everyday ableism.

9. When Criticized or Called Out, Allies Listen, Apologize, Act Accountably, and Act Differently Going Forward

The single most important thing I’ve ever been told about being an ally came from a professor of Color who profoundly impacted my life:

“If you choose to do social justice work, you are going to screw up – a lot. Be prepared for that. And when you screw up, be prepared to listen to those who you hurt, apologize with honesty and integrity, work hard to be accountable to them, and make sure you act differently going forward.”

There are few lessons more important for “allies” to understand than this one.

  • When you screw up and damage trust and hurt and anger those you have allied yourself to, listening is important, but it’s not enough.
  • Apologizing earnestly is important, but it’s not enough.
  • Working hard to make sure you are accountable to those you’ve wronged is important, but it’s not enough.
  • In addition to all of these, you have a responsibility to learn from the mistakes you’ve made and to do better going forward.

10. Allies Never Monopolize the Emotional Energy

One of the things that I love about the White Privilege Conference is its commitment to accountable racial caucusing spaces where White folks can meet with other White people, holding them accountable as they process their feelings or learning and where People of Color can process without the intrusiveness of White privilege and oppression.

In my experience, the White caucus can get pretty emotional, but the facilitators are trained and ready to hold people accountable to their privilege and process.

I’ve also heard that the various People of Color caucuses can be pretty emotional, charged with anger and sadness and hope and community.

That space is vital.

Virtually every year, though, there is a White person who doesn’t get the need for these spaces.

A few years back, a White woman burst into one of the People of Color caucuses, throwing herself on the floor, crying, asking for forgiveness, bemoaning her Whiteness and her role in oppression.

And I honestly think this woman would have considered herself an “ally.”

One of the more common and egregious mistakes supposed “allies” can make is to expect emotional energy from those to whom we ally ourselves.

To once again quote McKenzie, “[T]he people who experience racism, misogyny, ableism, queerphobia, transphobia, classism, etc. are exhausted.” 

The last thing they need is our monopolizing of the emotional energy to only further their exhaustion.

Surely allies need emotional support, but it must come form other allies.

Don’t expect marginalized people to do the emotional work for you or feel sorry for you or forgive you.


Solidarity is vitally important to any movement toward social justice, but it also runs the tremendous risk of recreating the very power structures of oppression that it purports to challenge.

Sure, the above list is a start, but as someone striving to work in solidarity, I recognize that I should never have the final word.

So please, what would you add?

What else must we who seek to be allies remember if we hope to advance rather than hold back the struggles for justice?

Want to discuss this further? Login to our online forum and start a post! If you’re not already registered as a forum user, please register first here .

Jamie Utt is a Contributing Writer at Everyday Feminism. He is the Founder and Director of Education at CivilSchools, a comprehensive bullying prevention program, a diversity and inclusion consultant, and sexual violence prevention educator based in Minneapolis, MN. He lives with his loving partner and his funtastic dog. He blogs weekly at Change from Within. Learn more about his work at his website here and follow him on Twitter @utt_jamie . Read his articles here and book him for speaking engagements here .

Would You Rather Have a Gay Child or a Dead Child?

I am sorry if the title of this post shocks you, or strikes you as harsh or over-dramatic. But honestly, parents don’t realize what they’re asking of their LGBTQI kids. And they don’t realize what their rejection is doing to them.

This is not about inclusion. This is a matter of life and death.

By making their children stick to their own expectations and standards for them — whether they really think their gay child is going to hell or honestly are just ashamed of them — parents are asking their kids to change something inherent, something that son or daughter can’t change. No matter how much they pray or plead. It’s just not happening.

And the message that sends is absolutely devastating. It tells our kids (young, teens or adults) that they are broken, not okay, for whatever reason.

It’s plain wrong. And it can be tragic.

The suicide statistics for LGBTQI youth is alarming — 40% of gay youth contemplate suicide, 50% of transgender youth – 4 to 5 times the rate for their straight peers. And gay youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as gay peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.

I have been in dialogue with a close friend about my support and affirmation of gays, and I am heartsick. We are going to meet for coffee, to see if we can find any common ground. She follows Jesus too, so that should be our common ground. But people get disjointed about this, bent out of shape, worked up.

She has already expressed her deep disapproval in me. I am simply loving without condition, which my main job in life (and it’s hers, too!). To even think about meeting with her makes me queasy, but I must speak up for those who deserve to be spoken for.

Just imagine the one who IS gay. How do they feel? Having to discuss this with a family member who doesn’t approve, and other family members, and friends, and church, and society. No wonder this is so hard to walk through. No wonder they feel so alone, because they essentially are so alone.

Family… we are supposed to love and support each other no matter what. If our own family won’t do that, how does that impact our confidence that anyone else can?

Imagine the depth of the shame of a child rejected, condemned, shunned by parents. Or the shame that comes from parents who just “tolerate” their gay child, but the child clearly knows the parents are disgusted by who they are.

And imagine a parent conveying the message that God too is ashamed and disgusted?

Shame is not a good motivator, it’s a horrible motivator that can destroy a person’s heart and spirit. Shame only makes a person feel fundamentally defective, and no one has the right to do that to someone else.

EVERYONE deserves to be treated as a human being. Even people you might disagree with.

I know this can be hard. Please don’t go through it alone. Seek out people to talk to – people who will support and encourage you – people who will affirm, accept and love your gay child, and you too.

I have private Moms groups on social media, Rob has a Dads group. Contact us about those.

I am so proud of you for reading this. It may be the first step in making the decision to err on the side of love, to affirm your child. You may have saved their life.

I promise you that it does get better. The answers will come. Just take the next step, and find someone to take it with you.

I am here if you need me.

We know of way too many families who kicked out, condemned, rejected, shunned and shamed their gay child – in Jesus name, claiming they were speaking for God – and who lost their child to suicide or drug abuse.

Please. Don’t. Just don’t. Don’t drive your child over the edge.

Every one of us would regret that for every single day of the rest of our lives.

Breathe. Love them for who they are. Err on the side of love. Trust God with all the rest.

It’s what they deserve because they are human – and because they are your precious child. No matter what.

Just love. Please.

Talk with your kids about LGBTQI Rights

Our work on LGBT issues spans decades – from an early case challenging the military’s anti-gay policy, Hoffburg v. Alexander, to the monitoring of anti-LGBT hate and extremist groups today. The SPLC is dedicated to defending the rights of the LGBT community. Our current work has a national reach but is primarily focused on the Southeast where relatively few organizations advocate for this community.

Ensuring safe schools is a particular concern. The bullying of LGBT students is a severe, nationwide problem – one made more difficult by the reluctance of many school districts to take strong steps to prevent it. Nearly nine out of 10 LGBT students have experienced harassment, a survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found. Also, a Southern Poverty Law Center analysis of FBI hate crime data found that LGBT people are far more likely to be victims of a violent hate crime than any other minority group in the United States.

The SPLC has worked to ensure safe schools for all students – including LGBT students – through educational campaigns and legal action. Our Teaching Tolerance program released the anti-bullying documentary Bullied in 2010. The free documentary and teaching kit, designed for both classroom use and professional development for educators, tells the story of one student’s landmark effort to stand up to his anti-gay tormentors.

More than 50,000 copies of the film have been distributed across the country – making Bullied the most successful film ever produced by Teaching Tolerance at that time and helping to raise awareness of this serious issue facing LGBT youth.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has also taken legal action to protect LGBT students. This includes litigation against school policy that creates an atmosphere hostile to LGBT students or otherwise isolates these students for harassment. Anti-LGBT policies and actions that infringe on the free expression and privacy rights of LGBT students are another focus of this work. Outside the classroom, the Southern Poverty Law Center focuses on the treatment of LGBT youth in juvenile and foster care facilities.

Other efforts focus on the rights of LGBT adults, including issues involving parenting rights and the treatment of LGBT seniors in nursing homes and other facilities.

What Is Sexual Orientation?

Think back to when you were in junior high or high school and you talked to a cute girl or guy. Did you blush, feel your heart race, or maybe experience those first physical feelings of sexual arousal?

Adolescence is the dawn of sexual attraction. It happens due to the hormonal changes of puberty. These changes involve both the body and the mind — so just thinking about someone attractive can cause physical arousal.

These new feelings can be intense, confusing, sometimes even overwhelming. Teens are beginning to discover what it means to be attracted romantically and physically to others. And recognizing one's sexual orientation is part of that process.

The term sexual orientation refers to the gender (that is, male or female) to which a person is attracted. There are several types of sexual orientation that are commonly described:

  • Heterosexual (straight). People who are heterosexual are romantically and physically attracted to members of the opposite sex: males are attracted to females, and females are attracted to males. Heterosexuals are sometimes called "straight."
  • Homosexual (gay or lesbian). People who are homosexual are romantically and physically attracted to people of the same sex: females are attracted to other females; males are attracted to other males. Homosexuals (whether male or female) are often called "gay." Gay females are also called lesbian.
  • Bisexual. People who are bisexual are romantically and physically attracted to members of both sexes.
  • Transsexual. Transsexual people experience a gender identity that is inconsistent with, or not culturally associated with, their assigned sex, and desire to permanently transition to the gender with which they identify, usually seeking medical assistance to help them align their body with their identified sex or gender.
  • Pansexual
  • Asexual. Asexuality (or nonsexuality) is the lack of sexual attraction to anyone, or low or absent interest in sexual activity. It may be considered the lack of a sexual orientation, or one of the variations thereof, alongside heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality. It may also be an umbrella term used to categorize a broader spectrum of various asexual sub-identities.

Many people identify themselves as having a certain sexual orientation based on who they are attracted to or fall in love with, but this is not always the case. For example, there are some people who have sexual thoughts and experiences with people of the same gender, but who do not consider themselves to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual. And there are people who have sexual thoughts and experiences with people of the other gender but who do not consider themselves to be heterosexual.

There are a couple of more words that you may hear when learning about sexual orientation.

Questioning: A person who is unsure of their sexual orientation. Transgender: A person whose internal feelings of being male or female differ from the sexual anatomy they were born with.

Although transgender refers to a person's sexual identity, not his/her sexual orientation, one often hears about transgender individuals as part of the gay and lesbian community. This is why you may have heard the acronym LGBTIQ, which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Questioning.

Do We Choose Our Orientation?

Being straight, gay, or bisexual is not something that a person can choose or choose to change. In fact, people don't choose their sexual orientation any more than they choose their height or eye color. It is estimated that about 10% of people are gay. Gay people are represented in all walks of life, across all nationalities, ethnic backgrounds, and in all social and economic groups.

No one fully understands exactly what determines a person's sexual orientation, but it is likely explained by a variety of biological and genetic factors. Medical experts and organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Psychological Association (APA) view sexual orientation as part of someone's nature. Being gay is also not considered a mental disorder or abnormality.

Despite myths and misconceptions, there is no evidence that being gay is caused by early childhood experiences, parenting styles, or the way someone is raised.

Efforts to change gay people to straight (sometimes called "conversion therapy") have been proven to be ineffective and can be harmful. Health and mental health professionals caution against any efforts to change a person's sexual orientation.

How Gay Teens Might Feel

Like their straight peers, gay teens may stress about school, grades, college, sports, activities, friends, and fitting in. But in addition, gay and lesbian teens often deal with an extra layer of stress — like whether they have to hide who they are, whether they will be harassed about being gay, or whether they will face stereotypes or judgments if they are honest about who they are.

They often feel different from their friends when the heterosexual people around them start talking about romantic feelings, dating, and sex. For them, it can feel like everyone is expected to be straight. They may feel like they have to pretend to feel things that they don't in order to fit in. They might feel they need to deny who they are or hide an important part of themselves.

Many gay teens worry about whether they will be accepted or rejected by their loved ones, or whether people will feel upset, angry, or disappointed in them. These fears of prejudice, discrimination, rejection, or violence, can lead some teens who aren't straight to keep their sexual orientation secret, even from friends and family who might be supportive.

It can take time for gay teens to process how they feel and to accept this aspect of their own identity before they reveal their sexual orientation to others. Many decide to tell a few accepting, supportive friends and family members about their sexual orientation. This is called coming out.

For most people, coming out takes courage. In some situations, teens who are openly gay may risk facing more harassment than those who haven't revealed their sexual orientation. But many lesbian, gay, and bisexual teens who come out to their friends and families are fully accepted by them and their communities. They feel comfortable and secure about being attracted to people of the same gender. In a recent survey, teens who had come out reported feeling happier and less stressed than those who hadn't.

How Parents Might Feel

Adolescence is a time of transition not just for teens, but for their parents too. Many parents face their adolescent's emerging sexuality with a mix of confusion and apprehension. They may feel completely unprepared for this next stage of parenthood. And if their child is gay, it may bring a whole new set of questions and concerns.

Some are surprised to learn the truth, always having thought their child was straight. Others wonder whether the news is really true and whether their teen is sure. They might wonder if they did something to cause their child to be gay — but they shouldn't. There is no evidence that being gay is the result of the way that someone was raised.

Fortunately, many parents of gay teens understand and are accepting right from the start. They feel they have known all along, even before their teen came out to them. They often feel glad that their child chose to confide in them, and are proud of their child for having the courage to tell them.

Other parents feel upset, disappointed, or unable to accept their teen's sexual orientation at first. They may be concerned or worried about whether their son or daughter will be harassed, mistreated, or marginalized. And they might feel protective, worrying that others might judge or reject their child. Some also struggle to reconcile their teen's sexual orientation with their religious or personal beliefs. Sadly, some react with anger, hostility, or rejection.

But many parents find that they just need time to adjust to the news. That's where support groups and other organizations can help. It can be reassuring for them to learn about openly gay people who lead happy, successful lives.

With time, even parents who thought they couldn't possibly accept their teen's sexual orientation are surprised to find that they can reach a place of understanding.

At What Age Do Kids "Know"?

Knowing one's sexual orientation — whether straight or gay — is often something that kids or teens recognize with little doubt from a very young age. It's an immediate awareness. Some gay teens say they experienced same-sex crushes in childhood, just as their heterosexual peers experienced opposite-sex crushes.

By middle school, as they enter adolescence, many gay teens already recognize their sexual orientation, whether or not they have revealed it to anyone else. Those who didn't realize they were gay at first often say that they always felt different from their peers, but didn't exactly know why.

Becoming aware of — and coming to terms with — one's sexual orientation can take some time. Thinking sexually about both the same sex and the opposite sex is quite common as teens sort through their emerging sexual feelings.

Some teens may experiment with sexual experiences, including those with members of the same sex, as they explore their own sexuality. But these experiences, by themselves, do not necessarily mean that a teen is gay or straight. For many teens, these experiences are simply part of the process of sorting through their emerging sexuality. And despite gender stereotypes, masculine and feminine traits do not necessarily predict whether someone is straight or gay.

Once aware, some gay teens may be quite comfortable and accept their sexuality, while others might find it confusing or difficult to accept.

Beyond He or She

This week's TIME cover story, with exclusive data from GLAAD, explores a change taking hold in American culture. The piece explores how you-do-you young people are questioning the conventions that when it comes to gender and sexuality, there are only two options for each: male or female, gay or straight.

Those aspects of identity — how one sees themselves as a man or woman, for instance, and who they are drawn to physically and romantically — are distinct but undergoing similar sea changes, as teenagers and 20-somethings reject notions of what society has told them about who they are supposed to be.

In a new survey from LGBTQ advocacy organization GLAAD, conducted by Harris Poll, those open minds are reflected in the numbers: 20% of millennials say they are something other that strictly straight and cisgender, compared to 7% of boomers. The people in that group may be be a little sexually curious about people of their own gender or may reject the notion that they have a gender in the first place.

"There have been the generations that have lived by the rules and those generations that break the rules," says GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. Young people today, she says, are "redefining everything."

TIME interviewed dozens of people around the U.S. about their attitudes toward sexuality and gender, from San Francisco to small-town Missouri. Many said they believe that both sexuality and gender are less like a toggle between this-or-that and more like a spectrum that allows for many — even endless — permutations of identity. Some of those young people identified as straight, others as gay, still others as genderqueer, gender fluid, asexual, gender nonconforming and queer. Several said they use the pronoun they rather than he or she to refer to themselves.

This variety of identities is something that people are seeing reflected in the culture at large. Facebook, with its 1 billion users, has about 60 options for users' gender. Dating app Tinder has about 40. Influential celebrities, such as Miley Cyrus (who spoke to TIME for this article), have come out as everything from flexible in their gender to sexually fluid to "mostly straight."

Even young people who don't understand the nuances of gender or sexuality that their peers describe tend to be more accepting of whatever identities they encounter. When market research firm Culture Co-op, which specializes in young Americans' attitudes, asked about 1,000 young people whether they think that Facebook's 60 options for gender are excessive, nearly a third of them responded that they believe this amount is just about right or too few.

Not everyone is on board. LGBTQ people continue to be at risk for harassment and assault at school, as well as for attempting suicide. Many experience family rejection, as well as both peers and adults who question whether their feelings about gender or sexuality are "real."

In state legislatures, lawmakers are meanwhile debating the very meaning of the words sex and gender in debates over so-called "bathroom bills.” Lawsuits alleging that sexual orientation and gender identity are covered under bans on sex discrimination are fleshing out the meaning of that word too. But it is clear that for many people these binaries are bedrocks they will fight to defend.

"It’s not easy when we talk about these issues. Cisgender. Transgender. How many genders are there? Are we created man and woman? Or do we internalize something different?" a Texas lawmaker recently asked while defending a bill that would require people to use bathrooms that match the sex on their birth certificate. "I think the god I believe in, the cross I wear today," she added at another hearing on the bill, "said there was man and woman."

But many experts say that language is more limited than the sum of human experience and that words are important for people in the throes of self-discovery, whether they feel they belong in these binaries or beyond them.Young people "are not just saying ‘Screw you,’” says Ritch Savin-Williams, a professor emeritus of psychology at Cornell University who studies sexual behavior. Their embrace of a vast array of identities “says, ‘Your terms, what you’re trying to do, does not reflect my reality or the reality of my friends.”

Educators Shouldn’t Face Pushback for Displaying LGBTQ-Affirming Signs of Support. Here’s Why

Educators across the country are reporting pushback for displaying LGBTQ-supportive materials, such as GLSEN’s Safe Space Sticker, in their classrooms. It is important that this be addressed, and that everyone involved in the school community--from administrators to family members--understand the importance of these seemingly small symbols of support.

GLSEN’s Safe Space Kit materials have been curated to equip educators with the information and resources they need in order to best support and understand LGBTQ students in their schools. The posters and stickers within the kit specifically aim to increase educators’ capacity to be a visible ally and support to LGBTQ students on an interpersonal level. In the Safe Space Kit guide, educators are reminded, “One of the most important parts of being an ally to LGBTQ students is making yourself known as an ally. In order to come to you for help, students need to be able to recognize you as an ally.”

According to GLSEN’s latest National School Climate Survey, which reports on the experiences of LGBTQ young people in schools, nearly 9 in 10 LGBTQ students were harassed or assaulted at school. Allies can play a critical role in identifying the bullying and exclusion of LGBTQ students, and some of the most important allies are educators. Holding the dual position of controlling classroom environments, and often having a voice to advocate on LGBTQ students’ behalf to school administration, educators maintain an invaluable role in creating positive learning environments. They are also the direct actors in implementing LGBTQ content in class curricula or serving as a faculty advisor for students to formally organize supportive groups on campus.

One of the most integral parts of educators acting as allies is making themselves known as allies. GLSEN’s research shows that, even if students do not approach publicly allied teachers, just knowing that they have them as a support system in the school can have positive educational outcomes for LGBTQ students. When educators display LGBTQ-affirming stickers or posters in their classrooms, there are a variety of positive effects for LGBTQ students. Our research shows that students who had seen a Safe Space sticker or poster in their school were more likely to identify school staff who were supportive of LGBTQ students and more likely to feel comfortable talking with school staff about LGBTQ issues. Having supportive staff is a tremendous support for LGBTQ youth.

Looking at students with 11 or more supportive staff members, versus those without any supportive staff members, students with this level of support were less likely to feel unsafe (40.6% vs. 78.7%), less likely to miss school because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable (16.9% vs. 47.2%), had higher GPAs (3.3 vs. 2.8), and were less likely to say they might not graduate high school (1.7% vs. 9.5%). Overall, students who had supportive staff by their side reported higher perceptions of safety and overall academic performance, creating a better school environment for all.

In order for these students to feel safer in our schools and reach their full potential, they need to know that we see and support them in their entirety. Allowing educators to be visible in their allyship towards LGBTQ students is an imperative support to ensure that all students have an affirming learning environment. Bringing GLSEN’s Safe Space Stickers to schools is just the first step in establishing trust with students, letting them know that educators are there for them, and that they belong.

How to Talk to Your Kid About Sexuality

Whether your kids have seen TV shows with gay or lesbian characters, met a bisexual student in math class or just heard the word "gay" on the playground, chances are they have questions about sexual orientation – even if they don't tell you about them. Your child might also be questioning her own sexuality, and no matter what the situation, having an open and honest dialogue with your child about sexuality is an important part of good parent-child communication.

In 2009 the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 581,000 same-sex couples lived in the United States, and about 18 percent of them were raising children. (The Human Rights Campaign says there are no reliable estimates of how many Americans identify as transgender.) And some studies show that on average, kids first figure out that they're gay, lesbian or bisexual between the ages of 8 and 11.

Experts say this means parents should be talking with their children from an early age about what it means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Not only will it prepare them for meeting people who identify this way, but it will set the foundation for your kids to treat everyone with equality and respect.

This doesn't mean you have to launch into a long, awkward talk with your kids about sexual orientation and identity. Dr. Joe Kort, a therapist who teaches gay and lesbian studies at Wayne State University, says it's best to keep these conversations simple – especially if your kids are young. You might just want to say, "Sometimes boys love boys, and sometimes girls love girls," or "Some people are born one gender, but they feel like they're another gender."

Before you educate your children about matters of sexual identity and orientation, it's best to educate yourself, says Carolyn Laub, executive director of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network. She says the nationwide group Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays is a great resource.

Kort, who is gay, says he and his partner spend a lot of time with four nieces and nephews who are 14 and younger. While the kids sometimes have questions about Kort's life, he says, being around a gay couple is normal for them.

"They never saw it as something sexual," he says. "They saw it as something romantic." One of Kort's associates, therapist Kelli Weller, advises talking to kids in terms of families and people who love each other, which is easy for children to understand. That's the approach she and her female partner take with their 8-year-old twins.

"What we say is that there's all kinds of families. Some families have two moms, and some families have just a grandma," Weller says. "There isn't any need to get into the mechanics of it all."

She adds that these talks shouldn't be extensive discussions, but instead, should be addressed in everyday conversation – just like you'd talk about people of different races and religions. And Kort says to be truthful, rather than saying two women or men in a romantic relationship are just friends or roommates. Answer your kids' questions honestly and in an age-appropriate way.

"How would you answer those same questions if your child was asking them about a heterosexual couple?" Laub adds.

If your kids are older, she says, keep in mind that late elementary and middle school is when children are most likely to be bullied. This is a particularly trying time for children who are questioning their sexuality or have figured out that they're not heterosexual – which became clear when headlines about gay kids' suicides filled the news in 2010. And Laub says bullying isn't just hurtful to its targets, but also to those who witness it. That's why it's important to talk to your children about bullying and how kids are treated at school. If your child brings up the fact that a classmate is gay, she says, ask your child how other students and teachers treat that classmate. If you hear about a child being bullied, Laub says, contact the school.

It might also help to role-play with your child about what to do if someone teases a classmate about sexual orientation or uses the term "That's so gay" as an insult. "That's mean to say that," Laub says kids might respond. "Do you really mean that's gay, or do you mean that's stupid?"

Besides the importance of raising children who respect others, Laub says, urging an inclusive attitude is key if your own kids end up questioning their sexuality. She knows many teens who, before coming out to their parents, tested them by gauging their reactions to gay characters on TV or religious leaders' remarks on same-sex relationships. If this is the case, Laub says, your kids need to see you as an ally who will love them for the unique, special people they are.

Why It's Important to Talk about Sexual Orientation

Over the past month, we have all been saddened by the tragic deaths resulting from youth being bullied about sexual orientation or after their sexual orientation was used to humiliate. Some of these children were as young as 10 and 11. Please remember that talking about sexual orientation is much more often talking about who you love than talking about how you love. Many parents enter into conversations with children with their adult perspective when all most children are looking for are simple answers and confirmation of observations.

Whether or not you talk with your kids about sexual orientation, young people receive messages about this topic from various sources including their peers, the media, and the internet. As parents and caregivers, you have a crucial role in dispelling myths, challenging stereotypes, and expressing the idea that everyone deserves respect regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. suggests the following age appropriate concepts for discussions with children about sexual orientation.

Messages for Young People Age Five through Eight:

Human beings can love people of the same gender and people of the other gender.

There are men and women who are heterosexual, which means they can be attracted to and fall in love with someone of the other gender.

There are men and women who are homosexual, which means they can be attracted to and fall in love with someone of the same gender.

Homosexual men and women are also known as gay men and lesbian women.

People deserve respect regardless of their sexual orientation.

Making fun of people by calling them gay (e.g. homo, fag, queer) is disrespectful and hurtful.

Messages for Young People Age Nine through 12:

Sexual orientation is a person's physical, emotional, and/or spiritual attraction to an individual of the same and/or opposite gender.

There are men and women who are bisexual, which means they can be attracted to and fall in love with people of either gender.

Sexual orientation is one part of who we are.

Gay men, lesbian women, bisexuals, and heterosexuals are alike in most ways.

The origin of people's sexual orientation is not known.

Some people are afraid to share that they are gay, lesbian, or bisexual because they fear they will be mistreated.

Gay, lesbian, or bisexual people's relationships can be as fulfilling as heterosexual people's relationships.

Gay men, lesbian women, and bisexual people can adopt children or have their own children.

If you or someone you know is being teased about being gay or lesbian, it is important to tell a trusted adult.

Messages for Young People Age 12 through 15:

Every culture and society has people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual.

People do not choose their sexual orientation.

Understanding one's sexual orientation can be an evolving process.

There are many theories about what determines sexual orientation including genetics, prenatal and socio-cultural influences, psychosocial factors, and a combination of all these.

Many scientific theories have concluded that sexual orientation cannot be changed by therapy or medicine.

„Having discussions about sexual orientation can be difficult for some people.

Teenagers who have questions about their sexual orientation should consult a trusted and knowledgeable adult.

People's beliefs about sexual orientation are based on their religious, cultural, and family values.

When a gay, lesbian, or bisexual person tells another person his/her sexual orientation, it is known as "coming out."

Sometimes one's sexual orientation is disclosed without his/her consent. This is known as being "outed."

Coming out or being outed can be difficult because people may fear or experience negative reactions.

People who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual engage in many of the same sexual behaviors as heterosexual people.

There are young people who have sexual thoughts and experiences with people of the same gender, but do not consider themselves to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

There are young people who have sexual thoughts and experiences with people of the other gender, but do not consider themselves to be heterosexual.

Gay men, lesbian women, bisexuals, and heterosexuals can establish lifelong committed relationships.

„Marriage between two people of the same gender is currently being debated in the United States.

There are organizations that offer support services, hotlines, and resources for young people who want to talk about sexual orientation.

If you or someone you know is being teased about being gay or lesbian, it is important to tell a trusted adult.

Why Some People Never Want To Have Sex

You may very well know someone who is asexual. As a new and emerging sexual orientation, asexuals are still looking for acceptance in a society that can be seen as a little sex-crazed.

Society as a whole knows very little about asexuality. There's not a lot of information about this type of sexual orientation so it has become largely misunderstood. In the most basic sense, asexual people are not sexually attracted to either gender, male or female, and have almost no interest in sexual activity. As asexual writer Julia Decker explains in an article for Time in reference to her sexual encounters, "all my experiences were exactly what I'd expected: at best tolerable, at worst uncomfortable. Never enjoyable, never exciting, never intriguing enough to make me want more."

Many asexuals first notice they are different during adolescence when their peers begin to express interest in sex and they don't find themselves experiencing similar feelings. At first they might feel like something is wrong with them before ultimately realizing this is just the way they are. Although it is a small percentage of people, asexuals exist all over the world and have been around for a long time. The growth of the internet as a communication tool has allowed them to connect and form a community for the first time, helping them gain recognition and acceptance.

Just like discussions on the cause of homosexuality, and sexuality in general, it is not fully known why asexuality exists. Is it a genetic issue, a psychological issue, or environmental factors? It is known, however, that asexuality is not a disorder. An asexual person has nothing inherently wrong with them, and any distress they feel is usually imposed by society's naivete. Asexuals often lead very happy, normal lives, with the absence of sexual activity.

23 most friendly LDBTQ Uniersities 2015/16

Eight factors contributing to an overall LGBTQ-friendly college eenvironment: Policy inclusion, support & instructional commitment, camppus safety, counseling & health, academic life, student life, housing, recruitment and retention efforts.

Catholic Church's Influence On Gay Marriage Waning

Frank Ferri made peace with God years ago. Last month, Ferri defeated the Roman Catholic Church.

(The Roman Catholic Church is finally growing out of another of its levels of bigotry - LGBT.)

The openly gay state representative led the fight to legalize same-sex marriage in what may be the most Catholic state in the nation's most Catholic region.

In early May, Rhode Island became the sixth and final New England state to allow gay couples to marry. The Democratic-dominated Legislature, led by an openly gay House speaker, overcame years of successful lobbying by the Catholic Church.

"They put the fear of God into people," Ferri said, claiming that "the influence of the church" had been the primary stumbling block as every other neighboring state, and many people across the country, started embracing gay marriage.

Ferri's victory marked the Catholic Church's most significant political defeat in an area where more than 40 percent of the population is Catholic.

Perhaps more problematic for the church is that state-by-state setbacks on gay marriage illustrate a widening divide between the church hierarchy and its members that may be undermining Catholic influence in American politics.

The disconnect plays out in polling.

In March, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that a majority of Catholics, 60 percent, felt the church was out of touch with the views of Catholics in America today.

A CBS News/New York Times poll in February found that 78 percent of Catholics said they were more likely to follow their own conscience than the church's teachings on difficult moral questions.

That poll highlighted several areas where most Catholics break with church teachings: 62 percent of American Catholics think same-sex marriages should be legal, 74 percent think abortion ought to be available in at least some instances and 61 percent favor the death penalty.

At Vatican, newly selected Pope Francis, while a bishop in Argentina, angered other church leaders by supporting civil unions for gay couples ahead of that country's vote to legalize gay marriage.

He has taken no such position as pope.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a member of one of the most storied Catholic families in American politics, says she's encouraged by Francis' early leadership. But she says the church's political influence will continue to wane unless it adapts.

"Gay marriage is part of a larger refusal on the part of the church to listen to, and to understand, the people in the pews," said Townsend, who regularly attends church and wrote the book, "Failing America's Faithful: How Today's Churches Are Mixing God With Politics and Losing Their Way."

Church officials in Washington, Boston and Providence declined to be interviewed for this report.

The church for decades has employed aggressive lobbying efforts on a range of political issues, and Catholic leaders have used the power of the pulpit and substantial financial resources to maintain clout. At times they've gone so far as to tell leading Catholic lawmakers they were not welcome to receive Communion if they opposed church teachings on matter such as abortion and gay marriage.

These days, the church remains active in political battles over abortion, President Barack Obama's health care law, poverty and immigration. But the church had little success influencing the gay marriage debate here and elsewhere.

In many statehouses, the church relies on lobbying consortiums made up of lay people, known as Catholic conferences, to influence state policy, aided by donations from dioceses across the country.

In Washington, the church's primary voice is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which had an annual budget last year of $26.6 million, according to the Pew Forum of Religion and Public Life.

"They've certainly been players at the national level," said Mark Silk, the director of Trinity College's Leonard Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life.

He noted that the church has been most successful in recent years by building alliances with other religious lobbies, including evangelicals, to help shape public policy such as the contraception provision in the president's health care law. Religious leaders have successfully pushed to tighten abortion laws in some states.

Thirty states have adopted constitutional provisions limiting marriage to a man and a woman, although that's mostly in the South and West where there are fewer Catholics.

Silk suggested that some Catholic leaders in the United States may be eroding their influence by "jumping up and down" to fight gay marriage despite strong public support.

As American attitudes rapidly shifted in favor of legalized same-sex marriage in recent months, the archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone, likened gay marriage to male breastfeeding and denounced Rhode Island's vote as violating "the very design of nature."

In Minnesota, Catholic leaders spent nearly $1 million last year to support a ballot measure banning gay marriage. The year before, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis produced and distributed 400,000 copies of a DVD in which Archbishop John C. Nienstedt called same-sex marriage, at best, "an untested social experiment."

Thousands of Minnesota Catholics returned the DVDs in protest. Last month, the state Legislature voted to legalize gay marriage, making Minnesota the 12th state to do so.

In Providence, the Rev. Bernard Healey led the lobbying effort to counter legalization attempts. The Catholic priest is well-known at the Rhode Island Capitol.

In late April, before the final gay marriage vote, Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin warned Rhode Island lawmakers: "It is only with grave risk to our spiritual well-being and the common good of our society that we dare to redefine what God himself has created."

The Legislature overwhelmingly voted days later to support same-sex marriage.

That led Tobin to condemn "immoral or destructive behavior" and say that Catholics should "examine their consciences very carefully" before deciding whether to attend gay marriage ceremonies, "realizing that to do so might harm their relationship with God and cause significant scandal to others."

As for Ferri, he said he's at peace with God, regardless of the warnings of the church. A faithful member of his church choir for decades, he recalled sitting alone at the altar while struggling with his homosexuality years ago.

"I got a message from God: `You're going to be OK. Be who you are,'" he said during a recent interview in his small office in the Statehouse.

Noting that a church lobbyist would be pushing abortion-related legislation later that day, Ferri said the Catholic Church will always have some political influence in Rhode Island.

"They just picked the wrong battle this time. And I think it hurt them," he said.

This Queer Christian Activist Has A Message For Her Trolls

“History shows that people can do terrible things when they feel like God is on their side and they have the moral upper hand.”

Since coming out publicly in 2014, Vicky Beeching has worked hard to create spaces for queer Christians online and in the church.

Beeching, a Christian singer and activist based in London, says she often uses social media to reach out to young queer Christians. She views using platforms like Facebook and Twitter as part of her ministry.

But in the course of her advocacy, she has often received hateful messages from anti-queer trolls. About 90 percent of the vitriol she gets online and offline comes from other self-identified Christians.

It was all par for the course until this Wednesday, when she realized a meme featuring a photo of her had gone viral. After seeing that image, Beeching decided that she had to take a break from social media.

The post that pushed her over the edge featured homophobic rhetoric and weaponized an often misunderstood verse from the Bible to question Beeching’s Christianity.

She posted a screenshot of the meme on her Twitter feed on Wednesday.

When anti-gay material with your face on it gets shared almost 20,000 times, you know society still has a long way to go towards equality.

To date, the post has been shared close to 20,000 times ? a number that caught Beeching off guard.

Beeching said she also got a seven page handwritten letter telling her to “repent from the sin of lesbianism.”

"I mean, who has time to hand-write SEVEN pages?! They contain "prayers of repentance" for me to "pray daily" to "save myself from hell". ??"

Beeching said that it’s saddened her that much of the criticism she’s gotten has come from inside the church.

“The sad thing is that these Christians believe they are acting out of love - that they are defending what the Bible teaches. So they genuinely don’t think they’re doing anything wrong. They don’t see it as hatred or homophobia ? they see it as standing up for God’s truth,” Beeching wrote in an email to The Huffington Post. “And history shows that people can do terrible things when they feel like God is on their side and they have the moral upper hand.”

After clicking through a few of the Facebook profiles of people who shared the meme, Beeching decided it was time to practice self care and take a break from social media.

"Made the mistake of going on too many Facebook profiles who shared that 20,000 x meme. Wish I could un-read many things they said about me."

"Curiosity killed the cat. Or at least killed my tolerance for homophobia & personal derogatory remarks about my life, sexuality & character."


"I think a little break from social media will be the best thing for me. This vitriol's gone on since 2014 & occasionally it just gets to me."

Beeching told HuffPost that she is a big believer in the power of social media. She’s been active on both Twitter and Facebook for years, and has never stepped away before.

She doesn’t plan to stay away for too long, however ? one month, at the most.

“There’s a lot of people online who reach out to me for support - LGBT people who feel very isolated and need help - so I don’t want to miss the chance to be able to help them. I don’t want the trolls to feel like they have won,” she said.

Beeching added that she’s received messages of kindness and support that have helped balance out the negativity. She hopes coming forward with her story can help the church see how damaging homophobia can be, both online and offline.

“My main concern are the young LGBT people who are told they can’t be gay and Christian,” Beeching wrote.

“I’m resilient enough to cope with this kind of nastiness, but many of them aren’t. So for their sake, I hope the church hears a wake up call to act.”


Not just Gay, Bi or Straight

Not XX and not XY

one in 1,666 births

Klinefelter (XXY)

one in 1,000 births

Androgen insensitivity syndrome

one in 13,000 births

Partial androgen insensitivity syndrome

one in 130,000 births

Classical congenital adrenal hyperplasia

one in 13,000 births

Late onset adrenal hyperplasia

one in 66 individuals

Vaginal agenesis

one in 6,000 births


one in 83,000 births

Idiopathic (no discernable medical cause)

one in 110,000 births

Iatrogenic (caused by medical treatment, for instance progestin administered to pregnant mother)

no estimate

5 alpha reductase deficiency

no estimate

Mixed gonadal dysgenesis

no estimate

Complete gonadal dysgenesis

one in 150,000 births

Hypospadias (urethral opening in perineum or along penile shaft)

one in 2,000 births

Hypospadias (urethral opening between corona and tip of glans penis)

one in 770 births

Total number of people whose bodies differ from standard male or female

one in 100 births

Total number of people receiving surgery to “normalize” genital appearance

one or two in 1,000 births

Source: Comprehensive List of LGBATQQI + Term Definitions

Dozens of anti-LGBTQ state bills already proposed in 2020, advocates warn

Many of the bills focus on transgender youth, including legislation in South Dakota that would make it a felony to provide trans health care to minors.

Like most high school students, Aerin Geary does not typically pay attention to state legislation. However, the South Dakota teenager has been closely following House Bill 1057, a Republican proposal that would make it a felony for medical professionals to provide transgender health care to minors.

“This bill makes me feel scared, since this is something that affects me deeply,” Geary, 15, who identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, told NBC News. “Transitioning is something that I've been hoping to get and been yearning for for years.

The high school sophomore is afraid that if the legislation passes, plans to take puberty-suppressing medication will be delayed indefinitely.

“I recently managed to convince my family to allow me to start transitioning, and I'm so close to getting there,” Geary said. “To take it away from me when I'm so close would be a huge blow to my hope.”

HB 1057, which successfully passed out of committee on Wednesday, would make providing certain forms of gender-affirming medical care to minors — including the prescription of puberty blockers — a Class Four felony, which in South Dakota carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. Proponents say the bill is needed to protect children from rushing into a “life-changing” decision, while critics say it interferes with the doctor-patient relationship and could cause physical and psychological harm to trans youth.

South Dakota’s trans health care bill is not the only state legislation that has lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer advocates sounding the alarm. In fact, they say it’s just one of at least 25 anti-LGBTQ bills that have been proposed so far in 2020.

Many of the bills, like South Dakota’s, focus on transgender youth, but a number of others deal with nondiscrimination protections and religious exemptions. Chase Strangio, deputy director of the ACLU’s LGBT and HIV Project, called this legislative session “one of the most hostile” for LGBTQ people in recent years.

Trans youth and health care

Bills seeking to limit transgender health care for minors have been introduced in at least seven states this month — all by Republican lawmakers.

Like South Dakota, Florida and Colorado have introduced bills that carry criminal penalties. The "Vulnerable Child Protection Act," one of four bills proposed in Florida last week that have been opposed by LGBTQ advocates, would make providing certain medical care or treatments to transgender minors — including nonsurgical care, like hormone therapy — a second-degree felony. Medical practitioners could face up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Bills introduced in Illinois, Oklahoma and South Carolina would impose professional penalties — including the loss of a medical license — on those who provide trans health care to minors. In Missouri, proposed legislation combines professional penalties for medical care providers with penalties for parents or guardians of transgender minors, including a requirement that they be reported to child services. A proposal introduced in New Hampshire last year, which is still being considered, would add “sexual reassignment” to the definition of child abuse in the state’s Child Protection Act.

A sudden interruption in health care, according to transgender advocates and health experts, could precipitate physical and mental health crises among trans youth.

“Gender-affirming medical care for transgender and gender-diverse minors is life-saving,” said Dr. Alex Keuroghlian, director of both the Fenway Institute’s National LGBT Health Education Center and Massachusetts General Hospital’s Psychiatry Gender Identity Program.

Keuroghlian, a physician, said comprehensive gender-affirming medical care has been the accepted best practice for the American Academy of Pediatrics since 2018.

There is a 40 percent lifetime suicide-attempt prevalence among transgender adults, but most of those attempts occur before the age of 25, Keuroghlian said. In fact, a study Keuroghlian co-wrote that appears in this month's issue of the journal “Pediatrics” found that transgender adults who had access to puberty-suppressing medication during their adolescence had lower odds of experiencing suicidal thoughts than those who wanted treatment but could not access it.

Geary, who hopes to start taking puberty blockers soon, said they are disappointed in state lawmakers, like those in South Dakota, who are seeking to limit access to this type of treatment.

“I think they have our best interests at heart, but don't understand the issue,” Geary said. “Transitioning saves our lives. Hope saves our lives. Taking that hope away is the detriment to our he

“This is a devastating bill,” they added. “My hope now is that it dies before it kills.”

Transgender youth and sports

Bills introduced by Republicans in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Washington propose prohibiting transgender student athletes from participating in gender-segregated sports in a way that’s consistent with their gender identity. These bills would override state athletic association policies, which generally govern athletic participation.

In Alabama, for example, Rep. Chris Pringle, whose district includes parts of Mobile, introduced the Gender Is Real Legislative (GIRL) Act, which would ban K-12 public schools from participating in athletic events where “athletes are allowed to participate in competition against athletes who are of a different biological gender, unless the event specifically includes both biological genders.” A similar bill has been introduced in Tennessee.

New Hampshire’s House Bill 1251 imposes restrictions only on girls' sports, requiring that primary and secondary schools limit girls' sports teams to students “of the female sex.”

Strangio of the ACLU said in addition to the “serious harm” — both psychological and physical — caused by these athletic proposals, bills like New Hampshire’s involve an unreasonable invasion of privacy. HB 1251, for example, specifies that in the event of a dispute over an athlete’s eligibility, she could “prove that she is of the female sex by presenting a signed physician’s statement” with information about her “internal and external reproductive anatomy,” her “naturally occurring level of testosterone” and an “analysis” of her “chromosomes.”

In Kentucky, legislators have proposd a bill that would allow students to sue their school if bathroom and locker room access is not restricted to sex assigned at birth. Strangio said different versions of this bill have been introduced in various states since 2016.

On the likelihood of these sports-related bills becoming law, Strangio said, “We don't know what’s going to move and where.” However, he added, “Just the fact that they have been introduced and the extent of the rhetoric is itself a harm.”

In addition to sports, advocates are also watching bills that would affect transgender students in other ways. Lawmakers in Arizona are considering House Bill 2082, a proposal that would require public school teachers to use the pronoun associated with the sex listed on a child’s birth certificate. Another bill, House Bill 2361, would require sex education to “emphasize biological sex and not gender identities.”

Religious exemptions

Lawmakers in several states have introduced legislation that would provide religious exemptions to publicly funded adoption agencies and health care providers, allowing them to deny services to LGBTQ patients and prospective parents.

In Kentucky, for example, Senate Bill 90 would allow all nonemergency health care providers to decline to perform procedures that violate their “religious, moral, ethical or philosophical beliefs.” In neighboring Missouri, Republican legislators introduced House Bill 2043, or the Adoption Protection Act, this month. The proposal would allow child placement agencies that receive taxpayer dollars to refuse to place children in a home if the household “violates such agency’s sincerely held religious beliefs.”

In Tennessee, the state’s Republican governor, Bill Lee, said last week that he would sign a recently passed bill that would permit adoption agencies to refuse to work with families if doing so would “violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.” This means that agencies could potentially turn away same-sex parents looking to adopt or foster a child.

Ten states now permit state-licensed welfare agencies to refuse to place children with LGBTQ individuals and same-sex couples if doing so conflicts with the agency’s religious or moral beliefs. While North Dakota’s law goes back to 2003 and Virginia’s to 2012, eight of these states have passed such laws since the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015. These states include Michigan, Mississippi, South Dakota, Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and South Carolina.

Nondiscrimination protections

After last year’s House passage of the Equality Act — a measure that would modify existing federal civil rights law to add protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity — at least two states introduced bills taking aim at existing local nondiscrimination protections. These bills would prohibit cities and municipalities from developing their own nondiscrimination policies.

In Florida, House Bill 305 would repeal municipal and county ordinances protecting LGBTQ workers. If passed, the legislation would, for example, nullify Miami’s LGBTQ employment protections.

In West Virginia, lawmakers have introduced a broad pre-emption bill to prevent local ordinances from extending nondiscrimination protections, including to LGBTQ people.

Pro-LGBTQ state legislation

While this month has seen an onslaught of state bills at odds with policies supported by LGBTQ advocates, there have been a number of pro-LGBTQ measures introduced at the state level.

The Virginia Values Act, for example, would add LGBTQ people to existing nondiscrimination laws in Virginia in public employment and housing. The act would also expand nondiscrimination protections to all protected classes, including LGBTQ people, in private employment and public accommodations. The incoming House speaker, Democrat Eileen Filler-Corn, has promised to pass the legislation.

Earlier this week, New Jersey became the ninth state to ban the so-called gay and transgender panic defenses, joining joining Hawaii, California, Nevada, Illinois, New York, Connecticut, Maine and Rhode Island in barring the controversial legal strategy. New Jersey, along with Illinois, is also rolling out an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum in public schools this year.

Utah on Tuesday became the 19th state to ban gay conversion therapy, a discredited practice that seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation. Advocates expect this trend to continue in 2020, with legislation introduced in Kentucky this month.