Data suggest that progress is most feasible in these key states.

A poll from early this month showed that a majority of people in every state favored non-discrimination laws protecting the LGBT community. This support, however, is not reflected in state law.

Twenty-nine states allow employers or landlords to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. At the federal level, Congress has recently proposed the Equality Act, which would extend civil rights to the LGBT community. But with a conservative Senate, few are optimistic that the bill will pass Congress, let alone the Commander in Chief.

While waiting on any kind of federal protection, there is plenty of progress to be made on the state level. Numbers show that some states need only a small nudge to make these protections a reality.

Anti-discrimination laws

Here is a link to the Jupyter notebooks where the data were cleaned and manipulated.

In the map below, I’ve highlighted the states that lack LGBT anti-discrimination laws. I’ve applied a simple heuristic* that combines two questions: What percentage of the state’s legislature is controlled by Democrats? And what percentage of the state’s population approves of these anti-discrimination laws? Polling data is pulled from PRRI and legal data is taken from the HRC.

(s.o. refers to protections for “sexual orientation”, g.i. for “gender identity”)

As with any heuristic, I am required to make a few naïve assumptions: (1) that the proportion of Democrats in power reflects the state’s willingness to pass a bill on this increasingly non-partisan issue, (2) that state legislators are responsive to their constituents, and (3) that by weighing these two factors equally, we can get a sense of whether a bill could be passed. Nevertheless, with that in mind, the heuristic offers clear outliers.

Top five states with the potential to improve their LGBT anti-discrimination laws

Despite the Democratic minority, a large number of people in these states support LGBT anti-discrimination laws. Montana introduced an LGBT rights bill in late February that’s being debated—72 percent of Montanans support the bill. For comparison, 73 percent of Californians are in favor of these protections.

Other LGBT protections

The same heuristic can be applied to any other LGBT issue. Conversion therapy on minors, for example, is still legal in some states where Democrats have control of a state’s House, Senate, and governorship.

Top five states with the potential to pass laws banning conversion therapy for minors

Making the unsophisticated assumption that approval for anti-discrimination laws are linearly correlated to approval for banning conversion therapy on minors, we can build a new map.**

Colorado and Maine have total Democratic control, and Massachusetts’s legislature has a supermajority to override their Republican governor. Since the 2018 election, there’s little stopping these states from enacting a conversion therapy ban on minors.

Progress is feasible, but not inevitable

A majority of people in your state support anti-discrimination laws, and this isn’t a heavily partisan issue. Consider calling your state’s Congress. State-level legislation isn’t flashy, but can provide the necessary momentum for federal change.


*Heuristic details: “Democratic control” and “Public support” factors are each rated 0–1 and averaged to make the final index. “Public support” is normalized polling data, and “Democratic control” is a normalized average of the Democratic proportion of each state’s house, senate, and governorship. (Nebraska has a non-partisan, single body legislature that is largely conservative; for simplicity, I’ve marked them as 0% Democratic. Alaska has a coalition system. I’ve assigned it 37.5 percent Democratic.)

**I could not find a state-by-state poll concerning conversion therapy bans. Suggestions for improvement are welcome.


Do you have questions? Did I make a mistake? Rainbow gear? RuPaul? Feel free to contact me. Find more projects on my website.

Kevin McElwee 🏳️‍🌈

Written by

Machine learning engineer and data journalist in DC. Learn about me and my projects at kevinrmcelwee.ml

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