St. Patrick's Day Parades Exclude Gay People: 5 LGBT Discriminations That Are Still Legal

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last month that he'll be boycotting the St. Patrick's Day Parade in his city due to the parade's longstanding exclusion of LGBT groups, and now, he's got company. Last Thursday, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced that he won't be partaking in the parade unless it allows a group of gay veterans to march alongside the rest of the participants. But the parade organizers don't seem like they're going to budge, and neither does Walsh.

"It's 2014. It's far beyond the time where we should be even having this discussion, because they're veterans who fought for this country, just like any other veteran," Walsh said. "I made a commitment during the campaign ... that I would fight for equality, and that's what this is all about."

In the last year, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of marriage equality, public support for equal marriage rights has reached a record high, and individual states have been striking down gay marriage bans so quickly that it’s getting difficult to keep track. While all of this is great news for equality, civil liberties — and basic human decency — it also inadvertently masks the fact that LGBT Americans still face tons of discrimination in numerous realms unrelated to marriage. If the goal is to achieve full equality for all Americans, we’ve still got a lot of work to do.

Employment

In 29 states, it’s legal for employers to discriminate against workers based on their sexual orientation; in four additional states, discrimination based on gender identity is permitted as well. Every year for the past 20 years, Congress has introduced the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which offers federal workplace protections for most* LGBT Americans. Every year, it hasn’t become law, and because of this, it’s still legal for employers to fire employees because they’re gay, demote employees because they’re trans, or discriminate against LGBT workers in any number of other ways they see fit.

In 2013, the Senate passed ENDA, and while this was certainly historic, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives didn’t even consider it on the floor — yet another reminder why voting in midterms is really, really important.

Donating Blood

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Thanks to the Federal Drug Administration, a wide group of willing blood donors are banned from ever giving blood —specifically, every man who’s had sex with another man since 1977. The rule is based on statistics showing higher rates of HIV infection in gay men than the population at large.

Never mind that donated blood is tested for HIV anyway regardless of who gives it, or that the American Medical Association opposes the ban; the fact is, there are plenty of other groups with higher-than-average rates of HIV infection that aren’t banned from giving blood. Black women, for example, are 18 times more likely than white women to have HIV. The point, of course, isn’t that black women should be banned from becoming blood donors; it’s that disqualifying potential blood donors based on group membership is both immoral and ineffective. Slate’s William Saletan explains the issue succinctly:

Maybe you fooled around with a guy 30 years ago and have spent the rest of your life as a celibate priest. Maybe you've been in a faithful same-sex marriage for 40 years. Maybe you've passed an HIV test. It doesn't matter. You can't give blood, because you're in the wrong "group." On the other hand, if you're in the right group—heterosexuals—you can give blood despite dangerous behavior. If you had sex with a prostitute, an IV drug user, and an HIV-positive opposite-sex partner 13 months ago, you're good to go.

The consequence is twofold: Gay people who’d like to do something charitable and altruistic are banned from doing so, and people in desperate need of clean blood are deprived of it. It’s lose-lose for everybody involved.

Schools

The federal government bans discrimination in schools based on gender or race — but says nothing about sexual orientation or gender identity. As a result, LGBT schoolchildren face all of the same risks of inferior treatment that LGBT workers do: school administrators can segregate them from other students, out them to their parents, or ban from using the bathrooms of their choice and be in full compliance of federal law.

In 2011, Senator Al Franken introduced the Student Non-Discrimination ACT (SNDA), which would have afforded protections to LGBT students. Jared Polis introduced companion legislation in the House, but both pieces of legislation died in committee.

If there’s any encouraging news on this fronts, it’s that several recent lawsuits on behalf of LGBT kids who’ve been discriminated against at school have been successful.

Boy Scouts

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As of January 2014, the Boy Scouts of America reversed a decades-old policy and started allowing “open or avowed homosexuals,” (as the BSA so charmingly phrases it), to join the organization. A progressive step, to be sure, and yet the organization still prohibits gay adults from becoming troop leaders, effectively creating a ceiling beyond which LGBT scouts can’t ascend.

The good news here is that in the past couple of years, individuals and organizations from all different walks of life have started pressuring the BSA to change its ways. In 2013, Carly Rae Jepsen and Train both cancelled performances at a Boy Scouts retreat in protest of the ban. Lockheed Martin has even pulled its funding for the BSA, as has Caterpillar Inc. Even Madonna has publicly called upon the organization to end its prejudicial policies. While we don’t want to be overly optimistic, it seems like only a matter of time until the BSA catches up with the times on this one.

Housing

Finding housing is a pretty awful ordeal as is, but if you’re LGBT, it has the potential to be a whole lot worse. The Fair Housing Act, like so much other civil rights legislation, protects against discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, disability, religion, nationality, and familial status — but not sexual orientation or gender identity. As a result, a landlord can evict a resident for being gay, or refuse to rent to a trans applicant, and that person will have no legal recourse.