A New Poll Revealed Many Americans Misunderstand LGBTQ Peoples' Rights Under The Law

by Seth Millstein
Drew Angerer/Getty Images News/Getty Images

According to a new survey, almost half of all Americans wrongly believe that federal law protects LGBTQ people from discrimination. In a Reuters/Ipsos poll released Tuesday, 45% of respondents incorrectly claimed that federal anti-discrimination protections apply to LGBTQ Americans, when in fact, no such protections exist due to longstanding opposition from conservatives.

“When you talk to people across the country, regardless of where they stand on LGBTQ equality, so many don’t know that in 30 states LGBTQ people are still at are risk of being fired solely because of their gender identity or sexual orientation,” Charlotte Clymer, the Human Rights Campaign's press secretary for rapid response, told Reuters. “These things are flying under the radar for most Americans.”

Discrimination based on race, gender and disability is illegal at the federal level, and some state and local jurisdictions have extended protections to LGTBQ people as well. But federal law does not prohibit discrimination against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity, despite several attempts by Democrats to enact such protections. As a result, it remains legal in 30 states to fire somebody, deny them housing, or refuse them service at a business due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

A month ago, House Democrats passed the Equality Act, a piece of legislation that would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination at the federal level. But although Democrats have been proposing such legislation for nearly half a decade, it likely won't become law any time soon: Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — who recently dubbed himself the "Grim Reaper" for killing all progressive legislation that the House sends to the Senate — has not put the Equality Act up for a vote, and the White House has said that President Trump doesn't support it.

The vast majority of Republicans in the House voted against the Equality Act. Ironically enough, the majority of Republicans in the Reuters/Ipsos survey — 57% — incorrectly claimed that the Equality Act's protections have been enacted, when they have not been.

“We’re working so very hard to set a ground game about the Equality Act so that people understand that their common perception is mostly wrong,” said Stacey Long Simmons, director of advocacy and action at the National LGBTQ Task Force, told Reuters.

The poll also found that Americans are woefully uneducated about the state of trans rights. Only one-third of respondents knew that federal law doesn't protect trans people from discrimination in housing, employment, and business. In addition, 43% of Americans said that they believe LGBTQ people who seek medical care are treated "about the same" as straight or cis people by health care professionals; however, in a 2018 survey by the Center for American Progress, one-third of trans people said that a health care provider had refused to see them due to their gender identity.

Although the Reuters/Ipsos poll suggests that many Americans are uninformed about the state of LGBTQ rights in America, it also showed that they broadly support such rights — the majority of respondents said that they think it should be illegal to deny service to LGBTQ people in health care, employment, and business.