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Survey: 61% of LGBTQ People Have Avoided a Public Space Due to Fear of Violence

Eighty-nine percent say federal protections are needed as anti-LGBTQ bills proliferate in red states.

Anti-LGBTQIA+ protesters display signs and chant in Glendale, California, on June 20, 2023.

Concern about rising fascism and hate-fueled violence is now widespread in queer communities across the country. Sixty-one percent of LGBTQ+ people in the United States say they have avoided public spaces or a public event due to fear of discrimination or violence, according to a new survey of 1,000 adults by the nonprofit group

That means an alarming majority of LGBTQ+ people say there were afraid to leave their homes and enter a society potentially hostile to the way they love other people or express gender, a fear likely fueled by a wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation as well as mass shootings, violence, and targeted harassment both online and in public. LGBTQ+ people of all walks of life, their allies, and students in particular are fighting back.

For example, students at Montana State University are still responding to an email sent in February to members of the campus Queer Straight Alliance demanding they “repent” to “the white god of Christianity” and threatening to kill them all at an off-campus dance party. The anonymous email claimed to originate from Turning Point USA, a national right-wing student group that publicly disavowed the email but actively traffics in anti-queer conspiracy theories.

Even if it was an empty threat or sadistic prank, the email combined with the current political atmosphere has students missing sleep and fearing for their lives.

In states such as Florida and Texas, where right-wing politicians have launched a concerted attack on trans and queer youth and educators, families are making painful decisions about whether to relocate to a different state with better civil rights protections.

For many LGBTQ+ people, discrimination and the threat of violence is compounded by racism, classism, fatphobia, and other stigmas that are refracted through the rhetoric of right-wing pundits and politicians. In search of attention and votes, extremist Republicans manufactured the nation’s latest anti-trans and anti-queer panic in the media while unleashing an onslaught of statewide policies and legislation designed to strip basic rights and bodily autonomy from LGBTQ+ people.

Trans and nonbinary youth and their families are a favorite target for lawmakers thanks to baseless conspiracy theories about gender-affirming health care and “grooming,” a hypocritical smear aimed at educators and other adults that was resurrected from anti-gay campaigns of decades past. Legal battles have erupted in multiple states, and this week a federal judge in Arkansas blocked the nation’s first statewide ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth in an important test case for civil rights groups.

Extremist lawmakers on the far right have introduced more than 520 anti-LGBTQ+ bills so far in 2023, according to the Human Rights Campaign. In the first half of 2023, at least 74 anti-LGBTQ+ measures passed into law, mostly in red states with conservative legislatures. Despite some federal protections, LGBTQ+ people are largely at the mercy of laws that vary state to state.

One national poll found that most people in the U.S. oppose “the use of religious beliefs to deny business services, medical care, and employment to LGBTQ people.” Support for marriage equality reached 70 percent, a 40 percent increase over the past 20 years, and one reason why conservatives pivoted to exploiting stigma around trans and nonbinary people. This reflects overwhelming support for nondiscrimination protections, even in states where anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is proliferating.

SafeHome analyzed the legal landscape in all 50 states and compared that with survey results to create a “LGBTQ+ Safety Index” that ranks each state based on legal protections (or lack thereof) against discrimination in employment and housing, health care, as well as laws that criminalize HIV nondisclosure or consensual queer sex (such as unconstitutional “sodomy laws”) or restrict the rights of LGBTQ+ youth and parents.

Unsurprisingly, states with many anti-LGBTQ+ laws on the books rank at the bottom of the national list examining relative safety for gay, queer, nonbinary and trans people. The worst states for LGBTQ+ safety include Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Louisiana, but Florida is not far behind, thanks to a push by Gov. Ron DeSantis against LGBTQ+ rights ahead of a presidential run.

The safest states for LGBTQ+ have been proactive about passing pro-equality measures into law, including anti-bullying and discrimination protections, as well as laws addressing homelessness among queer youth. The safest states in the index are California, Maine, New York and New Jersey.

Even in states with pro-equality protections, civil rights groups say that laws governing parental rights must be updated to protect queer parents and their families.

“When states and courts refuse to give LGBTQ families the same protections as other families, it leaves parents at risk of being shut out of their child’s life and children at risk of losing a parent who loves and cares for them,” said Nesta Johnson, a staff attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, in a recent statement.

About 59 percent of LGBTQ+ people say pro-equality state laws make them feel safer, but 89 percent agree that more federal protections are needed, according to the SafeHome survey.

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