The Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment forbids states from denying anyone equal protection of the law or "life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." This vision has been realized in the past half-century through Titles VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Age Discrimination Act of
1975, the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and
others. Together, these statutes protect against discrimination based on race,
color, religion, sex, national origin, age, and disability.
However, those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are not included in major civil rights law, despite the fact that discrimination against them is commonplace. According to the Center for American Progress, 90% of people who identify as transgender have encountered harassment or mistreatment on the job. Another recent national survey by the Williams Institute reported that 37% of gay and lesbian people reported workplace harassment in just five years (but often, harassment goes unreported). Members of the LGBT community also face discrimination in terms of healthcare, housing, and countless other aspects of their daily lives.
Yet, the nation's changing public opinion and the work of advocacy groups have increased pressure on lawmakers to pass statutes that would protect those with LGBT status, resulting in momentous successes for the LGBT community. Some states have passed employment non-discrimination laws that cover sexual orientation, gender identity, or both. In 2011, 73% of likely 2012 voters reported that they support protecting those who identify as LGBT from workplace discrimination, and recently, public reactions to Washington Wizards basketball player Jason Collins' coming out as the first openly gay major professional athlete have largely been positive. The past few years have seen 12 states achieve full marriage equality for same-sex couples as well as the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell. However, even in states which recognize same-sex marriages and civil unions, same-sex couples are denied more than 1,100 federal benefits and protections, according to the Human Rights Campaign, and as a result, advocacy groups have come in full-force to lobby for statutes that would grant these benefits and protections.
The current bills lingering in Congress that would protect those who identify as LGBT span from the bank to the doctor's office and from the workplace to the classroom. They include the Student Non-Discrimination and Employment Non-Discrimination Acts of 2013, the Safe School Improvement and Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Acts, the Respect for Marriage Act, the Uniting Families Act, the Freedom from Discrimination in Credit Act, the Family Medical Leave Inclusion Act, and more.
In cases of discrimination and bullying against LGBT students, according to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the Departments of Education and Justice have enforced Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to protect LGBT students from sexual harassment and sex stereotyping. However, federal civil rights law doesn't explicitly protect against harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity alone. Because of this, there's a gap: students aren't protected by law when they are victims of harassment based entirely on homophobic animus without the presence of sex stereotyping.
Bullied LGBT students should not have to hope that their bully's actions count as sexual harassment or sex stereotyping rather than harassment based entirely on homophobia; all types of bullying and discrimination are unacceptable. What these students, the LGBT community, our country as a whole need is a comprehensive, overarching prohibition on discrimination against people who identify as LGBT. The repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" has allowed service members to come out, increased pressure on lawmakers has allowed many pieces of pro-LGBT legislation come out, and now it's time for the nation to come out: Do we want to continue living in a country where it is permissible to discriminate against people due to their personal sex lives? I certainly don't.