LGBTQ+ Rights Overview

Last Updated Sep 26, 2023

This guide is intended to help donors gain a deeper understanding of the issues facing LGBTQIA+ people and outlines opportunities to address the root causes of inequitable outcomes. By Lucy Brennan-Levine

Did you know?

What Does LGBTQIA+ Mean?

LGBTQIA+ is an acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual. The plus sign encompasses gender identities and sexual orientations that are not included in the abbreviation. This list of definitions is a good starting place to understand the meaning behind the words. Understanding and using inclusive language spreads awareness of human rights and can help reduce bias and stigma across societal systems.

However, there is more work to be done. Discrimination and violence are ubiquitous experiences for LGBTQIA+ individuals and can be worse for those with multiple marginalized identities. One in five LGBTQ Americans report experiencing institutional discrimination (housing, education, etc.), and nearly a third of LGBTQ people of color say they have also experienced discrimination.

What Causes Disparities?

Prevalence of LGBTQIA+ Hate Crimes, Bias, and Discrimination

Prejudice, bias, and discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people are prevalent and can come in many forms: Interpersonal relationships, in media, interactions with law enforcement, in the healthcare system, and in the workplace. This can significantly devalue and dehumanize people while taking away their right to live as who they authentically want to be, causing significant stress and other psychological barriers.

Hate Crimes

LGBTQIA+ individuals are nine times more likely to experience violent hate crimes than non-LGBT people.

The Human Rights Campaign catalogs fatal violence that has happened in 2023 against transgender and non-confirming individuals. Most of these victims are people of color. In 2020, reports indicated hate crimes against AAPI communities increased. Furthermore, the Williams Institute study found that “71% of AAPI transgender adults reported experiences of everyday discrimination.”

A report by GLAAD found that social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and Twitter were all unsafe for LGBTQ users, and LGBTQ+ respondents had disproportionately higher rates of harassment reported than other identity groups. According to Pew Research, about four in 10 straight adults have endured some form of harassment online, compared to approximately seven in 10 lesbian, gay, or bisexual individuals.

Law Enforcement Bias and Violence

LGBTQIA+ have historically troubling relationships with law enforcement and carceral systems, dating back to the Stonewall uprising, where police violently raided a gay bar in Manhattan, sparking a string of protests against the criminalization of LGBTQ population.

There are documented reports and anecdotal evidence to prove a pattern and history of violence from law enforcement against LGBTQIA+ populations. A 2013 UCLA survey reported that 48% of LGBT respondents experienced police misconduct and other surveys indicated nearly half of transgender respondents would not seek out police assistance. Additionally, LGBT populations are incarcerated at three times the rate of heterosexual U.S. adult population. In addition to this pattern of police violence, most U.S. states do not require hate crime training for law enforcement at all. Police violence also happens at the intersection of race and sexual identity: About two-thirds of Black transgender people report police violence, ranging from harassment to physical assault.

Workplace Discrimination

Workplace discrimination and bias against LGBTQIA+ people can happen in both subtle and overt ways, contributing to negative experiences that can severely impact a person’s mental health, access to healthcare, financial stability, and wellbeing. LGBTQ employees make up nearly 6% of the workforce but an even smaller percentage hold senior or executive leadership roles. A survey of 1,528 self-identified LGBTQ adults found that 51% of respondents experienced discrimination in public spaces, and 36% experienced it in the workplace. Respondents said to “avoid the experience of discrimination, more than half of LGBTQ Americans report hiding a personal relationship.” The act of hiding a relationship or sexual identity from others to make it easier is called “passing.” Additionally, LGBTQIA+ experience employment discrimination that leads to healthcare insurance disparities. There are some steps that workplaces are taking to build more inclusive workplaces through language, visuals on websites, application processes, and more. 

Housing Discrimination

Research found that same-sex couples are discriminated against in the earliest stages of the homeownership search via email correspondence with real estate agents when reaching out about housing listings. Other studies found that “housing providers discriminated against gay men and transgender people on some measures” such as showing available units.

However, there are increasing protections for these individuals. Only 19 states don't have non-discrimination laws for housing on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Additionally, the Fair Housing Act prohibits housing and housing-related discrimination because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), familial status, and disability. Legislation can help protect these populations from housing discrimination, but there are still issues for LGBTQIA+ populations facing homelessness, both as they age and when they are younger. Transgender women, in particular, have been mistreated within homeless shelters and between 20% and 40% of all homeless youth identify as LGBTQIA+. 

Biased Media Coverage of Transgender Populations

The media also plays a role in creating bias and stoking prejudice against LGBTQIA+ populations. How journalists decide to write about people, what issues they focus on, and how they frame specific topics can have ripple effects. The New York Times coverage of transgender issues brought strife among transgender communities and journalists. Nearly 200 LGBTQIA+ journalists wrote an open letter to the news publication to critique problematic coverage of transgender individuals. Negative media coverage can have severe impacts on transgender communities, leading to limited access to healthcare, public spaces, and accommodations. Alternatively, a GLAAD report found a sharp increase in LGBTQ+ regular and recurring characters in television and media, but there is still a need for diverse storytelling of LGBTQIA+ populations. 

Incomplete Data Collection

Historically, government surveys have excluded questions about LGBTQ people. But, in July 2021, the U.S. Census Bureau began collecting information on the sexual orientation and gender identity of the nation’s LGBTQ adult population as part of the Household Pulse Survey

While this is a step in the right direction, more work is needed to ensure LGBTQ people are counted across issues like housing, healthcare, and employment. Without accurate data, there is a greater risk that policies will perpetuate disparities and poorly respond to the unique needs of LGBTQ+ people.

Data collection is also necessary across other sectors beyond government. For example, in philanthropy, these data can help ensure the people working closest to the solutions are the ones with lived experience.

What Limits LGBTQIA+ Rights?

Anti-LGBTQIA+ Legislation

Anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation undermines population rights, limits access to healthcare, free speech, and expression, and impacts education. The ACLU tracks the 494 anti-LGBTQ bills currently targeting these communities. There are hundreds of anti-transgender bills this year alone that aim to limit the rights of this population. Targeting these communities creates strong divides between communities of people through laws and legislation and contributes to the prolific anti-transgender violence still happening today. The HRC has documented more than 200 acts of fatal violence against transgender and non-conforming people, the majority of those being people of color. 

Children are also impacted by anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation in schools and healthcare systems. These bills prohibit the mention of sexual orientation or discussion of gender identity in the classroom, like the bill passed in March 2023 by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. This is part of a broader “Don’t Say Gay” legislation movement that other state governments have proposed or passed. In addition, there are currently 90 bills that would bar access to medically-necessary healthcare for transgender youth, despite many studies finding that gender-affirming healthcare for transgender youth helps lower suicidal rates.

(None of the five U.S. territories have LGBTQ-specific curricular laws or sports bans).

Why Donors Should Care About LGBTQIA+ Rights

LGBTQ+ people already experience high poverty rates, homelessness, unemployment, and barriers to healthcare, and now they’re facing even more challenges.

2023 is the first year the Human Rights Campaign declared a national state of emergency for LGBTQIA+ communities in light of increased anti-LGBTQ legislation. And, as the safety and well-being of LGBTQIA+ communities is threatened, philanthropic support for LGBTQ+ organizations is only a little more than 0.1% of all philanthropy.

According to IRS data compiled by GC Insights* (part of Giving Compass), since 2018, organizations focused on LGBTQ+ issues have a combined annual revenue of $8.03 billion. Donors can be instrumental in supporting direct services that meet the diverse needs of LGBTQ+ people and advocating for policy changes to address discriminatory systems.


*GC Insights data is based on forms 990 filed with the IRS between 2018-present.

Get Involved

GC Insights identified 1,803 nonprofit organizations focused on LGBTQ+ issues in the United States (between 2018 to the present). Seventy-seven of these nonprofits are included in the Giving Compass social justice nonprofit directory. Here are other ways to get involved.

  • The Groundswell Rapid Response provides fast funding to grassroots organizations led by women of color, transgender people of color, and low-income women and transgender people in need.
  • Emerging LGBTQ Leaders of Color Fund helps young trans and queer leaders support pro-LGBTQ, racial justice movements in becoming more connected, inclusive, and thus more powerful.
  • The Horizons Foundation Fund addresses a number of LGBTQ priority areas: Community grants, low-interest loans, global faith and equality, and scholarships in the San Francisco Bay area.
  • Join a giving circle that supports and funds LGBTQIA+ populations and issues.
  • Support the Equality Federation, an advocacy accelerator rooted in social justice, that builds power across a network of state-based lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) advocacy organizations.

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