The Top Five Myths About LGBT Non-Discrimination Laws Debunked

Conservatives routinely attack LGBT non-discrimination laws as unnecessary, burdensome and threatening to religious liberty. But in state after state and city after city, their horror stories haven't come true.

Federal law still doesn't prohibit discrimination against LGBT people in private employment, housing, or public accommodations, despite widespread public support for such protections.

As a result, many city and state governments have taken to adopting their own non-discrimination measures. In March, Maryland banned discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Since then, cities like HoustonFayetteville, and Roland Park have similarly extended existing non-discrimination protections to their LGBT residents.

Debates about local non-discrimination laws are routinely hijacked by conservative activists and media outlets that warn that protecting LGBT people is unnecessary, burdensome, and threatening to religious liberty.

Here are the five most common right-wing talking points about LGBT non-discrimination laws, debunked:

MYTH: LGBT Discrimination Isn't A Real Problem 

Research shows that LGBT Americans continue to face widespread discrimination. A 2011 Williams Institute study found that nearly 40 percent  of all LGB people open about their sexual orientation in the workplace will experience some form of employment discrimination in their lifetime. A 2013 study by the Department of Housing and Urban Development found widespread discrimination against same-sex couples in housing. And conditions are even worse for the transgender community, which faces astronomical rates of discrimination and harassment in all aspects of public life.

MYTH: Non-Discrimination Laws Create “Special Rights” For LGBT People

Protections offered by LGBT non-discrimination laws are not “special rights,” but are similar to the kinds of protections already offered in federal law for sex, race, religion, etc.

LGBT non-discrimination laws typically just add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the list of characteristics already protected under the law. In San Antonio and Fayetteville, for example, city governments merely expanded their already-existing non-discrimination laws to include LGBT people.

Myth: Non-Discrimination Laws Infringe On Religious Liberty

Non-discrimination laws typically include exemptions for religious institutions like churches and federal law already prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. The First Amendment also protects anti-LGBT speech and religious beliefs. 

But non-discrimination laws are concerned with discriminatory actions, not beliefs. Religious convictions don't give business owners a legal right to discriminate against LGBT people, in the same way they can't be used to justify racial or sex discrimination. And courts have repeatedly found that non-discriminations laws regulating commercial activity do not violate free speech or religious liberty.

In cities like San Antonio, where opponents predicted that a non-discrimination law would criminalize Christianity, horror stories about violations of religious liberty haven't come true

Myth: Non-Discrimination Laws Will Cause Frivolous Lawsuits

A 2011 study by the Williams Institute found that LGBT employment discrimination complaints are filed at nearly the same rate as race and sex discrimination complaints - roughly 4 complaints per 10,000 employees:

A 2014 study published by the LGBQT Policy Journal at Harvard's Kennedy School echoed those findings, concluding that “the rate at which LGB people file complaints under these laws is similar to the rate at which women and people of color file complaints under sex and race nondiscrimination laws.”

Managing editor of the LGBQT Policy Journal Crosby Burns told Equality Matters:

Anti-LGBT conservatives continually return to the argument that nondiscrimination protections will lead to a deluge of lawsuits. However, the data and on-the-ground experiences of these localities show that those arguments simply carry no weight.

Myth: Non-Discrimination Laws Let Sexual Predators Sneak Into Women's Restrooms

Law enforcement officials, human rights workers, and sexual assault victims advocates have dismissed this argument as "beyond specious." In states and cities where non-discrimination laws have been in place for years experts have found no evidence linking these laws to sexual assault or misconduct in public restrooms. Simply put, criminals who are willing to break the law and commit sexual assault aren't concerned with the scope of local non-discrimination law.

Luke Brinker contributed research to this report.