LGBT Policy Spotlight: LGBT Equality in the U.S. Territories

The United States’ long history of territorial expansion has resulted in a truly complicated system of governance for territory residents, where even the U.S. Constitution doesn’t always apply. Laws and policies across the U.S. are, at best, a confusing patchwork of legal protections, and nowhere is that truer than for the residents of the U.S. territories, as detailed in the first comprehensive review of LGBT laws and policies in the five populated U.S. territories.  

Today, the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), in partnership with Lambda Legal, released a new report, LGBT Policy Spotlight: LGBT Equality in the U.S. Territories, focused on the status of LGBT equality for the more than 3.5 million residents of American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

For more than 10 years, MAP has tracked state-level LGBT laws and policies across the 50 states and the District of Columbia. With the release of this report, MAP is now actively tracking LGBT-related laws and policies in the five populated U.S. territories. The Equality Maps can be found here: http://www.lgbtmap.org/equality-maps.  

MAP classifies various laws and policies that impact LGBT people into two broad categories: sexual orientation-related laws and policies, and gender identity-related laws and policies. Examined together, these polices are combined to calculate an “Overall Policy Tally,” which counts the number of positive LGBT laws and policies, as well as negative laws and the policies, in each territory or state that help drive equality for LGBT people. 

  • Puerto Rico has the highest overall LGBT policy tally of the five territories (21.75 out of a potential 40.5) as well as the highest sexual orientation policy tally (11.5/20) and gender identity policy tally (10.25/20.5). Based on its LGBT-related laws and policies, Puerto Rico has a similar overall LGBT policy tally as Delaware and Maine.  
  • Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands all have a “low” LGBT policy tally.  American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands fall between North Dakota, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and South Carolina (0.5/40.5), while the U.S. Virgin Islands (5.5/40.5) falls between Arizona and Kentucky. Guam (7/40.5) falls between Kentucky and Indiana.  
  • Guam has a “medium” sexual orientation policy tally identical to that of Pennsylvania and Michigan, while the other three territories have “low” sexual orientation policy tallies. Notably, both Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands have “negative” gender identity policy tallies similar to Arizona and Alabama, respectively. American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands have “low” gender identity policy tallies. 

In addition, the report looks at seven broad categories including relationship and parental recognition, non-discrimination laws, LGBT youth laws and policies, healthcare laws and policies, criminal justice laws, and accurate identity documents. Within these categories, the report reviews the more than 39 laws and policies that impact LGBT people and their families.  

By tracking LGBT laws and policies in the territories, MAP will advance increased understanding of the territories as a whole, and of LGBT equality within these regions. 

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