Commentary: United States Has an Obligation to Collect Data about LGBT Discrimination

By Andrew Park
September 2015

This commentary provides a legal analysis of the United States’ obligation under international human rights treaties to monitor discrimination, violence, and stigma against LGBT people, particularly through the creation of a national human rights institution. These monitoring mechanisms are necessary for policymakers to understand the lived reality of LGBT people.

This week, the United States reconfirmed that it has no plans to establish a national human rights institution.  Such an agency would have the authority, under international law, to monitor stigma and discrimination against LGBT people in the United States in the areas of housing, violence, government services, healthcare, employment, education, and all other areas of human rights.  Around the world, 96 other countries have such an agency.  This year, 23 countries called upon the United States to establish such an agency.  This week’s announcement by the United States responds to that call.

Currently, several agencies in the United States have limited authority to investigate specific forms of discrimination.  These include the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the US Civil Rights Commission, and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.  These agencies, however, have strictly limited jurisdiction and, in some cases, limited effectiveness.  These agencies are not able to initiate large-scale inquiries into systemic discrimination against LGBT people in a broad array of rights.

New research methods now give government agencies the capability to gather data about discrimination and violence against LGBT people. Results of recent studies reveal discrimination in many sectors, including employment, housing, government and social services, and incarcerated settings. Experts and government agencies have identified specific needs for data concerning these patterns of discrimination and violence. Without such data gathering efforts, policy makers will not be able to effectively advance the human rights of LGBT people in the U.S.

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