The LGBT Divide

By Amira Hasenbush, Andrew R. Flores,
Angeliki Kastanis, Brad Sears, & Gary J. Gates


Public opinion on LGBT issues has shifted over the years.

At the same time, statewide employment protections have stagnated. In the last 6 years, only one new state has passed a law protecting LGBT employees from discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation.

The states that do not provide protections largely cluster in the Midwestern, Mountain and Southern Regions of the country.

Social climates are less accepting toward LGBT people in regions where few states have implemented laws that prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Employment protections and regional differences are impacting the educational, economic and health realities of LGBT people.

Race, Ethnicity & Parenting

63% of the LGBT population lives in the Midwest, Mountain and Southern regions of the country.

Within each region, the LGBT population is more likely to be African-American and Latino/a than the non-LGBT population.

When looking at the race/ethnic breakdown in the states with protections compared to the states without, African-American LGBT individuals are more likely to live in the states that do not offer employment protections. About 900,000 LGBT people living in states without employment protections are African-American.

When looking at childrearing, there are much higher concentrations of same-sex couples raising children in the Midwest, Mountain and Southern regions of the country.


Researchers have hypothesized that LGBT people may intentionally pursue higher education as a way to buffer themselves against discrimination in the workplace.

However, more LGBT individuals maintain higher levels of college completion in the states with protections than in the states where they might need education to prevent discrimination the most.

The Midwest region reports the lowest rates of college completion among LGBT people. The Mountain and Southern states are not too far behind.

The Midwest and Mountain states are the only regions where non-LGBT individuals are more likely to have a college degree than their LGBT counterpart.

Economic Insecurity

Employment protections are closely tied to economic security and well-being.

LGBT people in the states without protections are more likely to report household incomes below $24,000 than those living in the states where workers are protected.

Poverty gaps are at their highest in the Midwest and Mountain states, where LGBT individuals are almost 1.5 times more likely to have incomes below $24,000 than non-LGBT people.

LGBT people also consistently report not having enough money for food at higher rates than non-LGBT people. Particularly in the Mountain and Midwestern states.


Across the U.S., LGBT people report significant financial constraints on healthcare. This is particularly true for Midwest, Mountain and Southern states.

Given higher rates of poverty and food insecurity and lack of money for healthcare, it is not surprising that LGBT people in these regions are also less likely to have health insurance.

More new HIV infections among men who have sex with men (MSM) have come from the South than any other region in the country. Southern LGBT individuals also have the lowest insurance rates in the country, with nearly one in four individuals lacking insurance.

MSM in the Mountain states currently have the highest incidence of HIV in the country, at 61.6 new infections per 100,000 MSM. The new HIV infection rate among MSM is nearly six times the regional population rate.


LGBT Americans in the states without state laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation consistently see greater disparities than in the states with such laws.

LGBT Americans face greater social and economic disparities in the South, Midwest, and Mountain states. While there has been a lot of focus on the South, the inequities for those living in the Midwest and Mountain states are sometimes overlooked.

It’s not just that LGBT people in the Midwest and South are poorer because people in those regions tend to be poorer overall. In some cases the economic disadvantages that LGBT people have relative to non-LGBT people markedly increase in these regions.

Legal and social differences across the states and regions are likely both the cause and effect of the disparities in economics, education and health.

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