Out Leadership’s Business Climate Index for the 50 United States is an assessment of states’ performance on LGBTQ+ inclusion. It measures the impact government policies and prevalent attitudes have on the LGBTQ+ people residing in each state, quantifying the economic imperatives for inclusion and the costs of discrimination. It equips business leaders and policymakers with a clear sense of the most impactful steps states can take to make themselves more hospitable to forward-thinking, innovative, inclusive businesses.
out of a possible 100 points
Gender confirmation surgery is required to update gender markers on birth certificates and driver’s licenses. There is no statewide legislation explicitly protecting LGBTQ+ people from discrimination, but in practice various policies have been interpreted as providing it and 12 municipalities offer some protections at the local level.
Childcare agencies that accept state funding must have policies that protect LGBTQ+ youths from discrimination. LGBTQ+ single parents and same-sex couples can adopt in the state. There is no ban on conversion therapy.
Kentucky has one republican U.S. Senator, whose record on LGBTQ+ rights falls along party lines. The governor, Democrat Andy Beshear, took office in December 2019 and has since supported LGBTQ+ rights. The state does have a religious exemption law.
HIV status is a felony in cases of prostitution or tissue donation. Positive HIV status has also been successfully prosecuted under general law.* There are hate crimes protections on the basis of sexual orientation but not gender identity.
14% of transgender employees in Kentucky reported being harassed in the past year due to their gender identity, and 28% report mistreatment such as being told to present in the wrong gender in order to keep a job. 34% of LGBTQ+ individuals in Kentucky reported food insecurity, double the rate for non-LGBTQ+ people (17%). Up to 34% of LGBTQ+ individuals in Kentucky reported making less than $24,000 per year. 11% of LGBTQ+ individuals report unemployment in Kentucky, almost double the rate for non-LGBTQ+ people (6%).
Download this report to learn how and why Out Leadership created the LGBTQ+ Business Climate Index for the 50 U.S. States, with important details about our methodology, including our data standards and practices. NOTE: *HIV criminalization laws are discriminatory and ineffective. These laws fail to account for advances made in treating and controlling HIV, may deter people from getting tested and seeking treatment, and can exacerbate the stigma targeting people living with HIV and LGBTQ+ people.Our Methodology
The legal and cultural situation for LGBTQ+ people varies widely across the country. This map, based on each state's total Business Climate Score, illustrates the states where LGBTQ+ people are empowered to participate more fully and openly in the economy, and the states that are lagging behind.
Our partnerships make our work possible. The first State LGBTQ+ Business Climate Index released in 2019 was funded by a grant from the Gill Foundation. The Index is based on data graciously shared by the Movement Advancement Project and the Williams Institute. Ropes & Gray is our pro bono legal partner for the CEO Business Briefs globally, and their research informs this Index. FCB partnered with us to conduct original market research into American attitudes toward LGBTQ+ workplace inclusion, informing the Regional Context section of the State CEO Briefs. America Competes supported the development of the scoring for the Risk Assessments, particularly for the Future Risk score.
Out Leadership and FCB partnered on original market research into the attitudes of American workers on LGBTQ+ inclusion, which fielded in 2019 and 2020. These briefs as a whole will be updated on an ongoing basis by Out Leadership because we recognize the ever-changing nature of policy on the local, state, and national level.
LGBTQ+ workers in the Southeast are the most likely to be out at work (54.4%), but they are also 25% more likely to feel that covering behaviors are important for workplace success. More broadly, non-LGBTQ+ workers in this region preferred for businesses to demonstrate their support for the LGBTQ+ community using internal initiatives (like hiring more LGBTQ+ employees and creating more inclusive HR policies). However, this group was 57% less likely to approve of more public demonstrations of support (like withdrawing sponsorship from sporting events in less inclusive areas). LGBTQ+ workers in this region are 39% more likely to support inclusive businesses and 17% more likely to consider LGBTQ+ friendliness in making spending decisions compared to the non-LGBTQ+ workers nationwide. However, there is a perception that state leadership speaks about the LGBTQ+ community in a more negative way (39% more likely than nationwide), which could partially explain why LGBTQ+ workers in the Southeast are 19% more likely to say that they would be open to moving to a state with better LGBTQ+ support.
Unless otherwise noted, all comparisons for more or less likely are compared to the National results. Regional results are based off of 1,500 respondents (LGBTQ+ and Non-LGBTQ+ responses have been weighted to be age-representative for each audience in each region). National results are based off of 600 respondents representative of each audience (LGBTQ+ vs Non-LGBTQ+).
States in the Southeast region included: Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Legal status of the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Community
Kentucky does not have statewide legislation which explicitly protects LGBTQ+ people. However, various nondiscrimination protection applies due to statewide policy interpretations, executive orders and municipalities’ actions.
In 2008, former Governor Steve Beshear issued an executive order banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity against state executive branch employees, but the order does not permit employees to file suit in court based on a violation of the non-discrimination requirements.
Twenty-one cities in Kentucky have adopted Fairness Ordinances protecting LGBTQ+ residents from discrimination in employment. A subset of these cities also ban housing discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. In 2020, bills for statewide fairness laws were filed in both the state house and state senate.
The state doesn’t explicitly ban discrimination for youths in foster care on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Private child-caring facilities under contract with the state are required to adopt and enforce a written policy that demonstrates consideration for and sensitivity to the sexual orientation of the youths in their care.
Kentucky law permits single LGBTQ+ individuals and same-sex couples to adopt children.
Kentucky’s Religious Freedom Protection Act prohibits the government from substantially burdening a person’s freedom of religion, unless the government proves by clear and convincing evidence that it has a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restrictive means to further that interest.
Kentucky has used general criminal laws to prosecute people for failing to disclose HIV status to sexual partners and for other forms of perceived exposure to HIV transmission risk, such as spitting. It is also a felony for someone aware of an HIV-positive status to donate organs, skin or other human tissues.
Kentucky’s hate crime statutes are inclusive of sexual orientation, but not gender identity.
There is no ban on conversion therapy in Kentucky. In February, Gov. Andy Beshear spoke out in favor of passing one. In 2020, the city of Covington became the first in the state to pass a local-level conversion therapy ban.
Legal status of the Transgender Community
Gender markers on a birth certificate can be updated with proof of surgery. A sworn statement by a licensed physician indicating that the gender of an individual has been changed by surgical procedure is required.
To change the gender marker on a driver’s license, applicants must submit an updated birth certificate showing the updated gender, a court order of gender change, a 10-year passport showing the updated gender or a letter from a surgeon stating that gender confirmation surgery has been completed.
Kentucky state Medicaid has no explicit policy regarding transgender health coverage and care.
Government statements and actions
Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear let lapse a long-term contract with a Baptist foster care agency in spring 2021 after the agency refused to sign a contract with a clause banning LGBTQ discrimination. Republican lawmakers argued that it’s a religious freedom violation.
At least seven anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in Kentucky’s state house in the 2021 legislative session, including bills that would allow healthcare workers to deny their services on a religious basis; one that would ban trans students from participating in girl’s sports; and one that would require written parental consent to provide gender-affirming healthcare to minors. While some of them have not been processed yet, in early April Governor Andy Beshear vetoed the anti-trans bill regarding trans students participating in sports.
In February 2020, Gov. Andy Beshear became the state’s first sitting governor to attend an LGBTQ+ rights rally held annually at the start of the legislative session.
After same-sex marriage became legal, Kim Davis, a Kentucky county clerk, refused to issue all marriage licenses on religious grounds. Davis was ordered by a federal judge to issue the licenses and was jailed for five days after she refused to do so. The case was eventually resolved when the state legislature passed a law removing the names of county clerks from Kentucky marriage licenses. Davis lost her re-election bid in 2018, although former Governor Matt Bevin has supported her.
In April 2019 a federal appeals court ruled that the state is responsible for paying the legal fees for applicants who challenged county clerk Kim Davis’s refusal to marry same-sex couples.
In 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (which covers Kentucky) ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination against trans people. It also ruled that employers may not use the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to justify discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. (The case, EEOC v. RG and GR Harris Funeral Homes, Inc., has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and was heard in October 2019.)
For more context around these scores, and to learn more about the criteria we used to assess how state laws, actions and attitudes toward LGBTQ+ people create business and talent risks, please visit www.outleadership.com/staterisk.
Status of LGBTQ+ Organizing and Community
Kentuckiana Pride’s 20th anniversary was skipped in 2020 due to coronavirus. The 2021 celebration was moved from June to October, also due to the pandemic. 20,000 people attended the Louisville based event prior to COVID in 2019.
Southern Kentucky saw its first-ever pride event in 2019, a response to the town of Somerset voting down a potential anti-discrimination law. And Eastern Kentucky’s first-ever pride celebration was in 2018.
Cultural Views of the LGBTQ+ Community
A married lesbian couple looking for a good deal on tax preparation in 2021 were stunned to see a sign on the accountant’s door in the town of Radcliffe that read, “Homosexual marriage is not recognized.” Coverage noted that this isn’t the first known example of a tax preparer refusing to serve same-sex couples.
Though visibility and acceptance are rising, Kentucky remains a state where a barbecue joint selling an anti-LGBTQ+ t-shirt isn’t universally panned: after the shirt made the news in April 2019, they reportedly sold out and ordered more.
53% of residents oppose allowing small business religious exemptions.
64% of Kentuckians favor LGBTQ+ antidiscrimination laws.