Since the moment that Trump was inaugurated, his administration has made direct attacks on the rights of LGBT citizens and undermined the progress made by generations of activism. As of 2018, twenty-eight states including Michigan, still lack explicit legal prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment and housing. Due to a lack of institutional protection on the state level, more than half of LGBT Americans live in a state that does not prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. As a result, local governments have taken action, in the form of local nondiscrimination ordinances, to lead where their federal and state-level counterparts have failed.
Local nondiscrimination ordinances greatly differ across localities in coverage and enforcement which creates an inconsistent means of protecting the rights of LGBT citizens. Smaller communities do not have the same resources as larger, more populated, areas to enforce their ordinances. Robert Salem, a professor at the University of Toledo College of Law, states, “Prosecutor offices around the country are usually understaffed and overworked…In the civil arena, investigative and enforcement agencies tend to have the same problem. Some of these agencies are created by statute but are never funded or staffed. Enforcement of local ordinances will continue to be weak until it is made an issue by gay rights activists.” Because of a lack of funding and staff, violations of nondiscrimination ordinances are often designated as a low priority and are left unprosecuted. Additionally, local nondiscrimination ordinances face the threat of preemption from state law. Local ordinances have been preempted by state law as seen in states such as Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee where state law prohibits local units of government from adopting LGBT inclusive policies.
Despite these weaknesses of local nondiscrimination ordinances, they do help to deter discrimination against the LGBT community and provide remedies for victims of discrimination. Protections on the local level also send a strong symbolic message that discrimination against the LGBT community is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. In fact, studies analyzing workplace discrimination have found that nondiscrimination laws reduce signs of prejudice. Civil rights protections set the morals of a community. The study, conducted by Laura Barron of the US Air Force Management Policy Division and Michelle Hebl of Rice University states, “These effects occur because anti-discrimination legislation can create social norms that govern what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviors to display toward stigmatized individuals.” Local nondiscrimination ordinances also have positive economic impacts for communities. Expansive protections of civil rights of all citizens, including the LGBT community, are necessary for attracting and retaining younger members of a modern workforce essential for competing in a 21st-century economy. Without an inclusive environment, finding the best possible talent for their communities will have even more obstacles for local cities and municipalities
By understanding the strengths and weaknesses of local ordinances, activists and policy advocates gain a better perspective on how to direct time and resources. Robert Salem states, “I believe that encouraging local activists to wage these campaigns is an important step to full protection on a national level. I also believe that these ordinances, despite their shortcomings, remedy discriminatory behavior and deter such behavior. In addition, they bring out local activists who would not otherwise participate in the political process.” The more LGBT people and their allies speak out on the local level, the more larger communities will be aware of discrimination across the country. Although LGBT advocates face harsh obstacles on a state and federal level, advocacy for local protection creates support for larger initiatives in the future.