The Human Rights Campaign and the Equality Federation Institute released the 5th annual State Equality Index, a report that details statewide laws and policies that affect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning or queer people and assesses how well states are protecting them from discrimination.

HRC legal director Sarah Warbelow said New Jersey falls into the highest rated category, Working Toward Innovative Equality.

This year, the number of states that obtained the SEI's highest rating increased from 13 to 17.

New Jersey has robust LGBTQ non-discrimination laws covering employment, housing and public accommodations and education.

Warbelow said New Jersey does a great job at addressing inclusive juvenile justice policies for LGBTQ youth, enumerating anti-bullying policies and making sure hate crimes are reported to the FBI.

New Jersey ensures that LGBTQ people don't experience discrimination in credit when applying for insurance. In adoption laws, the state makes sure that same-sex couples have the same access as other people in the adoption process.

For trans people, New Jersey makes sure they are covered with respect to health care, whether that's because they are a state employee or because they need additional assistance from the state.

"One of the other great things that New Jersey has done is make sure that trans people can accurately update information about their gender on their drivers licenses and birth certificates," said Warbelow.

But there's always room for improvement. Warbelow said she'd love to see New Jersey  address data collection, particularly with respect to health surveys. She said it's important to know what the experiences of LGBTQ people are so that the state can take actions to make sure their real needs are addressed.

The SEI began five years ago as a way to improve the lives of LGBTQ people. Warbelow said the report continues to be an opportunity for state lawmakers to see what they can do to improve the lives of the LGBTQ community.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been updated to include bisexual and queer or questioning people as those whose concerns are addressed by the State Equality Index.

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