WASHINGTON — At a time when many states continue to drag their feet on fully-inclusive LGBT laws and policies, the nation’s cities are stepping up in record numbers to ensure that all people are treated equally, according to a report issued Wednesday by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization.
The HRC Foundation’s 2014 Municipal Equality Index (MEI) shows that, in every state in the nation, cities like Cincinnati, Atlanta, Saint Louis, Missoula, Orlando, and Dallas are fueling momentum for LGBT equality — and often in states that still don’t have fully inclusive non-discrimination laws or marriage equality.
Progress this year, as documented by the third annual MEI, has been particularly noteworthy on transgender equality. Thirty-two million Americans now live in cities and towns that have taken bold action to embrace comprehensive transgender-inclusive laws that go beyond explicit protections offered by their state or the federal government.
The MEI’s standard criteria for earning points this year, for the first time, included whether a city offers transgender-inclusive health care benefits.
“From Mississippi to Montana, mid-size cities and small towns have become the single greatest engine of progress for LGBT equality–changing countless lives for the better,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “In just three years, the number of municipalities earning top marks from the MEI for their treatment of LGBT people has more than tripled.”
Article continues below“Simply put,” Griffin said, “in this country there is an ongoing race to the top to treat all people, including LGBT people, fairly under the law. It’s time our state and federal laws caught up.”
Cities like Salt Lake City and East Lansing, Columbus and Rochester, Tampa and Tucson, St. Petersburg, Tempe and Dayton, are doing better by their LGBT residents and workers than their state legislatures, or Congress.
Other key findings contained in the MEI, issued in partnership with the Equality Federation, provide a revealing snapshot of LGBT equality in 353 municipalities of varying sizes, and from every state in the nation.
The cities researched for the 2014 MEI include the 50 state capitals, the 200 most populous cities in the country, the four largest cities in every state, the city home to each state’s largest public university, and an equal mix of 75 of the nation’s large, mid-size and small municipalities with the highest proportion of same-sex couples.
- 38 cities earned perfect 100-point scores, even with this year’s more demanding criteria that includes transgender-inclusive healthcare coverage. That’s up from 25 in 2013 and 11 in 2012, the first year of the MEI. Perfect scores are earned by cities with exemplary LGBT policies, ranging from non-discrimination laws and equal employee benefits, to cutting edge city services and strong relationships with the LGBT community;
- Cities showing a commitment to LGBT equality are in all regions of the country, not just in those many people assume are most LGBT friendly — the average MEI score for large cities in the Plains states is 68; in big cities in the Mountain states, it’s 72;
- Cities continue to excel even in the absence of state laws: of cities that scored a perfect 100, 15 are in states that don’t have comprehensive relationship recognition or a statewide non-discrimination law — that’s up from eight cities last year, and just two in 2012;
- 42 cities, or 12% of those rated in 2014, are offering transgender-inclusive health care options to city employees. This is up from 16 cities in 2013,and just 5 cities in 2012.
- 32 million people now live in cities that have more comprehensive, transgender-inclusive non-discrimination laws than their state or the federal government, underscoring the reality that Americans can still be fired in 29 states for their sexual orientation, and 32 states lack explicit gender identity protections;
- The average city score was 59 points, with half of the cities researched scoring over 61 points. Eleven percent scored 100 points; 25 percent scored over 80 points; 25 percent scored under 44 points; and four percent scored fewer than 10 points;
- Cities with a higher proportion of same-sex couples, as tabulated by the U.S. Census, tended, not surprisingly, to score better, and the presence of openly-LGBT city officials and LGBT police liaisons also were correlated with higher scores.
The MEI rates cities based on 47 criteria falling under six broad categories:
1. Non-discrimination laws
2. Relationship recognition
3. Municipal employment policies, including transgender-inclusive insurance coverage and non-discrimination requirements for contractors
4. Inclusiveness of city services
5. Law enforcement
6. Municipal leadership on matters of equality
The full report, including detailed scorecards for every city, as well as a searchable database, is available online here.