In the Municipal Equality Index (MEI), the Human Rights Campaign examines how inclusive municipal laws, policies, and services are of the LGBTQ people who live and work there.
HRC Foundation, in partnership with the Equality Federation Institute, released its fifth annual Municipal Equality Index (MEI), the only nationwide rating system of LGBTQ inclusion in municipal law and policy.
The 2016 MEI reveals that cities across the nation are not waiting for their states to extend vital protections to the LGBTQ community, nor are they intimidated by some state elected officials threatening to deny cities the ability to extend fully-inclusive protections to their residents and workers. Instead, municipalities in red states and blue states alike are boldly enacting laws and policies prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ people in employment, housing and public accommodations, and working to ensure that everyone is guaranteed the same access to city services.
This year, 60 cities earned perfect scores for advancing fully-inclusive policies and practices — up from 47 in 2015 and 11 in 2012, the first year of the MEI — at a time when the nation has been seeing a record number of anti-LGBTQ measures proposed by state elected officials bent on promoting discrimination. These efforts include legislation like North Carolina’s notorious HB2 that bars cities from passing LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances.
However, in contrast to the shameful action by the North Carolina General Assembly in pre-empting Charlotte’s non-discrimination law, cities across the country are embracing equality by passing comprehensive non-discrimination ordinances, removing harmful exemptions in existing ordinances, and expanding city services to best serve the LGBTQ community.
“This year, dozens of cities across the nation showed they are willing to stand up for LGBTQ people in their communities even when state governments are not,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “This builds on a trend we have long observed: that local governments are at the forefront of our fight for equality. Unfortunately, our opponents have witnessed this progress too, and in recent years, anti-LGBTQ lawmakers have pushed spiteful legislation aimed at pre-empting local protections. That’s why it’s so important that we continue to not only fight for equality at the state and local levels, but to enact comprehensive federal protections for LGBTQ people under the Equality Act.”
“Despite another year of legislative attacks on LGBTQ equality, we are not merely holding our ground; we also continue to make significant gains across the country,” said Rebecca Isaacs, Executive Director of the Equality Federation Institute. “The opportunity for further progress is huge, and we are proud to partner with HRC on the Municipal Equality Index, a powerful roadmap for elected officials and community advocates who want to continue down the path to full equality.”
Since the MEI’s debut in 2012, the number of cities earning perfect scores has more than quintupled, and today at least 24 million people now live in cities that have more comprehensive, transgender-inclusive non-discrimination laws than their state. And cities that have been rated all five years of the MEI have improved their scores by about 20 points over that time.
Progress on transgender equality has been particularly noteworthy in cities across America this year, continuing a positive trend that the MEI has tracked — and encouraged — since 2012. Transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits are offered to employees of 86 municipalities this year — up from 66 in 2015 and 5 in 2012 — and the growth of cities offering those benefits to their employees outpaces the growth in the number of cities rated. The MEI’s Issue Brief on Transgender-Inclusive Health Benefits is available here.
For the first time this year, the MEI deducted points from the scores of cities that have non-discrimination protections containing carve-outs prohibiting individuals from using public facilities consistent with their gender identity. It also created a new category of points to recognize cities that are offering transgender-specific city services.
Two special reports are also included in the 2016 MEI: Power Struggles and Preemption details efforts by anti-equality officials at the state level to pass discriminatory legislation like North Carolina’s HB2 law that strip municipalities of their ability to protect their residents and workers with non-discrimination measures. Inclusive and Innovative Approaches to Citywide Bullying Prevention lays out the serious public health issue of bullying, how it disproportionately affects LGBTQ youth, and innovative ways municipalities can protect its young people from bullying. The 2018 MEI will change the way it assesses anti-bullying issues, as described in this brief.
Other key findings from the 2016 Municipal Equality Index include:
- 87 cities from states without nondiscrimination laws protecting LGBTQ people scored above the overall nationwide mean of 55 points. These cities averaged 80-point scores; 22 scored a perfect 100.
- Cities continue to excel even in the absence of state laws: 37 “All Star” cities in states lacking comprehensive non-discrimination laws scored above 85 points, up from 31 last year, 15 in 2014, eight in 2013, and just two in 2012.
- The average city score was 55 points. 60 cities, or 12 percent of those rated, scored 100 points; 25 percent scored over 75 points; 25 percent scored under 33 points; and 8 cities scored zero points.
- Cities with a higher proportion of same-sex couples, as tabulated by a UCLA Williams Institute analysis of the 2010 U.S. Census, tended to score better. The presence of openly-LGBTQ city officials was also correlated with higher scores.
The MEI rated 506 cities: the 50 state capitals, the 200 largest cities in the United States, the five largest cities or municipalities in each state, the cities home to the state’s two largest public universities (including undergraduate and graduate enrollment), 75 cities and municipalities that have high proportions of same-sex couples, and 98 cities selected by members and supporters of HRC and Equality Federation state organizations.
The MEI rates cities based on 44 criteria that fall into five broad categories:
- Non-discrimination laws
- Municipal employment policies, including transgender-inclusive insurance coverage and non-discrimination requirements for contractors
- Inclusiveness of city services
- Law enforcement, including hate crimes reporting
- Municipal leadership on matters of equality
The full report, including detailed scorecards for every city, as well as a searchable database, is available online at www.hrc.org/mei.
Cities are rated based on non-discrimination laws, the municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement and the city leadership’s public position on equality.
The 2016 MEI is the fifth annual edition and rates a total of 506 cities from every state in the nation. The number of cities rated increased by 98 cities from 2015 and increased by 369 cities since 2012.
SECTION I. NON-DISCRIMINATION LAWS
• Non-Discrimination in Employment, Housing, and Public Accommodations (Up to 30 points). This category evaluates whether discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited within the city in areas of private employment, housing, and public accommodations. In each category, cities receive 5 points for prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and 5 points for prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity. There will be a 3-point deduction for non-discrimination protections in public accommodations that contain carve-outs prohibiting individuals from using facilities consistent with their gender identity. All non-discrimination laws ought to be fully inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people, and acknowledging sexual orientation-only protections as simply that does not imply they are sufficient; they are not.
SECTION II. MUNICIPALITY AS EMPLOYER
• Non-Discrimination in City Employment (6 points for sexual orientation/6 points for gender identity). This can be established either via an enumerated municipal ordinance that expressly includes city employees or via an enumerated equal employment opportunity policy adopted by the municipality. If the city has an employment non-discrimination ordinance that enumerates sexual orientation and gender identity the city is NOT presumed to be covered by that ordinance; the ordinance must either specifically address city employees or the ordinance must be incorporated by reference in city employment policies. If state or county law is enumerated to include sexual orientation or gender identity this too may be incorporated by reference. An unenumerated non-discrimination policy or ordinance will not be sufficient to earn credit.
• Transgender-Inclusive Healthcare Benefits (6 points). The municipality must provide at least one health insurance plan that provides coverage for transgender healthcare needs (sex reassignment surgeries, hormone replacement therapy, and other gender-affirming care). The policy must affirmatively include gender-affirming care; a lack of exclusion is not sufficient for an award of points because this care is routinely not covered.
• City Contractor Non-Discrimination Ordinance or Policy (3 points for sexual orientation/3 points for gender identity). These can be established through municipal ordinances or policies that mandate all city contractors to have non-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Partial credit may be awarded where the city gives a bidding preference to a city contractor with an inclusive non-discrimination policy.
• BONUS: Inclusive Workplace (2 bonus points). This section assesses whether a municipality has LGBTQ-specific programming to attract LGBTQ applicants and promote diversity in the workplace. Cities will receive credit if they have any of the following: an employee pride alliance, diversity training that is inclusive of LGBTQ issues, or a recruitment program that actively advertises to the LGBTQ community.
SECTION III. MUNICIPAL SERVICES
• Human Rights Commission (5 points). A commission or council tasked with eliminating discrimination in a city. Starting in 2014, this commission will be worth four standard points if its purpose is largely or entirely educational. The commission may hold community discussions, screen movies, present panels, take public comment, advise the city on matters of diversity and inclusion, develop policies and strategies for making the city more inclusive, and undertake other similar types of endeavors. The commission must have met recently (within the last three years) and a federal EEOC office located in a city does not garner credit unless the city has contracted with them for the services described above.
• LGBTQ Liaison to City Executive (5 points). To receive credit in this category, there must be an officially designated liaison to the LGBTQ community in the city executive’s office. The function of a liaison is not simply to be a resource for the city executive, but also to be a resource for the public to elevate the concerns of the LGBTQ community and ensure they are being heard. Therefore, the liaison’s contact information must be made available to the public through the city’s website or where other city officials’ contact information is published. LGBTQ persons who work in the city executive’s office do not qualify for credit in this category unless their service in this capacity is part of his or her official job; however, LGBTQ liaisons may have additional job functions unrelated to LGBTQ issues. Please note that credit is given in part V for openly LGBTQ city elected or appointed officials.
• Enumerated Anti-Bullying School Policies (3 points for sexual orientation/3 points for gender identity). To receive credit in this category, a city or county ordinance, state statute, or school district/school board policy must specifically prohibit bullying and enumerate the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited grounds upon which to bully. Anti-harassment policies that are enumerated and include language that encompasses bullying will be given credit, but hazing or harassment policies that do not encompass bullying will not receive credit. Where there are multiple school districts within city limits, credit will only be given at the local level if at least 75% of students within these school districts are covered by enumerated anti-bullying policies.
• BONUS: Enforcement Mechanism for Human Rights Commission (3 bonus points). Where, in addition to the functions listed above, a Human Rights Commission has the authority to conciliate, issue a right to sue letter, or otherwise enforce non-discrimination protections, that commission will earn three bonus points in addition to the four standard points awarded above
• BONUS: City provides services to/supports LGBTQ youth (2 bonus points). Cities that directly provide services for LGBTQ youth, fund organizations that provide these services, or provide other meaningful types of support (in-kind, use of city facilities, etc.) for organizations that support LGBTQ youth will receive two bonus points.
• BONUS: City provides services to/supports LGBTQ homeless (2 bonus points). Cities that directly provide services for LGBTQ homeless people, fund organizations that provide these services, or provide other meaningful types of support (in-kind, use of city facilities, etc.) for organizations that support LGBTQ homeless people will receive two bonus points.
• BONUS: City provides services to/supports LGBTQ elderly (2 bonus points). Cities that directly provide services for LGBTQ elders, fund organizations that provide these services, or provide other meaningful types of support (in-kind, use of city facilities, etc.) for organizations that support LGBTQ elders will receive two bonus points.
• BONUS: City provides services to/supports people living with HIV or AIDS (2 bonus points). Cities that directly provide services for people who are HIV positive or living with AIDS, fund organizations that provide these services, or provide other meaningful types of support (in-kind, use of city facilities, etc.) for organizations that support people who are HIV positive or living with AIDS will receive two bonus points.
• BONUS: City provides services to/supports transgender-specific programming (2 bonus points). Cities that directly provide or provide funding for transgender-specific programming that isn’t already captured by any of the other bonus categories in this section (e.g., employment programs, post-incarceration reentry programs, violence prevention programs, etc.) will receive two bonus points.
SECTION IV. LAW ENFORCEMENT
• LGBTQ Police Liaison or Task Force (10 points). To get credit in this category, there must be an officially designated liaison to the LGBTQ community or task force charged with addressing LGBTQ issues. An LGBTQ Liaison or task force must be publicly known in order to receive credit. The function of a liaison is not simply to be a resource for the department, but also to be a resource for the public to elevate the concerns of the LGBTQ community and ensure they are being heard. Therefore, the liaison’s contact information must be made available to the public through the city’s website or where other police contact information is published. LGBTQ police officers, including high-ranking officers, do not qualify for credit in this category unless their service as liaison is part of his or her official job. Partial credit will be given in this category where the entire police force is trained on LGBTQ issues.
• Reported 2013 Hate Crimes Statistics to the FBI (12 points). The city must report hate crimes statistics to the FBI in all categories, including sexual orientation and gender identity, and either:
• Report a positive number of hate crimes in any category in 2013 (i.e. report more than “0” for hate crimes reported in any one or more of the protected categories), OR
• Report zero hate crimes in 2013 AND have reported a positive number of hate crimes, in any one or more of the protected categories, some year in the past five years. This second is to recognize that statistically it is possible that no hate crimes of any kind have occurred in a small city this year, but that it is highly improbable that no hate crimes of any kind have occurred in in the last five years.
SECTION V. RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LGBTQ COMMUNITY
• Leadership’s Public Position on LGBTQ Equality (5 points). This section grades, on a sliding scale from zero to five points, how pro-equality the city leadership is in its public statements. City leadership includes the mayor, city manager if applicable, city council, and other government officials. These statements may include joining a pro-equality association such as Mayors for Freedom to Marry, coming out publicly in favor of LGBTQ rights, supporting LGBTQ community organizations, etc. It also includes comments made during city council meetings or at other public events. As of 2014, this section also includes participation in Pride events and partnership with LGBTQ groups to create solutions to city problems.
• Leadership’s Pro-Equality Legislative or Policy Efforts (3 points). This section grades, on a sliding scale from zero to three points, how actively the city has been pursuing pro-equality legislation and policies. This includes ordinances introduced, whether passed or not, and city policies, as well as pro-equality city council resolutions.
• BONUS: Openly LGBTQ Elected or Appointed Municipal Leaders (3 bonus points). The criteria for points in this category is the person be a leader – have some kind of a senior elected or appointed position in the city – and that the person be openly LGBTQ. A state or federal elected representative from the city does not qualify, as the person must be elected or appointed to a position in the municipality being rated.
• BONUS: City Tests Limits of Restrictive State Law (4 bonus points). This category, which we formerly called “Resisting Dillon’s Rule,” gives credit to cities who have a state law of some kind that restricts the city’s ability to pass LGBTQ-inclusive ordinances and who take distinct actions to push back against that limit either by advocating for change or testing its limits. Simply being in a state with such restrictions is not enough to quality for these points. Many states do not have this type of law, which means many cities are not qualified to receive these points.
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