On 17 December, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation announced that a record number of U.S. cities have achieved perfect scores on its 2015 Municipal Equality Index by establishing fully-inclusive local protections for LGBT people.
The most notable trend in the annual report is the rapidly growing number of cities and towns across the US stepping up to ensure that all people are treated equally, even in states where fully-inclusive LGBT laws and policies remain elusive.
Since the MEI debuted in 2012, the number of cities earning perfect scores has more than quadrupled, and now at least 32 million people live in cities with fully-inclusive local protections that are not guaranteed by the states in which they live. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation is the educational arm of America’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization.
However, while the HRC Foundation’s 2015 Municipal Equality Index (MEI) shows that, in every state in the nation, cities large and small are fuelling momentum for LGBT equality, much work remains to be done. Equality in many cities, particularly those in America’s southern regions, remains elusive, with too many municipalities still failing to protect their LGBT residents and employees.
Cities are proving, however, that they can ensure equality even in states that are lagging behind in enacting LGBT-inclusive laws and policies. New top-scoring cities this year include Louisville, Kentucky; Detroit, Michigan; and Bloomington, Indiana, which are among the MEI’s 31 “All Stars”– cities paving the way on LGBT equality in states that still lack fully-inclusive LGBT non-discrimination laws.
Progress on transgender equality has been particularly noteworthy in cities across America this year, continuing a positive trend that the MEI has tracked each year. To earn perfect scores, cities must embrace comprehensive transgender-inclusive laws and policies that often go beyond explicit protections offered by their state or the federal government.
“While this has been an historic year for equality, we are constantly reminded of just how far we still have to go,” said HRC President Chad Griffin..
“In too many communities, LGBT Americans continue to face barriers to equality, overt discrimination, and even violence. We believe those challenges make full equality and strong legal protections all the more important, and today’s report makes clear that hundreds of local communities throughout all 50 states wholeheartedly agree.”
Other key findings contained in the MEI, issued in partnership with the Equality Federation, provide a revealing snapshot of LGBT equality in 408 municipalities of varying sizes, and from every state in the nation. The report also includes two issue briefs — the first focuses on actions cities should take immediately to address anti-transgender violence in their community; the second underscores the continued importance of offering city employees domestic partner benefits.
“Across the nation, cities and towns are leading the way on equality for millions of LGBT Americans,” Griffin added. “This year, a record number of communities have earned top scores in our Municipal Equality Index because they’ve extended fully-inclusive benefits and protections to LGBT people and their families. What makes this progress especially remarkable is that these cities and towns are often going above and beyond state and federal laws to ensure LGBT residents and visitors are protected and treated equally.”
HRC researched hundreds of cities for the 2015 MEI, including all 50 state capitals, the nation’s 200 most populous cities, the five largest cities in every state, the communities home to each state’s two largest public universities, and an equal mix of 75 of the nation’s large, mid-size and small municipalities with the highest proportion of same-sex couples.
“This year, an unprecedented wave of discriminatory legislation attempted to roll-back our efforts for LGBT equality. Despite that challenge, over 20 towns and municipalities passed non-discrimination ordinances, some in the most unexpected places,” said Rebecca Issacs, who heads the Equality Federation. “These wins, along with historic LGBT visibility, speak to the tenacity of our advocates all across the country, many of whom donate their time to achieve fairness and equality. The MEI is an important tool for our movement that illustrates our successes and the work ahead of us. We will not stop until all Americans have a fair opportunity to provide for themselves and their families, free from the scourge of discrimination.”
Key findings from the 2015 Municipal Equality Index include:
- 47 cities earned perfect 100-point scores. This continues a steady increase over 38 cities in 2014, 25 cities in 2013 and 11 cities in 2012, the first year the MEI was published. 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;
- 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 31 states lack fully inclusive non-discrimination protections in employment and housing.
- Cities in every region of the country boasted at least one 100-point city, showing a commitment to LGBT equality in all regions of the country. Cities in the West, Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic and New England regions led the country with the densest concentration of top-scoring cities. The Mountain, Plains, Southeast, and Southwest regions fell below the average national score of 56.
- Cities continue to excel even in the absence of state laws: 19 “All Star” cities in states lacking comprehensive non-discrimination laws scored a perfect 100 score, up from 15 last year, eight in 2013, and just two in 2012.
- 66 cities, or 16 percent, of those rated in 2015 are offering transgender-inclusive health care options to city employees. This is up from 42 cities in 2014, and just 16 cities in 2013.
- The average city score was 56 points, with half of the cities researched scoring over 59 points. Eleven percent scored 100 points; 25 percent scored over 78 points; 25 percent scored under 31 points; and five percent scored fewer than 10 points;
- Cities with a higher proportion of same-sex couples, as tabulated by the U.S. Census, tended 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 41 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 MEI’s standard criteria for earning points this year no longer includes relationship recognition due to the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision affirming nationwide marriage equality, and it now places greater emphasis on non-discrimination protections. The full report, including detailed scorecards for every city, as well as a searchable database, is available online at www.hrc.org/mei.