Post submitted by Kristian Hoysradt, Political Co-Chair for the Human Rights Campaign Boston Steering Committee
On the eve of the third Annual North Shore Pride Parade and Festival in Salem, Massachusetts last month, the Human Rights Campaign announced that Salem had achieved a 100 percent rating on its 2014 Municipal Equality Index for the city’s LGBT-inclusive laws, policies and services. This followed a year-long effort in which Salem’s No Place for Hate Committee urged Mayor Kim Driscoll to designate official LGBT liaisons in the Mayor’s Office and Police Department, and pushed for the passage of a fully-LGBT inclusive non-discrimination ordinance. Salem’s City Council unanimously passed that ordinance which was signed into law by Mayor Driscoll on March 3, making Salem only the fifth community in Massachusetts and the first on the North Shore of Boston to extend discrimination protections for the transgender community in public accommodations. Several other Massachusetts communities have recently followed suit, including Somerville and Brookline.
"Standing on the forefront of equality, Salem understands that the LGBT community strengthens our city’s fabric and I am thrilled that our efforts towards LGBT-inclusivity have been recognized by the Human Rights Campaign," said Mayor Driscoll. "While famous for a tragic episode of discrimination and persecution in 1692, Salem now places tremendous value on ensuring equal protection under the law for all, no matter who you are, who you love, where you are from, or how you self-identify. We welcome all people who visit, live, study, and work in our community, and it is heartwarming to see that Salem is becoming more renown for our advancement of human rights and social justice."
In scoring 100 on the 2014 MEI, Salem follows Boston and Cambridge which were the only Massachusetts municipalities, among 25 nationally, to achieve a perfect score on the 2013 MEI last year. Unlike most municipalities included in the MEI which are chosen specifically by HRC for evaluation, the City of Salem voluntarily self-submitted its assessment and requested an evaluation from HRC.
One area where Salem can continue to improve on its LGBT-inclusivity is in the matter of transgender-inclusive health benefits. However, Salem municipal employees are covered by the Massachusetts Group Insurance Commission (GIC) which does not currently provide transgender-inclusive benefits. The GIC administers health insurance and other benefits for over 235,000 enrollees and 420,000 Massachusetts residents, including state employees and retirees, their dependents and survivors, and 30 municipalities – Salem included.
Over the next year, Mayor Driscoll is committed to working with the HRC Boston Steering Committee, MassEquality, the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition and other municipalities covered by the GIC to push for the inclusion of transgender health benefits when the Commissioners votes to update their benefit plans next February.
Last month, as reported by The Rainbow Times, Governor Deval Patrick announced that among several new changes he has enacted to provide non-discrimination protections for those seeking gender therapy services through state agencies and providers, his Administration would also encourage the GIC to ensure equal access to gender therapy services going forward.
Photo: Mayor Driscoll marches in Salem’s North Shore Pride Parade (c) Social Palates