Sometimes, we hear from our members, “I know HRC is doing work in Washington, D.C., on behalf of LGBTQ+ equality, but what are you doing in my hometown? How does your work affect me where I am?”
We all know that federal laws affect our lives — news cycles, social media posts and conversations with friends are often dominated by what is happening in the nation’s capital. But do you know what affects our daily lives just as much? Local laws! The policies and practices that shape our towns and counties are doing so — right down to your own neighborhood.
Ten years ago, the HRC Foundation created the Municipal Equality Index, published in partnership with the Equality Federation, which rates how cities are leading the way for progress by advancing protections for LGBTQ+ residents and visitors. This year, 506 towns and cities in the U.S. were assessed on their LGBTQ+ inclusive laws, policies and services. That’s right, HRC is rating your hometown!
The LGBTQ+ community is everywhere — in every city, county and ZIP code. The MEI helps us bring the important work of equality to our community across the country and get closer to fulfilling our nation’s promise of full equality under the law.
“This program truly is one of the key ways HRC is able to touch the communities our members, supporters and allies call home. Being able to personally witness municipalities grow and strive to achieve equality and inclusion over the years has been one of my greatest joys.”
Cities are in constant competition for residents, visitors, employees and businesses. A demonstrated commitment to equality through laws and policies that protect everyone, including LGBTQ+ people, sends a clear message that all are welcome and valued — plus, inclusive non-discrimination laws give cities a competitive edge.
Adopting the measures outlined in the MEI will not only help cultivate more united and safe communities, but it will foster economic growth by signaling to residents, visitors and outside investors that their region is welcoming to all. So not only do we strive to ensure that every municipality in the U.S. is enacting the most up-to-date LGBTQ+ inclusive laws, but we also want these progressive changes to contribute to a local economic boom for each area.
Over the years, the number of cities rated has dramatically increased, which has allowed for more widespread, comprehensive work in small towns across the country to advance LGBTQ+ equality. In 2012, the first edition of the MEI rated 137 cities — it now rates 506 cities, plus cities who submit themselves to be rated.
City selection criteria are comprised of the 50 state capitals, the 200 largest cities in the United States, the five largest municipalities in each state, the cities home to the state’s two largest public universities, 75 municipalities that have high proportions of same-sex couples and 98 cities selected by the HRC Foundation and Equality Federation state group members and supporters. Over the past decade, the criteria have changed and the standards for credit have strengthened, but the average city score has been steadily rising, as has the number of 100-point scores. Through many iterations of the MEI, we’ve highlighted criteria that fit into five broad categories: non-discrimination laws, the municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement, and the city’s leadership on LGBTQ+ equality.
These cities and towns set a standard for LGBTQ+ inclusion by prioritizing measures such as enacting comprehensive non-discrimination laws, providing transgender-inclusive health benefits for city employees, and providing services for particularly vulnerable members of the LGBTQ+ community. The MEI team supports local government action to safeguard LGBTQ+ people, and the MEI rating helps LGBTQ+ residents and visitors to have full knowledge of how their hometown either excels or lacks comprehensive LGBTQ+ protections.
Despite all the challenges over the past 10 years, our municipalities have remained key drivers of necessary progress and greater inclusion. We are grateful for their commitment and partnership, as well as for the undaunted advocacy and leadership of our partners at the Equality Federation Institute and statewide LGBTQ+ organizations. Through our work with the MEI, the HRC Foundation has ensured each year that our critical mission to advance LGBTQ+ equality has a footprint in your hometown.