A record-setting national average shows that localities continue to lead the way on equality, even in times of national crisis and absent state and federal leadership
HRC Foundation released its ninth annual Municipal Equality Index (MEI), which is the only nationwide assessment of LGBTQ equality regarding municipal policy, law and services.
Municipalities continue to take decisive steps to safeguard LGBTQ people, despite attempts to stymie progress on the federal level and in statehouses around the country. This year, a record-breaking 94 cities earned the highest score, which is up from 88 cities in 2019 and 11 in 2012, the first year of the MEI.
In 19 states across the country, 61 cities earned over 85 points despite hailing from a state without non-discrimination statutes that explicitly protect sexual orientation and gender identity. These municipalities set a standard of LGBTQ inclusiveness 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 results of this year’s Municipality Equality Index show definitive evidence that our local leaders across the nation are standing up for equality – even as they faced headwinds from state governments or the Trump-Pence administration,” said Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David. “There is no question that the Trump administration made every effort to attack laws aimed to protect LGBTQ people, and our cities have responded with inclusivity and innovative public policy. Although there is newfound optimism sweeping the country with the incoming Biden-Harris administration, there is still work to be done and ground to make up. 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.”
“As we come to the end of a truly unique year, this report on LGBTQ equality at the local level provides our community with hope — hope for the continued progress and resilience of the LGBTQ state-based movement. We are preparing for a new, friendlier federal administration, but one that we know will face immense challenges in rebuilding our nation. Thus, it is critical that the work to advance protections for LGBTQ people continues at the state and local level,” said Rebecca Isaacs, Executive Director of Equality Federation Institute. “We are proud to partner with HRC on the Municipal Equality Index. Its scores allow cities and the advocates on the ground to take stock of their progress, marking important steps forward to achieve equality for LGBTQ people and our families. This marks the fourth year in a row that the national city score average increased, and we will work tirelessly to ensure that number continues to grow. It’s time for leaders at every level to take a stand and demand that no one be treated differently because of who they are, where they live, or who they love.”
The report contains two new issue briefs for policymakers: Addressing Systemic Racism Through Municipal Action, and another detailing the landmark Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia Supreme Court decision that explains why it's imperative that localities continue enacting non-discrimination laws that explicitly include both sexual orientation and gender identity. Additionally, the report includes HRC’s Pledge for Local Elected Leaders to End Violence Against Black and Brown Transgender Women.
This year, 179 cities have transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits for municipal employees—up from 164 in 2019 and only five since the start of the MEI. Furthermore, 429 cities have equal employment opportunity policies that expressly include sexual orientation and/or gender identity, up by 21 since 2019. Moreover, 188 municipalities require their contractors to have employment non-discrimination policies that cover sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Other significant findings from the 2020 MEI include:
Even though local leaders continue to pave the way forward on equality, there remains an unacceptable patchwork of laws for LGBTQ people across the country. This reinforces the need for the federal Equality Act that would provide consistent and explicit non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people across key areas of life, including employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service.
The MEI rated 506 cities including the 50 state capitals, the 200 largest cities in the U.S., the five largest cities or 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 HRC and Equality Federation state group members and supporters. It assesses each city on 49 criteria covering citywide non-discrimination protections, policies for municipal employees, city services, law enforcement and the city’s leadership on LGBTQ equality.
The full report, including detailed scorecards for every city, as well as a searchable database, is available online at www.hrc.org/mei.
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