WASHINGTON — A new report on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality in America’s cities by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, rated 137 cities across the nation, including New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The Municipal Equality Index (MEI), the first ever rating system of LGBT inclusion in municipal law, finds that while many U.S. cities lag behind in protections for LGBT people, some of the most LGBT-friendly policies in the country have been innovated and implemented at the municipal level, including in states with laws that are unfriendly to the LGBT community. The MEI was issued in partnership with the Equality Federation Institute and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute. The average score for cities in Louisiana is 41 out of 100 points, which falls below the national average. New Orleans received a score of 79 points, and Baton Rouge scored a 2.
Key findings from the MEI create a snapshot of LGBT equality in 137 municipalities of varying sizes drawn from every state in the nation – these include the 50 state capitals, the 50 most populous cities in the country, and the 25 large, 25 mid-size, and 25 small municipalities with the highest proportion of same-sex couples.
The 100-point cities in the MEI serve as shining examples of LGBT inclusivity, with excellent policies ranging from non-discrimination laws, equal employee benefits, and cutting-edge city services. As America moves forward in support of LGBT equality, cities across the country are on the forefront of this movement. Cities in every region of the country are fighting for equality at the most intimate level of government. At the same time, cities across the country also have room for improvement. The MEI articulates a path forward and celebrates the success of cities doing this important work.
MEI at a glance:
• Eleven of the 137 cities surveyed earned a perfect score of 100 points – these cities came from both coasts and in between, were of varying sizes, and not all are in states with favorable laws for LGBT people;
• A quarter of the cities rated scored over 80 points;
• 45 percent of cites surveyed obtained a score of 60 or higher;
• Nearly a third of cites scored between 40 and 60 points, showing good intentions on behalf of municipal governments but also opportunity for improvement; and
• Just under a quarter of the cities scored less than 20 points, including eight cities that scored under ten points and three that scored zero.
The MEI rates cities based on 47 criteria falling under six broad categories:
• Non-discrimination laws;
• Relationship recognition;
• The municipality’s employment practices;
• Inclusiveness of city services;
• Law enforcement; and
• Municipal leadership.
In today’s world, cities must compete for business and brain power. Research shows that to do this, they must treat their LGBT citizens with dignity and respect. Acclaimed Professor Richard Florida authored the forward for the MEI. Professor Florida is a pioneer in research into how the nurturing of a “creative class” (entrepreneurs, artists and architects, researchers, scientists, engineers, and other professionals) creates prosperous, economically competitive cities.
“We are not surprised by the results of the Index scores for the two Louisiana cities included in the study,” said Kenny Tucker, Co-Political Director of Forum For Equality Louisiana. “New Orleans’ high equality score of 79 (out of 100) reflects the hard work of the Forum For Equality and our many Equality partners since 1989. The very low score of 2 for Baton Rouge highlights the many obstacles to equality in Louisiana. However, Forum For Equality and our allies have made good progress in the last few years around the state, with Lafayette, Lake Charles, Monroe, Bossier City, and Shreveport adopting non-discrimination employment policies for city government workers. Forum For Equality will continue to fight for equality until every LGBT person in Louisiana is treated fairly, and with dignity and respect.”
“Our nation is on an irreversible path forward in LGBT equality and local and state-level advocacy ensures our voices are heard in public squares across the country” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “This index gives advocates and municipal lawmakers a potent tool to improve the lives of LGBT people.”
“Advances at the local level are often unheralded, but they are critical to building the momentum we need for statewide and federal victories,” said Rebecca Isaacs, Executive Director of Equality Federation Institute. “The Municipal Equality Index not only recognizes the remarkable progress that state equality groups and local partners have made in cities and towns across the country, but is a powerful tool to help push local governments to do better.”
“The freedom to be ourselves is most important where we live, work and raise our families. That’s why it’s so crucial that local and municipal governments understand the need to make life better for LGBT people. We work hard to make sure openly LGBT people participate in government as elected and appointed officials, and the MEI will be a great resource for them,” said Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute.
The full report, including long form scorecards for every city and a searchable database, is available online at www.hrc.org/mei.