Cities are doing more than states, federal government to protect LGBTQ rights, Human Rights Campaign report finds

Cities are continuing to take charge across the U.S. to ensure that LGBTQ protections are in place for residents, according to a report released Thursday from the Human Rights Campaign.

The organization’s Municipal Equality Index (MEI), which reviewed legislation in over 500 cities and municipalities representing 94 million people in its ninth iteration, found that cities have only improved on serving LGBTQ people despite rollbacks and challenges at the federal and state level.

“In many instances, local non-discrimination laws are the only layers of protection that LGBTQ people have,” HRC president Alphonso David told USA TODAY. “Because local officials are often the first and only line of protection against harmful prejudice and discrimination, it’s imperative that they fight to ensure inclusivity and equity for the most vulnerable, especially those who have multiple marginalized identities.”

© Spenser Harrison, Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau
Houston’s LGBT community is a vibrant slice of the city’s diverse makeup. Hundreds of thousands of revelers turned out for the 2012 Houston Pride Parade, themed Live Out Proud. Online traffic to the Visitors Bureau’s website, My Gay Houston, “rose 30% between 2013 and 2014 to nearly 150,000 visits. Just in January (2015) alone, traffic is up 45% year-over-year,” reports A.J. Mistretta, Senior Public Relations Manager for the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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By the HRC’s metrics, 94 of the cities surveyed achieved a perfect score, six more than last year and a significant improvement from 11 only eight years ago when the MEI first launched.

These cities have achieved high marks by establishing policies that the HRC finds are crucial for LGBTQ people’s welfare: For instance, nearly all of these cities reported LGBTQ hate crime statistics to the FBI, while around two-thirds provide direct services to LGBTQ youths and people with HIV or AIDS.

Among other benchmarks for cities: extensive non-discrimination laws, better transgender-inclusive health care for city and municipal employees and more LGBTQ officials elected to office at the municipal level. 

It’s not just cities located in states that have historically been friendly to LGBTQ people, either: 61 cities achieved high marks for ensuring the safety and well-being of LGBTQ people despite being located in states that do not offer base equality protections.

David singled out Norman, Oklahoma, the only city in the state to achieve a perfect score despite having hostile state laws such as discriminatory adoption policies. He also praised Anchorage, Alaska, which named its first LGBTQ mayor, Austin Quinn-Davidson, and has adopted non-discriminatory policies for transgender residents.

Thirty-five municipalities have also enacted laws banning conversion therapy, an improvement of 20% from last year.

Even cities that didn’t achieve perfect scores significantly improved across the board.  The biggest advances were seen in the Plains region, which includes cities in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

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David hopes the new presidential administration will follow the lead of city and municipal governments by passing the federal Equality Act, something that President-elect Joe Biden has indicated he would do in his first 100 days in office.

The act would “provide consistent and explicit anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people across key areas of life,” David said.

But on the local level, it still remains crucial that work toward LGBTQ equality continues, he said.

“When local leaders stand up against this hate and discrimination by enacting inclusive local protections, they are not only imparting vital safeguards that will improve the lives of LGBTQ residents, but they are sending a message of hope to the community, to LGBTQ youth searching for acceptance, and beyond,” David said.

Follow Joshua Bote on Twitter: @joshua_bote.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cities are doing more than states, federal government to protect LGBTQ rights, Human Rights Campaign report finds

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