State Watch

Cities led the way in LGBTQ equality this year, HRC report says

Gay marriage
AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Same-sex marriage supporters hold up balloons that spell the words “love wins” as they stand in front of the White House, which is lit up in rainbow colors in commemoration of the Supreme Court’s ruling to legalize same-sex marriage, on Friday, June 26, 2015, in Washington. Gay and lesbian couples in Washington and across the nation are celebrating Friday’s ruling, which will put an end to same-sex marriage bans in the 14 states that still maintain them. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Municipalities are leading the way when it comes to adopting more LGBTQ-inclusive policies and services, with more than 100 cities this year earning perfect or near-perfect marks for equality on an annual assessment by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a leading LGBTQ advocacy organization.

A record-breaking 120 cities nationwide this year scored a perfect 100 on the HRC’s Municipal Equality Index (MEI), the group said Wednesday, illustrating strides that even municipalities in states with increased legislation and rhetoric targeting the LGBTQ community have made.

“One of the things that’s so important about the MEI is that it really offers a really compelling counter-narrative,” Cathryn Oakley, the HRC’s state legislative director and senior counsel, told The Hill. “Even at the same time that these state legislatures — which are very gerrymandered, particularly in states that are really bringing the biggest, hardest attacks on LGBTQ people — cities that are closest to the people are working to ensure their laws and policies are doing better.”

This year alone, the HRC tracked more than 345 bills introduced in state legislatures nationwide that would restrict how LGBTQ people — particularly transgender youth — are able to access health care, play on school sports teams and talk about their identities and families in the classroom.

But metrics like the MEI, produced jointly each year by the HRC and the Equality Federation Institute, show local leaders are pushing back against laws and policies that could harm the LGBTQ community.

In 20 states across the country, for instance, 80 cities this year earned over 85 points out of a possible 100, despite their state lacking nondiscrimination statutes that explicitly protect sexual orientation and gender identity — an increase from 74 municipalities in 2021 and up from just five in 2012, when the MEI was first released.

These cities set a standard of LGBTQ inclusion by prioritizing measures like enacting comprehensive nondiscrimination laws, providing transgender-inclusive health care benefits for city employees and developing services for vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community like the elderly or unhoused.

“Despite the increasing attacks we are seeing on transgender youth in state legislatures, the important work to advance protections for LGBTQ+ people continues at the local level,” Fran Hutchins, executive director of the Equality Federation Institute, said Tuesday in a statement. 

“Often the greatest opportunities for victories to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people are in the states and cities — where the work is hard but the impact is great,” Hutchins said. “I am encouraged by the work of state and local advocates who keep having the tough conversations, changing hearts and minds, and seeing progress in their communities as a result — we are all better for it.”

Cities across the country saw progress this year, with nearly every region in the nation seeing a higher average score than last year. At the same time, the national city score average jumped to an all-time high of 68 points, up from 67 points last year and marking the fifth consecutive year of national average increases.

More than 180 cities this year also implemented transgender-inclusive health care benefits for municipal employees, and 41 municipalities have enforced anti-conversion therapy ordinances in states with no state-level protections.

Tags equality assessment Human Rights Campaign LGBTQ rights
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