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Published on : Monday, October 17, 2016
Today, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, the educational arm of the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) civil rights organization, in partnership with the Equality Federation Institute, released its fifth annual Municipal Equality Index (MEI), assessing LGBTQ equality in 506 cities across the nation, including 10 in New York.
The 2016 Municipal Equality Index (MEI), the only nationwide rating system of LGBTQ inclusion in municipal law and policy, shows that cities across the country, including in New York, continue to take the lead in supporting LGBTQ people and workers, even when states and the federal government have not.
For LGBTQ Americans, legal protections and benefits vary widely depending on location — states and cities have markedly different laws governing discrimination. 20 states have non-discrimination laws that include protections for LGBTQ people in employment, and 19 states have laws that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in places of public accommodation. But cities are leading the way: more than 24 million people live in cities that have more comprehensive laws for transgender people than the states do. And that’s an important part of how 135 million Americans — 42 percent of the population — are covered under LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination laws. The effort to achieve full equality continues, and the MEI remains a crucial tool in evaluating the patchwork of LGBTQ policies and practices in cities and towns across the nation.
The average score for cities in New York is 87 out of 100 points, which falls above the national average of 55.
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“This year, dozens of cities across the nation showed they are willing to stand up for LGBTQ people in their communities even when some state governments are not,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “This builds on a trend we have long observed: that local governments are at the forefront of our fight for equality. Unfortunately, our opponents have witnessed this progress too, and in recent years, anti-LGBTQ lawmakers have pushed spiteful legislation aimed at pre-empting local protections. That’s why it’s so important that we continue to not only fight for equality at the state and local levels, but to enact comprehensive federal protections for LGBTQ people under the Equality Act.”
“Despite another year of legislative attacks on LGBTQ equality, we are not merely holding our ground; we also continue to make significant gains across the country,” said Rebecca Isaacs, Executive Director of the Equality Federation Institute. “The opportunity for further progress is huge, and we are proud to partner with HRC on the Municipal Equality Index, a powerful roadmap for elected officials and community advocates who want to continue down the path to full equality.”
Since the MEI’s debut in 2012, the number of cities earning perfect scores has more than quintupled, and today at least 24 million people now live in cities that have more comprehensive, transgender-inclusive non-discrimination laws than their state or the federal government. And cities that have been rated all five years of the MEI have improved their scores by about 20 points over that time.
Progress on transgender equality has been particularly noteworthy in cities across America this year, continuing a positive trend that the MEI has tracked — and encouraged — since 2012. Transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits are offered to employees of 86 municipalities this year — up from 66 in 2015 and 5 in 2012 — and the growth of cities offering those benefits to their employees outpaces the growth in the number of cities rated. The MEI’s Issue Brief on Transgender-Inclusive Health Benefits is available here.
For the first time this year, the MEI deducted points from the scores of cities that have non-discrimination protections containing carve-outs prohibiting individuals from using public facilities consistent with their gender identity. It also created a new category of points to recognize cities that are offering transgender-specific city services.
Two special reports are also included in the 2016 MEI: Power Struggles and Preemption details efforts by anti-equality officials at the state level to pass discriminatory legislation like North Carolina’s HB2 law that strip municipalities of their ability to protect their residents and workers with non-discrimination measures. Inclusive and Innovative Approaches to Citywide Bullying Prevention lays out the serious public health issue of bullying, how it disproportionately affects LGBTQ youth, and innovative ways municipalities can protect its young people from bullying. The 2018 MEI will change the way it assesses anti-bullying issues, as described in this brief.
Other key findings from the 2016 Municipal Equality Index include:
The MEI rated 506 cities: the 50 state capitals, the 200 largest cities in the United States, the five largest cities or municipalities in each state, the cities home to the state’s two largest public universities (including undergraduate and graduate enrollment), 75 cities and municipalities that have high proportions of same-sex couples, and 98 cities selected by members and supporters of HRC and Equality Federation state organizations.
The MEI rates cities based on 44 criteria that fall into five broad categories: