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Pictured: Overland Park, Kan., is highlighted as a success story in HRC's 2020 Municipal Equality Index.
LGBTQ+ rights have continued to advance in cities throughout the U.S. over the past year, with a record 94 municipalities earning perfect scores in the Human Rights Campaign's 2020 Municipal Equality Index, released Thursday.
The number is up from 88 cities in 2019 and 11 in 2012, the first year HRC compiled the index. Cities are rated on 49 criteria covering citywide nondiscrimination protections, policies for municipal employees, city services, law enforcement, and the city's leadership on LGBTQ+ equality.
"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," Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said in a press release. "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," added Rebecca Isaacs, executive director of the Equality Federation Institute, which partnered with HRC on the report. "We are preparing for a new, friendlier federal administration, but one that we know will face immense challenges in rebuilding our nationThus, it is critical that the work to advance protections for LGBTQ people continues at the state and local level. 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 numerous encouraging findings. In 19 states across the country, 61 cities earned over 85 points (a perfect score is 100 points) even though their states lacked laws explicitly banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
This year, 179 cities had transgender-inclusive health care benefits for municipal employees -- up from 164 in 2019 and only five since the start of the MEI. Furthermore, 429 cities had equal employment opportunity policies that expressly include sexual orientation and/or gender identity, up by 21 since 2019. And 188 required contractors to have employment nondiscrimination policies that cover sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
The city score average rose to an all-time high of 64 points, up from 60 last year, marking both the fourth consecutive year of national average increases as well as the highest year-over-year national average growth ever. Every region of the country saw a mean city score increase this year, with the exception of New England, which maintained its 2019 average.
There are 506 cities in this year's index, 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.
The report highlights several "success stories." For instance, Decatur, Ga., passed a comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinance, making it only the sixth city in Georgia to do so. Overland Park, Kan., did the same, becoming the largest city in Kansas with such a law and had the largest increase in its Municipal Equality Index score of any city in the nation.
It also contains two issue briefs. "Addressing Systemic Racism Through Municipal Action" details the origins and pervasiveness of racial disparities and what cities can do to fight racism in law enforcement, employment, education, and other areas. Another brief deals with last June's landmark Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, which declared that anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in employment is banned under the sex discrimination provisions of existing federal law. The brief explains why a national nondiscrimination law covering sexual orientation and gender identity is still needed, and why municipalities should still enact inclusive laws as well.
Additionally, the report asks local leaders to pledge to end violence against transgender women of color. At least 40 trans Americans have died by violence in 2020, most of them Black or Latinx women.
Find the full report at HRC.org/mei.