For the first time, more than 100 cities across the U.S. have earned a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's Municipal Equality Index, which rates municipal policies, laws, and services that affect LGBTQ+ people.
The exact number is 110, up from 94 in 2020 and just 11 in 2012, when the index was inaugurated. The HRC Foundation (the Human Rights Campaign's educational arm) released the 2021 report Thursday, in partnership with the Equality Federation.
"LGBTQ+ people are everywhere -- in every city, county and zip code," JoDee Winterhof, HRC senior vice president of policy and political affairs, said in a press release. "Throughout its 10-year history, the Municipal Equality Index has been centered on supporting and celebrating the work municipalities do to serve LGBTQ+ people in the places they call home. This year, statewide lawmakers have zeroed in on attacking transgender and nonbinary children -- for no reason other than in an effort to harm and erase them. Local leaders, however, have continued to move the needle of progress forward, and by doing so, they have spurred economic growth by signaling to residents, visitors and employers that their city is open to everyone."
Indeed, the report shows that municipalities are often far ahead of their states in advancing LGBTQ+ equality. In 20 states across the country, 72 cities earned over 85 points despite being located a state without nondiscrimination laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity, which is up from five municipalities in 2012. These cities have taken steps such as enacting comprehensive nondiscrimination laws, providing transgender-inclusive health benefits for city employees, and providing services for particularly vulnerable members of the LGBTQ+ community.
The index covers 506 cities, 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, the 75 municipalities that have high proportions of same-sex couples, and 98 cities selected by HRC and Equality Federation state group members and supporters. It assesses each city on 49 criteria covering citywide nondiscrimination protections, policies for municipal employees, city services, law enforcement and the city's leadership on LGBTQ equality.
Other key findings include:
This year, 181 cities have transgender-inclusive health care benefits for municipal employees -- up from 179 in 2020, despite more rigorous standards this year, and only five at the start of the MEI.
The national city score average jumped to an all-time high of 67 points, up from 64 last year and 59 in 2012, marking both the fourth consecutive year of national average increases as well as the highest year-over-year national average growth ever. Cities rated by the MEI in 2012 averaged 59 points in 2012; in 2021, those cities averaged 85 points.
Cities around the country saw progress, with every region of the country seeing a higher average score than last year.
Forty-three municipalities have anti-conversion therapy ordinances in states with no state-level protections, up from 38 last year.
"In reflecting on the Municipal Equality Index's 10-year history, it feels as though these past few years have been the most challenging, and yet the most critical, to advancing LGBTQ+ equality," Fran Hutchins, executive director of the Equality Federation Institute, said in the release. "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. As we face the upcoming attacks by opponents of equality, we know the state-based movement is stronger than ever and ready to fight for the millions of LGBTQ+ Americans who need us in the towns and cities across this country."
"For 10 incredible years, the MEI has helped guide, shape and inspire more inclusive laws and policies in cities of all sizes in all parts of the country," added Cathryn Oakley, HRC state legislative director and senior counsel, and founding author of the index. "This program is one of the key ways HRC is able to impact the daily lives of our members, supporters and allies. Being able to personally witness these communities continue to push themselves to better serve their LGBTQ+ communities over the years has been one of my greatest joys. I am incredibly proud of this project and of the MEI team who have made this report a vehicle of enduring change and of our partners in communities around the country who have enthusiastically embraced its possibilities."
The report also contains an issue brief for policymakers that covers the types of challenges faced by transgender and nonbinary individuals, ways that a city can support them, and guidance on forming a task force aiming to prevent violence against this population. Additionally, the report includes HRC's Pledge for Local Elected Leaders to End Violence Against Black and Brown Transgender Women.
The full report, including detailed scorecards for every city as well as a searchable database, is available online at www.hrc.org/mei.