Hampton Roads Cities Earn Failing Grades in 2018 Municipal Equality Index

Richmond's MEI Score Moves Dramatically from 42 to 94 in One Year

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Earlier this month, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, in partnership with the Equality Federation Institute, revealed results of the seventh annual Municipal Equality Index (MEI) The seven cities of Hampton Roads did not fare well, while Richmond jumped 52 points to a near-perfect score of 94.

Figure 1 (Data source: Human Rights Campaign 2018 Municipal Equality Index)

MEI ratings for the seven cities comprising Hampton Roads region saw their ratings fall or rise only marginally (Figure 1, left).  Regardless of improvement or decline, ratings for all the seven cities still fell well below the national average of 58 (out of a possible 100), basically receiving a failing grade when it comes to LGBTQ-inclusionary municipal policies.

In contracts, over the span of just a few years, political and community leaders in Richmond have worked together to create enforceable ordinances and progressive policies that drove the city’s MEI scores up by an astronomical 52 points in one year. For its efforts, Richmond was named an “MEI All-Star” and spotlighted as a “city boldly leading the way to equality” in the Human Rights Campaign’s 2018 MEI report.

“I am thrilled that Richmond has taken so many positive steps to protect and support our LGBTQ community,” said Mayor Levar Stoney. “I have always said that no matter the color of your skin, the neighborhood you live in, or who you love, that you are welcome in the City of Richmond – and Richmond’s 2018 MEI scorecard echoes that message.”

In 2017, Richmond received a 42 on the MEI scorecard. Community and political leaders worked with Mayor Stoney and the Richmond City Council to establish a Human Rights Commission; develop non-discrimination laws; designate a policy advisor to serve as the Mayor’s LGBTQ liaison; and offer transgender-inclusive health benefits for city employees.

“The work for full-lived equality begins in our local communities,” said Equality Virginia’s CEO, James Parrish.  “Equality Virginia applauds the efforts of Mayor Stoney and the Richmond City Council towards creating a city where gay and transgender people can live, work, and play free from discrimination. To see Richmond’s MEI score double in one year shows just how seriously Mayor Stoney values creating an inclusive city.”

The 2018 MEI evolved dramatically this year, instituting new benchmarks ensuring equal access to single-user facilities in public spaces, as well as protecting LGBTQ youth from bullying in city services and from dangerous so-called “conversion therapy.” Additionally, this year the MEI deducted points for laws that include provisions licensing discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

But even with these more stringent MEI requirements, cities and municipalities are meeting and exceeding standards with innovative measures to protect LGBTQ people. A record 78 cities earned perfect scores for advancing LGBTQ-inclusive laws and policies — up from 68 in 2017 and 11 in 2012, the first year of the MEI. And in the current political reality, welcoming cities like these are more important than ever.

Progress on transgender equality has been particularly noteworthy in cities across the U.S. this year, continuing a positive trend that the MEI has tracked and encouraged since 2012. Transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits are offered to employees of 147 municipalities this year — up from 111 in 2017, 66 in 2015 and just five in 2012. The MEI’s Issue Brief on Transgender-Inclusive Health Benefits is available here.

Key findings from the 2018 Municipal Equality Index include:

  • 103 cities from states without comprehensive nondiscrimination laws protecting LGBTQ people scored above the overall nationwide average of 58 points. These cities averaged 83-point scores; 34 scored a perfect 100.
  • Cities continue to excel even in the absence of inclusive state laws: 46“All Star” cities in states lacking comprehensive non-discrimination laws scored above 85 points, up from 41 last year, 37 in 2016 and just two in 2012.
  • The national city score average increased from 57 to 58 points. 78 cities scored 100 points; 25 percent scored over 83 points; 50 percent scored over 58 points; 25 percent scored less than 36; and 15 cities scored zero points.
  • Cities are protecting LGBTQ youth. Seventeen MEI-rated cities enacted local protections against the harmful and discredited practice of so-called “conversion therapy.”

The MEI rated 506 cities including 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, 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 city leadership’s relationship with the LGBTQ community. This year’s report also includes two new issue briefs for policymakers: Addressing the Unique Needs of LGBTQ Older People and Working Toward a Fully-Inclusive Municipal Workplace.

“From San Antonio, Texas, to Brookings, South Dakota, this year’s MEI again proves that there are no barriers to municipal LGBTQ equality for a city with dedicated, pro-equality elected officials,” said HRC President Chad Griffin.

The full report, including detailed scorecards for every city, as well as a searchable database, is available online at www.hrc.org/mei.