While our community has made great strides toward equality, in the past year, the political climate has changed dramatically as opponents of equality attempt to erode/circumvent freedoms with executive orders, Congressional legislation, lawsuits, and at the state level as witnessed by North Carolina’s HB 2 law last year. However, the recently released 2017 Municipal Equality Index (MEI) published by the The Human Rights Campaign demonstrates that despite the aforementioned challenges to equality nationally, progress continues to move forward at the local level.
“This year’s MEI paints a vivid picture: cities big and small, in red and blue states alike, are continuing our progress toward full equality, regardless of the political drama unfolding in Washington, D.C., and in state legislatures across the country,” said HRC President Chad Griffin.
“Today, the MEI serves as a vital tool for business leaders and municipal officials alike when it comes to economic development. CEOs know that in order to attract and retain the best employees, they must grow their companies in places that protect LGBTQ citizens from discrimination and actively open their doors to all communities. The MEI is the best tool to help these businesses make crucial evaluations about the welcoming — or unwelcoming — nature of towns and cities across the nation.”
Key National findings from the 2017 Municipal Equality Index (MEI) include:
- 86 cities from states without comprehensive nondiscrimination laws protecting LGBTQ people scored above the overall nationwide average of 57 points. These cities averaged 84-point scores; 28 scored a perfect 100.
- Cities continue to excel even in the absence of inclusive state laws: 41“All Star” cities in states lacking comprehensive non-discrimination laws scored above 85 points, up from 37 last year, 31 in 2016, 15 in 2014, eight in 2013, and just two in 2012.
- The national city score average increased from 55 to 57 points. 68 cities scored 100 points; 25 percent scored over 79 points; 50 percent scored over 59 points; 25 percent scored less than 35; and 11 cities scored zero points.
How Does Hampton Roads Measure Up?
MEI rankings for Virginia cities measured vary widely from a high of 93 (out of 100) in Arlington County to a low of 21 measured in Newport News. Local politicians and their policies matter as this study demonstrates that depending upon where you live, local laws and support systems can have a profound impact on LGBT quality of life and ability to live openly. As you can see in the graphic, Virginia Beach scored highest among Hampton Roads cities with a score of 54, however this ranking is average when compared to other cities nationwide.
Generally, scores for Hampton Roads cities have improved since the MEI started – one area in particular that has raised scores substantially is having an LGBT police liaison in each city. Credit is due for this improvement to the recent efforts of Hampton Roads Pride. However, there is always room for improvement and much more work can be done. Below is a breakdown of the MEI for each city in Hampton Roads measured.
Leading the way in Hampton Roads, Virginia Beach scored 54 out of 100, an improvement of seven points from the 2016 MEI. Extra points awarded in 2017 in two categories: “Leadership Public Position on LGBTQ Equality” and for “Enumerated Anti-Bullying School Policies.”
The city of Norfolk’s ranking dropped two points in 2017 to 47, This is due to end of City Councilwoman Nicole Carry’s temporary term ending in late 2016. This score seems low as Norfolk is typically viewed as a progressive leader and central to the LGBTQ community.
On the peninsula, Hampton earned the ‘most improved’ score in Hampton Roads with a jump from 19 in 2016 to 30 in 2017. This improvement is primarily due to the appointment of an LGBTQ police liaison.
Chesapeake saw its score improve by ten points for 2017 following the appointment of an LGBTQ police liaison, primarily due to the outreach and efforts of Hampton Roads Pride.
Among the cities measured in Hampton Roads, Newport News scored the lowest at 21 out of 100, an improvement of one point from 2016. However, the MEI score does not reflect the recent appointment of an LGBTQ police liaison. This would bring Newport News’s score to 31
How Can Hampton Roads Move Beyond Average?
Currently, there are not any anti-discrimination laws on the books in the Commonwealth of Virginia protecting LGBTQ persons against discrimination in employment, housing or public accommodations. However, a quick comparison of Arlington County’s MEI with that of Virginia Beach offers policy insight into how local officials can positively affect the lives of LGBTQ persons. To do so, Hampton Roads cities could do the following:
- Adopt non-discrimination laws in housing, public accommodation and employment at the local level;
- Provide better services to LGBTQ homeless, youth and transgender community;
- Adopt city contractor non-discrimination policy;
- Cultivate political leaders amongst the LGBTQ community for election or appointment;
To read the entire MEI, visit https://www.hrc.org/resources/mei-2017-see-your-citys-score