Every city in Hampton Roads that participated in the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Ninth Annual Municipal Equality Index (MEI) enjoyed a dramatic rise in their 2020 scores, primarily due to the passage of the Virginia Values Act which guaranteed nondiscrimination protections in employment, housing and public accommodations for LGBTQ+ Virginians.
Without passage of the Act, scores would have risen in all cities, but not as dramatically and is further proof that the Democrats taking control of the House of Delegates last year was vital in securing protections for LGBTQ+ persons.
City leaders still have a lot of influence on future MEI’s, and they continue to take decisive steps to safeguard LGBTQ people, despite attempts to stymie progress on the federal level and in statehouses around the country, except for Virginia.
This year, Virginia Beach is among the record-breaking 94 cities earning a perfect score, which is up from 88 cities in 2019 and 11 in 2012, the first year of the MEI.
Neva White, Chief Strategy Officer and LGBTQ Liaison to the City Manager’s Office of Virginia Beach helped lead her city’s efforts and said, “It took a mountain of people to really get things done. From public works individuals getting single stall bathrooms changed over to gender neutral in city buildings to purchasing getting more inclusive wording in our contracting guidelines, the theme was definitely ‘together we can’.”
Regional cooperation and communication were also key as White said she was in regular communication with colleagues in Norfolk and Hampton to discuss strategies to help the region as a whole improve their scores and quality of life for LGBTQ+ persons.
“I leaned on the support of other localities to help me shape and mold my focus areas,” said Latiesha Handy, Executive Director of Hampton’s Citizen’s Unity Commission and the city’s first LGBTQ Liaison. “To deepen the city’s commitment, we could successfully integrate pertinent language into our policies with significant legislation changes.”
Virginia Beach has led the region the past few years as their MEI reached an all-time high of 77 last year. For 2020, Virginia Beach earned a raw score of 113 points (100 is the highest score a city can earn) due to the following:
- Offers transgender healthcare benefits to city employees.
- Convenes a Human Rights Commission that has the power to enforce the city’s non-discriminatory ordinance.
- LGBTQ Liaison in City Hall.
- Policy to prevent youth bullying.
- Provides services to homeless youth and persons with HIV/AIDS.
- Publicly stated leadership position on equality.
- Passed pro-equality legislation.
- Openly LGBTQ+ elected or appointed officials.
Read the full reports for each of the Hampton Roads’ cities* at the links provided below:
Rebecca Isaacs, Executive Director of Equality Federation Institute, said, “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. We are preparing for a new, friendlier federal administration, but one that we know will face immense challenges in rebuilding our nation. Thus, it is critical that the work to advance protections for LGBTQ people continues at the state and local level.”
The report contains two new issue briefs for policymakers: Addressing Systemic Racism Through Municipal Action, and another detailing the landmark Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia Supreme Court decision that explains why its imperative that localities continue enacting non-discrimination laws that explicitly include both sexual orientation and gender identity. Additionally, the report includes HRC’s Pledge for Local Elected Leaders to End Violence Against Black and Brown Transgender Women.
This year, 179 cities have transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits for municipal employees—up from 164 in 2019 and only five since the start of the MEI. Furthermore, 429 cities have equal employment opportunity policies that expressly include sexual orientation and/or gender identity, up by 21 since 2019. Moreover, 188 municipalities require their contractors to have employment non-discrimination policies that cover sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Other significant findings from the 2020 MEI include:
- The national city score average jumped 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.
- 35 municipalities have anti-conversion therapy ordinances in states with no state-level protections, up from 28 last year.
- Every region of the country saw a mean city score increase this year, with the exception of the New England region which maintained its 2019 average.
There is still work to be done, however, as an unacceptable patchwork of laws for LGBTQ people still exist across the country. This reinforces the need for the federal Equality Act that would provide consistent and explicit non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people across key areas of life, including employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service.
The MEI rated 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, 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 non-discrimination protections, policies for municipal employees, city services, law enforcement and the city’s leadership on LGBTQ equality.
The full report, including detailed scorecards for every city, as well as a searchable database, is available online at www.hrc.org/mei.
* Portsmouth does not participate in the HRC MEI survey.