ABOVE: HRC’s 10th MEI. Photo via HRC.
The MEI examines how inclusive municipal laws, policies and services are for LGBTQ people who live and work in the 506 cities across the nation rated. HRC determines the score based on non-discrimination laws, the municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement and the city leadership’s public position on equality.
“This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Municipal Equality Index, the nation’s premier benchmarking tool for municipal officials, policy makers and business leaders to understand how well cities across the nation are embodying LGBTQ+ inclusion in their laws, policies, and services,” HRC Interim President Joni Madison said in a statement.
“Over the past 10 years, we’ve realized important progress for the LGBTQ+ community, including significant steps towards equality under the law as well as broader societal visibility and support,” she continued. “From Alaska to Georgia, from small towns to major urban centers, LGBTQ+ people are seeing broader horizons of freedom and opportunity in the places they live, work and visit.”
In Florida, 20 cities total were scored in this year’s MEI. Additional municipalities included Cape Coral, Coral Gables, Daytona Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Gainesville, Hialeah, Hollywood, Jacksonville, Miami Shores, Miami, Oakland Park, Pembroke Pines, Port Saint Lucie, Tallahassee, Wellington, West Palm Beach and Wilton Manors.
Joining Orlando, St. Petersburg and Tampa in receiving a perfect score – which only 110 cities did across the nation, up from 94 in 2020 – were Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, Oakland Park, Tallahassee, Wellington, West Palm Beach and Wilton Manors. Miami received an 89, Jacksonville received an 85 and on the lower end, Daytona Beach received a 30. A quarter of this year’s cities scored over 96, half scored over 67 and another quarter scored under 48.
This year marks the final score under St. Petersburg’s term-limited Mayor Rick Kriseman. Under his tenure, the city has received a perfect score for eight years, something he recently discussed with Watermark while reflecting on his time in office.
“I am incredibly proud of how far we have come as a city,” Kriseman said in a statement Nov. 18. “Receiving a perfect score on the Municipal Equality Index is a reflection not just of our values but of important policy advancements as well. It is a beacon, recruiting people and businesses to our city.
“Even though my time as mayor is coming to an end, I remain committed to this work and ensuring that LGBTQ residents and visitors forever view St. Pete as a city of opportunity, where the sun shines on us all,” he continued.
The outgoing mayor subsequently thanked HRC and St. Petersburg LGBTQ Liaison Jim Nixon for their hard work. He further noted that “the work of building an inclusive city never ends and I look forward to celebrating another perfect score next year.” St. Petersburg Mayor-elect Ken Welch, who made history this month, has committed that he will work to ensure the city maintains its perfect score.
“On this, the tenth anniversary of the HRC Municipal Equality Index, St Petersburg proves that it is a city of change and progress,” Nixon added. “2021 is St Petersburg’s eighth consecutive year with a perfect score. It is a direct result of Mayor Kriseman’s administration and a community that lifts all its citizens up … he has built a city where LGBTQ+ individuals are not just tolerated but celebrated and we are a better city for it.”
In Orlando, Mayor Buddy Dyer also reflected on the news via social media. 2021 also marks the city’s eighth consecutive 100%.
“Our work as a municipal government to help make Orlando a welcoming community for all must continue, but I am proud that the City of Orlando has again been recognized for our commitment to LGBTQ+ equality and inclusion,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer shared. “Inclusion and equity will remain at the forefront of all that we do as a community.”
Our work to help make Orlando a welcoming community for all must continue, but I am proud that @citybeautiful has again been recognized for our commitment to LGBTQ+ equality and inclusion with a perfect score in @HRC's Municipal Equality Index.https://t.co/wyLAdOE0zH
— Mayor Buddy Dyer (@orlandomayor) November 18, 2021
“Considering the state of national affairs, I am glad that cities are leading in the fair treatment of their LGBTQ+ citizens,” openly LGBTQ Orlando District 4 City Commissioner Patty Sheehan also shared in a statement. “Orlando continues to value the diversity and unique contributions of the LGBTQ+ community.”
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, the city’s first openly LGBTQ leader, also reflected on the news.
“In Tampa, we celebrate Pride everyday of the year by being a city that recognizes its diversity as one of our strongest assets,” she told Watermark. “This score reflects our mission to live-up to this value in practice.”
“We are grateful to these pro-equality municipal leaders and for the tremendous advocacy and leadership of our partners and the Equality Federation Institute and statewide LGBTQ+ organizations,” HRC’s Madison also noted. “Together, we will keep working to create a world where every person can thrive, no matter their zip code.” Among its partners are Equality Florida, the state’s largest LGBTQ-focused civil rights organization.
“The 2021 MEI is a celebration in more ways than one,” HRC concluded. “It shattered records, including the number of perfect scores, and the highest average city score; it demonstrated growth in every region of the country; and it showed that regardless of what’s happening in state legislatures, local leaders understand the ongoing need to ensure that the people in their communities are safe, seen and served.”