(Photo courtesy the Human Rights Campaign)
The Human Rights Campaign released its 12th annual Municipal Equality Index Nov. 14, revealing a record number of cities excelled in protecting LGBTQ+ rights this year — including Orlando, St. Petersburg and Tampa.
The MEI examines how inclusive municipal laws, policies and services are for LGBTQ+ people who live and work there. It is the only nationwide assessment of its type, conducted by the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights group in partnership with the Equality Federation, which builds a network of state-based LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations.
A total of 506 cities and towns were surveyed this year, scored on their non-discrimination laws, the municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement and the city leadership’s public position on equality. A record 129 of them received a final, perfect score of 100 — over 25% of those surveyed — including eight in Florida, deemed “all-star cities” for pushing back against the state’s anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
Orlando, St. Petersburg and Tampa retained their perfect scores and were joined by Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, Oakland Park, Miami and Wilton Manors. Daytona Beach received the lowest Florida score at 27 while Cape Coral received a 61; Coral Gables, 87; Hialeah, 53; Gainesville, 90; Jacksonville, 76; Miami Shores, 92; Pembroke Pines, 76; Port Saint Lucie, 75 and Tallahassee an 86.
The scores were tallied amidst HRC’s first-ever “National State of Emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans,” declared earlier this year in response to a record number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills signed into law this year. That includes in Florida, which HRC deemed a “state of emergency” for impacting the ability of cities to provide certain LGBTQ+ benefits.
“Cities and towns around the country are stepping up each and every day, finding new and innovative ways to empower LGBTQ+ people in the face of a dire national state of emergency,” HRC President Kelley Robinson said. “Even when anti-LGBTQ+ extremists in state capitals are working to undermine their progress, mayors and city councilmembers keep fighting to make sure that LGBTQ+ people in their communities — especially trans people — are supported and lifted up to the fullest extent possible.
“This year’s Municipal Equality Index shows the results of their dedication, while acknowledging the increasingly hostile environment in which they must govern,” she added.
Leaders in Orlando, Tampa and St. Petersburg each celebrated the recognition.
“Our community’s collective work to ensure that Orlando remains an inclusive city for all residents and visitors has been recognized on the national stage,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer shared Nov. 16.
“For years we have been putting inclusion and equity at the forefront of all that we do as a community,” he continued. “We have a lot to be proud of, but our work must and will continue, especially with all that is happening in our state, country and world.”
Dyer also noted that “Orlando’s unity, love and compassion — as well as the example that we’re setting for other cities in Florida and around the nation — will not be suppressed.”
“We’re proud to be recognized, once again, as a city that welcomes and embraces the LGBT community,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor told Watermark Nov. 16. “Tampa is one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation, in part because of our reputation as a friendly, diverse city that is a great place to live and work.”
HRC also featured St. Petersburg as one of six success stories, the only city recognized as such in Florida. They noted that “St. Pete remains focused on fostering inclusive progress and diversity.”
The organization cited the success of St Pete Pride, the city’s administrative policy requiring all-gender accessibility in single-occupant and family restrooms and the appointment of LGBTQ+ liaisons like Markus Hughes and Jim Nixon. You can read it here.
“Achieving a perfect score on the Municipal Equality Index for 10 consecutive years is a source of pride for all of St. Petersburg,” St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch said. “Not only does this accomplishment demonstrate our commitment to maintaining an inclusive environment for our LGBTQ+ community, but it shows that we embrace and affirm all residents, ensuring that our city remains a welcoming haven for everyone.”
“We have long presented the city as a safe and welcoming destination,” Nixon added. “Our mayor continues to speak out against recent legislation by the state and pass robust nondiscrimination policies and support services for the LGBTQ+ community and trans youth. For 10 consecutive years, we earned a perfect score on the HRC’s Municipal Equality Index, but we have not rested on our past scores … and the Human Rights Campaign recognizes it.”