West Virginia All-Stars: Charleston and Huntington Lead the Way in LGBTQ Equality

WASHINGTON — At a time when hate crimes against LGBTQ people are on the rise and many states have failed to pass LGBTQ-inclusive laws and policies, municipalities across the country are stepping up to ensure that all residents are treated equally, according to a report issued today by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, the educational arm of the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) civil rights organization.

In West Virginia, Charleston and Huntington earned over 85 points on the 2020 Municipal Equality Index (MEI) despite hailing from a state without statewide non-discrimination statutes that explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity. Across the country,  municipalities like these set a standard of LGBTQ inclusiveness by prioritizing measures such as local non-discrimination laws, providing transgender-inclusive health benefits for city employees, and providing services for particularly vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community.

Trailblazing the path forward for equality, Charleston and Huntington earned one of HRC’s 61 MEI “All-Star” designations. MEI All-Stars are municipalities nationwide that are excelling by advancing LGBTQ equality locally without relying on explicit state-level protections. This year, Charleston earned a 92 and Huntington earned a 100.

The average score for cities in West Virginia is 62 out of 100 points, which falls below the national average of 64.

“These All-Star cities are blazing the path forward for equality and fighting back against extreme unrelenting attacks on the LGBTQ community. These cities are sending a strong message that our lives, our families and our community are valuable and valued,” said Alphonso David, President of the Human Rights Campaign. “This year’s Municipal Equality Index underscores the importance that mayors and local officials play in creating safe and inclusive communities – even if there has been a lack of leadership at the federal level. As we look toward advancing equality during the Biden-Harris Administration, it is critical that we continue to strengthen LGBTQ protections at the local level. Local leaders, coast to coast, continue to show that they are willing to advance LGBTQ equality for their constituents, and we are thrilled to continue building inclusive communities across the country.”

“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,” said Rebecca Isaacs, Executive Director of Equality Federation Institute. “We are proud to partner with HRC on the Municipal Equality Index. Its scores allow cities and the advocates on the ground to take stock of their progress, marking important steps forward to achieve equality for LGBTQ people and our families. This marks the fourth year in a row that the national city score average increased, and we will work tirelessly to ensure that number continues to grow. It’s time for leaders at every level to take a stand and demand that no one be treated differently because of who they are, where they live, or who they love.”

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.

Even though local leaders continue to pave the way forward on equality, there remains an unacceptable patchwork of laws for LGBTQ people 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 nondiscrimination 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.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation is the educational arm of America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. HRC envisions a world where LGBTQ people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.

Tyler Barker
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