Many people are familiar with the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Corporate Equality Index (CEI), a ranking the nation’s largest employers on their commitment to equality for LGBT employees and consumers that HRC has released for the last fourteen years.
Less well known is the organization’s Municipal Equality Index (MEI), which ranks a growing number of the nation’s cities on their treatment of LGBT citizens. According to the HRC, the “MEI rates cities based on 41 criteria that fall into five broad categories:
1) Non-discrimination laws
2) Municipal employment policies, including transgender-inclusive insurance coverage and non-discrimination requirements for contractors
3) Inclusiveness of city services
4) Law enforcement, including hate crimes reporting, and
5) Municipal leadership on matters of equality.
Forty-seven cities scored a perfect score this year, and at least one city in each region achieved the top score. In the Southeast, only Atlanta and Louisville garnered perfect 100s. This number has quadrupled since the MEI was initiated in 2012.
But even 100s can be deceptive, because a 100 does not guarantee a city “All-Star” status, because cities in states that have progressive laws may get score boosts from policies they aren’t responsible for. To be a MEI All-Star, a city must “score above 85 without relying on good state law (non-discrimination)” for their score. Not surprisingly, both Louisville and Atlanta made the cut, since both earned their 100s despite being in regressive states.
The Tennessee results are underwhelming, but consider this: every city in Tennessee received 12 points for simply reporting 2013 hate crime statistics to the FBI. Now while there is no requirement that they do so, this reporting takes almost no work for or commitment to the LGBT populace. If a department decided not to report and you take those 12 points away, Tennessee’s scores are even more miserable.
On the other hand, the state of Tennessee not only lacks non-discrimination laws, costing every city an automatic 12 points, but also prevents local governments from passing protections not granted by the state, which means that every city in Tennessee will start 30 points down.This year, six Tennessee cities were ranked, and her is how they did, from lowest to highest scoring:
The city of Murfreesboro scored least of all the Tennessee cities scored this year, earning 0 points for local non-discrimination ordinances, for protections for city workers, for municipal services to LGBT people, and for its relationship with the LGBT community. Indeed, it scored its only points for reporting statistics on hate crimes.
Clarksville scored 0 points for local non-discrimination ordinances, for protections for city workers, and only five point for municipal services (it has a human rights commission, but it is unclear to what extent that group considers LGBT issues).
One of the state’s largest cities, Knoxville nonetheless scores on the low end even for Tennessee. It scored 0 points for local non-discrimination ordinances, though it did score 12 points for protections for city workers on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender.
Chattanooga scored 0 for local non-discrimination ordinances and for municipal services to LGBT citizenry, but earned points for having policies protecting city workers on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender.
Tennessee’s largest city, Memphis scored second-highest on the MEI, despite scoring 0 for local non-discrimination ordinances. In addition to protections for city workers on the basis of sexual orientation and gender, Memphis scored points for having an LGBT liaison in the mayor’s office and in the police department and for having an enumerated anti-bullying policy in schools, among other things. It also received a bonus of four points for being “pro-equality despite restrictive state law.”
Even Nashville scored only 66, though we might expect it to score higher next year. Nashville scores high marks for offering protections for city workers and contractors against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender, though it got 0 points for transgender-inclusive healthcare. While Nashville did well in municipal services, earning points for its human rights commission and for school bullying policies, as well as bonuses for services to LGBT youth, LGBT homeless, and HIV/AIDS services, Mayor Barry could boost the city’s score by bringing on an LGBT liaison for her office, as well as by pushing for transgender healthcare coverage for city workers. Controversially, while the city’s relationship to the LGBT community earned it an 8/8, Nashville was not awarded the bonus for being “pro-equality despite restrictive state law”, while Memphis only earned 3/8 and did receive the bonus. Perhaps Nashville should ask for a recount?
In places like Tennessee, HRC President Chad Griffin’s comments are particularly accurate. "While this has been an historic year for equality,” he said, “we are constantly reminded of just how far we still have to go. In too many communities, LGBT Americans continue to face barriers to equality, overt discrimination, and even violence. We believe those challenges make full equality and strong legal protections all the more important, and today's report makes clear that hundreds of local communities throughout all 50 states wholeheartedly agree.”
Nashville, at least, has good reason to hope that its score will steadily improve to the state maximum, however, as the results of the study indicate that having LGBT elected officials make a city much more likely to implement policies protecting the LGBT community. Now, Nashville has two out LGBT metro counselpersons, and a mayor who is the daughter of a gay man and who is personally committed to the welfare of all citizens. So the city may yet be able to enter the “All-Stars.”