Last year, when Tampa scored higher than St. Petersburg in the Human Rights Campaign's annual measure of LGBT equality across the nation, St. Pete was more than a little peeved. City officials vowed that things would be different by the time the next MEI rolled around.
And boy, are they. Today, HRC announced that St. Pete's score in the Municipality Equality Index was, in essence, perfect — winning the top rating of 100 points, up from 66 in 2013, and outpacing Tampa, which came in close behind at 97.
It's not that surprising, considering all that's happened in St. Petersburg in the last year to improve the climate for LGBT citizens. Elections made a big difference, with Darden Rice and Amy Foster joining Steve Kornell as openly gay members of City Council, and Mayor Rick Kriseman heading up a new, more LGBT-friendly administration. The raising of a rainbow flag over City Hall during St. Pete Pride held more than just symbolic weight; in his mayoral proclamation, Kriseman listed a raft of positive developments for the gay community, including the appointment of new LGBT community liaison Robert Danielson and the upcoming opening of the LGBT Welcome Center in the Grand Central District.
HRC said that only two other Florida cities — Orlando and Wilton Manors — achieved a perfect score in this year's MEI, along with 35 other cities across the nation. The rights organization has been making its MEI assessments since 2012, and has seen the level of LGBT equality rise steadily during that period.
The full release follows:
State of LGBT Equality in 15 Florida Cities Detailed in HRC’s New Municipal Equality Index
Many municipalities extend vital protections to their LGBT citizens and employees
WASHINGTON - The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, today released its third annual report assessing LGBT equality in 353 cities across the nation, including 15 in Florida.
The 2014 Municipal Equality Index (MEI), the only nationwide rating system of LGBT inclusion in municipal law and policy, shows that cities across the country, including in Florida, continue to take the lead in supporting LGBT people and workers, even when states and the federal government have not.
The average score for cities in Florida is 65 out of 100 points, which falls above the national average of 59. Cape Coral: 22, Fort Lauderdale: 76, Hialeah: 49, Hollywood: 61, Jacksonville: 20, Miami: 53, Miami Shores: 61, Oakland Park: 87, Orlando: 100, Pembroke Pines: 51, Port Saint Lucie: 14, St. Petersburg: 100, Tallahassee: 81, Tampa: 97, Wilton Manors: 100.
“From Mississippi to Idaho, mid-size cities and small towns have become the single greatest engine of progress for LGBT equality—changing countless lives for the better,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “In just three years, the number of municipalities earning top marks for their treatment of LGBT citizens has more than tripled. Simply put, in this country there is an ongoing race to the top to treat all people, including LGBT people, fairly under the law, and it’s time our state and federal laws caught up.”
“In many municipalities, local leaders are taking important steps to provide LGBT people with the protections and security not available at the state or federal level. And because of this leadership, many cities and counties are emerging as welcoming communities where LGBT people are treated with the dignity and respect they've always deserved,” said Rebecca Issacs, Executive Director of Equality Federation. “Municipal victories are fueling the movement for equality in states across this nation. The Municipal Equality Index is a terrific tool to help spur those victories along and celebrate the cities who have worked so hard to get us to this point.”
"Local organizing is where we are best able to change hearts and minds, and the Municipal Equality Index has become a valuable tool in motivating city and county leaders to step up when it comes to non-discrimination policies for the LGBT community," said Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida.
Key findings contained in the MEI, issued in partnership with the Equality Federation, provide a revealing snapshot of LGBT equality in 353 municipalities of varying sizes, and from every state in the nation. The cities researched for the 2014 MEI include the 50 state capitals, the 200 most populous cities in the country, the four largest cities in every state, the city home to each state’s largest public university, and an equal mix of 75 of the nation’s large, mid-size and small municipalities with the highest proportion of same-sex couples.
Thirty-eight cities earned perfect 100-point scores, up from 25 in 2013 and 11 in 2012, the first year of the MEI. Orlando, St. Petersburg and Wilton Manors earned a 100-point score, helping to set a standard of LGBT inclusiveness with exemplary policies ranging from non-discrimination laws and equal employee benefits, to cutting edge city services.
Other findings contained in the 2014 MEI:
Cities in all regions of the country earned excellent scores, demonstrating that commitment to LGBT equality is not confined to parts of the country many people assume are most LGBT friendly;
38 cities received perfect scores, even with this year’s more demanding criteria; that’s up from 11 in 2012, and 25 in 2013;
Cities continue to excel even without depending on state law: of cities that scored a perfect 100, 15 are in states that don’t have comprehensive relationship recognition or a statewide non-discrimination law; that’s up from eight cities last year, and just two in 2012
32 million people now live in cities that have more comprehensive, transgender inclusive non-discrimination laws than their state or the federal government;
The average city score was 59 points, with half of the cities researched scoring over 61 points. Eleven percent scored 100 points; 25 percent scored over 80 points; 25 percent scored under 44 points; and four percent scored fewer than 10 points.
Cities with a higher proportion of same-sex couples tended, not surprisingly, to score better, and the presence of openly-LGBT city officials and LGBT police liaisons also were correlated with higher scores.
The MEI rates cities based on 47 criteria falling under six broad categories:
-Municipality’s employment policies, including transgender-inclusive insurance coverage, contracting non-discrimination requirements, and other policies relating to equal treatment of LGBT city employees
-Inclusiveness of city services
-Municipal leadership on matters of 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 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. HRC envisions a world where LGBT people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.