The Windy City isn't full of hot air when it comes to polices protecting its LGBT citizens, according to the newly released Municipal Equality Index (MEI), the first-ever rating system to score inclusive and LGBT-friendly protocols at the city level.
Chicago received a 95-point rating out of 100 possible points, with high scores in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodations, non-discrimination for city employees and "attentiveness" of law enforcement to LGBT issues.
Chicago also received bonus points for the following: services to vulnerable populations of LGBT people (seniors, youth, homeless, people living with HIV or AIDS); openly LGBT city leadership (elected or appointed); and municipality engagement with the community (participates in Pride events, partnerships with LGBT groups, etc.).
According to Chicago's scorecard, "city leadership was very interested in LGBT issues and introduced cutting-edge pro-equality legislation." However, the scorecard's authors also noted city leadership "was not always in harmony with the LGBT community."
"There is no question that the leaders in Chicago are LGBT-friendly, and Chicagoans should be very proud of a 95 score," said Paul Guequierre, Human Rights Campaign deputy press secretary. "When the report says 'harmony' it's not referring to anything in particular other than it's not possible for everyone to always agree on everything when it comes to LGBT policies."
None of the other 137 cities surveyed in the index included a specific note detailing city leadership and its occasional lack of harmony with the LGBT community.
According to the MEI, Chicago's weak areas were largely in the "Municipality as Employer" section for failing to provide city contractors with a non-discrimination ordinance, an equal benefits ordinance, and legal dependent benefits for city employees. According to the index, this section is the "most heavily weighted" because it is an area in which almost every municipality has "extensive control and the power to do much good. It measures how cities treat their LGBT employees, and the extent to which they require their contractors to do the same."
"Chicago does right by its LGBT community, but the city needs to ensure that is contractors also implement protections for this community," Guequierre said.
Chicago also received a slap on the wrist for not developing and implementing city-level anti-bulling policies.
A total of 11 cities surveyed earned a perfect score of 100 points, including St. Louis, Philadelphia, Portland and San Francisco. Notably, some of the cities with a perfect score are in states without laws protecting LGBT individuals.
"There is no such thing as a perfect score," Guequierre admitted when pressed about the report describing cities with 100 points as a "perfect score." "That's a fair statement. Every single city in this index, including the ones with scores of 100, had points left on the table. The truth is we could all do better--but a score of 100 is quite an achievement."
"The goal for this report is for advocates to use this as roadmap for what more can be done for the LGBT community on the municipal level. Even cities with a 100-point score have more to do," said Jeremy Pittman, HRC deputy field director.
Around 25 percent of the cities surveyed scored less than 20 points, including eight cities that scored under 10 points, and three--Montgomery, Ala., Frankfort, Ky., and Jefferson City, Mo.--that scored 0.
The MEI--issued by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation in partnership with the Equality Federation Institute and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute--
will now be an annual event, according to Guequierre, and next year the index will be expanded to include more cities and additional evaluation criteria.
"We don't have particular cities in mind at this time, but with that being said, we are looking for creative ways to expand this index. If people want to nominate a city, they can email us at mei@HRC.org," Guequierre said.
The full MEI report, including long-form scorecards for every city and a searchable database, is available online at www.hrc.org/mei.
Tony Peregrin is a RedEye special contributor.
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