Study: Big cities most likely to have progressive gay-rights laws

November 19, 2013

The nation’s largest cities are most likely to have laws that benefit gays and lesbians, while smaller cities and those in the South are least likely to accommodate homosexuals, according to a new survey.

And in red states, where gay-rights advocates have been rebuffed in state legislatures, liberal cities are proving more fertile territory for anti-discrimination and partner benefit legislation.

The Municipal Equality Index, to be published Tuesday by the Human Rights Campaign and the Equality Federation Institute rates cities on a host of gay-rights issues using a 100-point scale. The groups hope to use the report to entice lower-scoring cities to improve their laws.

The 100-Point Cities:

(Source: Human Rights Campaign)

“Cities really respond to the competition,” said Cathryn Oakley, an attorney at the Human Rights Campaign and author of the 2013 index. “They feel like it was important to their brand — to get a perfect score.”

The two gay-rights groups awarded points for cities that passed non-discrimination laws, established domestic partner registries, awarded domestic partner benefits to city employees or established police or mayoral liaisons or human rights commissions.

Twenty-five of the 291 cities surveyed scored a perfect 100 points. Many are major cities in Democratic-leaning states that allow same-sex marriage, like New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle. But big cities in red states where the law is less favorable to gays and lesbians can still score well, by passing non-discrimination laws in employment, housing or public accommodations, or establishing a police liaison to the LGBT community.

Cities like Austin, Phoenix, Atlanta, Kansas City and Missoula, Mont., all notched perfect scores despite more conservative state laws. The index highlights Atlanta, the first city in the Deep South to earn a 100-point score, and Mayor Kasim Reed, who hired a special adviser for gay rights and spearheaded non-discrimination laws.

In some cases, gay-rights advocates hope the index spurs cities to change. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro said his city passed a series of non-discrimination laws after scoring a 48 on the inaugural report; this year’s survey gave San Antonio an 86 out of 100.

In every region of the country, cities with more than 200,000 residents scored higher than smaller or medium-sized cities. Large cities in New England averaged an 88 on the 100-point scale, while medium-sized towns in the Southwest — many in Texas — scored the lowest average, 26 points. Cities with the largest public universities in their states scored higher than others.

Four cities — Southhaven and Starkville, Miss.; Kansas City, Kan.; and Port St. Lucie, Fla. — scored 0 out of 100 points.


Larger cities notch perfect 100-point scores with more frequency than smaller cities (Source: Human Rights Campaign)

The study’s authors want to make the case that policies friendly toward gays and lesbians are good for local economies, and attractive to businesses looking to expand.

“More and more, we know that enduring growth for cities and for nations comes from an open, diverse, tolerant social environment that is appealing to a diverse range of creative and talented people,” Richard Florida, director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto and a student of city and urban trends, wrote in the report’s introduction. “When a city is inclusive of [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] people, it sends a signal that it is diverse and meritocratic, that it embraces differences of all kinds.”

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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