National group rates Carolinas cities in LGBT friendliness

Charlotte scores rise for transgender protections, bonus criteria; Columbia scores rise 21 points

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: November 21, 2013 in News

Photo Credit: dionhinchcliffe, via Flickr. Licensed CC.

Photo Credit: dionhinchcliffe, via Flickr. Licensed CC.

city scorecards

See your city’s individual scorecard for more information on how it was rated. Links to PDF scorecards below.

Charleston, S.C.
Charlotte, N.C.
Columbia, S.C.
Durham, N.C.
Fayetteville, N.C.
Greensboro, N.C.
North Charleston, S.C.
Raleigh, N.C.
Winston-Salem, N.C.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A national LGBT advocacy organization has released the second edition of their rating tool for cities and municipalities across the country. Cities in the Carolinas, including Charlotte, were among the rankings, with scores jumping this year from initial scores in 2012.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group, says its newest Municipal Equality Index shows cities across the nation are working toward LGBT equality.

The review this year also represents an expansion. Last year, only 137 cities were rated, including four in the Carolinas. This year, the group rated 291, rating nine cities in the region.

“Equality isn’t just for the coasts anymore,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in a release. “This groundbreaking report shows that cities and towns across the country, from Vicco, Kentucky to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, are leading the charge for basic fairness for LGBT people.”

Some cities ranked last year, like Charlotte and Columbia, saw increases in their scores. The increases are reflective of some LGBT-inclusive additions to local law and policies since last year, more thorough reviews and bonus points.

Charlotte, the largest city in the region, saw its hard score rise from 34 to 44. The city’s bonus points rose from five to seven, giving the city a total score of 51.

Scott Bishop, chair of the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee (MeckPAC), said his group worked with HRC after its first Municipal Equality Index was released last year. The 12-point jump in Charlotte’s scores, he said, represents some corrections and increased local advocacy. (See MeckPAC’s full statement at end of story.)

“They made some corrections, but the other part is work we’ve done over the past year getting domestic partner benefits added at the city and adding gender identity [to the city's non-discrimination policies],” Bishop said.

Domestic partner benefits were passed by City Council last June. Former City Manager Curt Walton added gender identity to the city’s non-discrimination personnel policies shortly before his retirement in December 2012

Extra bonus points in the scoring were given to cities who offer extra services, have openly LGBT officials or have been negatively affected or restricted by anti-LGBT state legislation.

Charlotte received bonus points for restrictions caused by North Carolina’s anti-LGBT marriage amendment, the presence of openly LGBT officials and the city’s engagement with the LGBT community, among others.

Charlotte received no points for other criteria. The city does not have an LGBT mayoral liaison or a liaison or task force in the police department. HRC reports that cities with police liaisons outperformed the national average. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department has regularly engaged with local LGBT community members, but discussions on a potential liaison have been resisted by CMPD Chief Rodney Monroe.

Charlotte also received zero points for lacking an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance for city contractors, an issue MeckPAC has said they may address in the future. Without an inclusive contractor ordinance, the city is able to regularly spend taxpayer dollars with companies that don’t protect LGBT workers. A qnotes report, for instance, found at least $1.1 million in 2012 Democratic National Convention-related expenses going to companies without fully-inclusive workplace protections.

Bishop said advocacy on issues like the City’s Commercial Non-Discrimination Ordinance is in the early discussion phase.

“Our first step was engaging the candidates who were running for City Council [this year] to see where they stood,” Bishop said. “By and large, we found that there are a lot of supportive people out there who will be on Council when they are sworn in in December.”

Bishop said his group will be following up with elected officials. They also want to build a coalition of supportive organizations.

“I think it’s going to take a coalition of organizations that see this is a valuable thing,” he said. “MeckPAC would want to partner with other organizations … that think Charlotte could be more inclusive by having these kids of ordinances including sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Such advances could face push back from anti-LGBT organizations like the North Carolina Values Coalition, the group which shepherded the state’s anti-LGBT marriage amendment into law last year. The group has already spoken out against future inclusive changes.

The average score for North Carolina cities is 42 out of 100. In South Carolina, the average is 54. Together, Carolinas cities fell below the national average of 57, but several cities bested averages for cities of comparable size. Medium-sized cities with populations of 100,000-250,000 averaged 52 points. Columbia, Charleston, and Durham, each rated above that average. Charlotte’s score fell 20 points below the national average of 71 for cities with populations larger than 250,000.

But, Bishop cautioned against using the scores to make comparisons, especially considering some cities might receive higher scores in more inclusive states with statewide protections.

“I don’t think they are used to compare,” he said. “It’s just a tool to show any given municipality something to judge, against themselves, on where they stand on equality issues.”

Bishop said MeckPAC did just that with ratings last year.

“We used that score the first time out to help make the argument with city officials that we need to improve and here’s a couple things we can do,” he said.

Advocates in South Carolina took a similar approach. SC Equality Executive Director Ryan Wilson said in an email to supporters that his group used the 2012 scores to push for increased change.

“In 2012 when the MEI scoring first started, Columbia scored only 40 points,” Wilson wrote. “Mayor Steve Benjamin and Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine have worked with us for several months to find ways to increase that score and our hard work has paid off.”

As a result, Columbia’s score jumped 21 points from 2012′s 40 to today’s 61, the highest score in the region.

City 2012 2013 +/- Nat’l. Avg.
Charleston, S.C. Not Rated 54 -3
Charlotte, N.C. 39 51 -6
Columbia, S.C. 40 61 +4
Durham, N.C. 37 56 -1
Fayetteville, N.C. Not Rated 23 -34
Greensboro, N.C. Not Rated 42 -15
North Charleston, S.C. Not Rated 47 -10
Raleigh, N.C. 43 43 -14
Winston-Salem, N.C. Not Rated 34 -23

MeckPAC statement: Proud of 12-point increase

For Immediate Release
November 21, 2013

Human Rights Campaign releases 2013 Municipal Equality Index – Charlotte’s score improves by 12 points

The Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee (MeckPAC) is pleased to announce the release of the Human Rights Campaign’s 2nd Annual Municipal Equality Index (MEI). This year’s MEI score for Charlotte shows a 12 point increase over last year’s score, 39 points to 51 points out of a possible 100.

Much of the increase is due to the advocacy work of MeckPAC over the last year and the presence of a pro-LGBT equality representation on City Council and in City Government.

The city received an additional 5 points over last year’s score due to the addition of Gender Identity or Expression to the city’s employment non-discrimination policy. This change to policy was completed in December 2012 by outgoing city manager Curt Walton and was the result of months of advocacy work and conversations with city council members.

The increased interest in LGBT equality by city council members and city staff also led to an additional 3 bonus points on the survey. The presence of openly lesbian District 3 City Council member LaWana Mayfield, the leadership of Mayor Foxx and Mayor Kinsey and the behind the scenes work of pro-LGBT equality city council members James Mitchell, David Howard and John Autry all contributed to the increased bonus scores.

The higher score was also the result of a score correction for items not included in the 2012 survey.

MeckPAC is proud to be a contributing factor to the higher score and we will continue our work for creating a more inclusive, pro-LGBT equality city in 2014 and beyond.

For more information about the MEI, access the full survey here Municipal Equality Index and Charlotte’s specific scorecard here, Charlotte MEI Score.