December 24, 2015 at 6:30 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
High marks for Alexandria, Arlington on HRC index
Alexandria, gay news, Washington Blade, Municipal Equality Index

Alexandria and Arlington received a rating of 88 and 87 respectively on HRC’s 2015 Municipal Equality Index. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Alexandria and Arlington received a rating of 88 and 87 respectively on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s newly released 2015 Municipal Equality Index, placing the suburban Virginia jurisdictions at the top of the ratings on LGBT supportive laws and polices among D.C.-area municipalities.

The 2015 Municipal Equality Index, or MEI, released on Dec. 17 rates 408 municipalities of varying sizes in every state in the nation on a scale of 0 to 100 points, according to an HRC statement.

D.C. is not included in the MEI because the HRC Foundation treats it as a state rather than a city, HRC spokesperson Liz Halloran said.

The HRC Foundation’s 2014 State Equality Index, a separate document that monitors states, places D.C. in the highest of four categories of states that have the greatest number of LGBT supportive laws and policies. The State Equality Index does not assign a numerical rating to any state or D.C.

Among the other D.C.-area municipalities rated in the MEI report, Fairfax County, Va., received a rating of 54. In the close-in suburban Maryland municipalities, College Park had the highest rating at 71. Rockville received a rating of 60 and Gaithersburg garnered a rating of 59.

Baltimore is among 47 cities across the country to receive a perfect rating of 100, HRC said in its statement.

“Since the MEI debuted in 2012, the number of cities earning perfect scores has more than quadrupled, and today at least 32 million people live in cities with fully inclusive local protections that are not guaranteed by the states in which they live,” the HRC Foundation statement says.

In its 2014 State Equality Index report, the most recent report available, the HRC Foundation places D.C. along with seven states in a category called “Working Toward Innovative Equality.” It says D.C. and the other states in this category, including California, New Jersey and Oregon, had state-initiated marriage equality, “robust” LGBT non-discrimination laws, and the most protections for transgender people, among other polices that set them apart from the other states.

“Many are working on innovative laws and policies guaranteeing access to health care, and to protect LGBT youth,” HRC Foundation says in a statement accompanying the State Equality Index report.

The report places Maryland in a third category called “building equality,” which it says includes seven states that had marriage equality prior to the 2015 Supreme Court decision and had “basic” non-discrimination laws protecting LGBT people. But states in this category also had “bad laws” on the books or pending in their legislatures, including the longstanding Maryland sodomy law, which describes gay sex acts as “crimes against nature.’

The state report places Virginia in a fourth category, which includes 29 states where a “high priority to achieve basic equality” for LGBT people is needed. None of the states in this category have statewide non-discrimination protections for sexual orientation or gender identity and most have “bad laws undermining LGBT equality,” the report says.

In a development that may surprise some LGBT activists, the City of Rehoboth Beach, Del., known as a popular LGBT-supportive resort town, received a rating of 65. A 150-page MEI report, which breaks down the points for each of the municipalities rated, says Rehoboth lost 10 points because its police department doesn’t have an LGBT police liaison or task force.

It lost six points for not having a transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits plan for its city workers and lost three points for not having an ordinance requiring city contractors to have a non-discrimination policy toward its LGBT employees, the report says.

Steve Elkins, executive director of CAMP Rehoboth, an LGBT advocacy group and community center, took exception to the 65 rating for Rehoboth, saying he doesn’t think the HRC Foundation’s evaluation of the beach resort town took into account circumstances surrounding such a small municipality.

Elkins noted that Rehoboth Police Chief Keith Banks serves as the department’s liaison to the LGBT community.

“I’m not sure why a municipality that has 1,200 people would have a full-time police liaison on staff other than the chief,” he said. “I don’t think you can get any better than the chief. So I would have a problem with HRC’s rating on that.”

He said he was also surprised that Rehoboth lost six points on the HRC Foundation rating system because there is no “LGBT Liaison in the Mayor’s Office.”

Added Elkins: “The mayor doesn’t have an office. The mayor makes $50 a month. It’s basically a non-paid mayor. We have a city manager, who happens to be a lesbian. She runs the city, so I guess she could be the liaison.”

A statement released by HRC says that due to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states, the group placed more emphasis in its latest MEI on non-discrimination protections for LGBT people rather than LGBT relationship issues.

It says the ratings are based on 42 specific criteria that fall into five broad categories: non-discrimination laws; employment policies, including transgender-inclusive insurance coverage; inclusiveness of city services; law enforcement, including hate crimes reporting; and “municipal leadership” on matters related to LGBT equality.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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