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San Diego scores 100 on HRC's first-ever Municipal Equality Index

WASHINGTON — San Diego, known affectionately as America’s Finest City, lives up to that reputation in the HRC’s first-ever Municipal Equality Index.

The groundbreaking index, released today, is a rating system designed to measure LGBT inclusion in municipal law.

“I'm proud that the entire nation knows that San Diego stands for equality," San Diego City Councilmember Todd Gloria said today.

"This is the result of decades of work by many in the LGBT community with incredible support from our allies. I am proud to have played a direct role championing this progress by authoring the City’s Equal Benefits Ordinance," he said.

“In addition to the criteria considered by the HRC, we’ve created a culture that not is not only inclusive, but celebrates San Diego’s rich diversity. In just the last year, our City became home to the first street honoring slain civil rights leader Harvey Milk, and installed a Pride Flag Monument in Hillcrest. These are more than token gestures; they are permanent fixtures that welcome every person of every background and belief to our City," Gloria said.

“San Diegans deserve recognition as well for being open minded and progressive thinkers who not only support our movement toward equality, but continue to elect LGBT representatives and our allies to all levels of government.”

San Diego joins the California cities of Long Beach, Los Angeles and San Francisco in earning the highest possible score of 100. Also scoring 100 are Boston and Cambridge, Mass., New York City, Philadelphia, Portland, Ore., Seattle and St. Louis.

However, the index shows that many U.S. cities lack sufficient protections for LGBT people, even in some the “bluest” states with progressive reputations. Still, some of the most LGBT-friendly policies in the country have been innovated and implemented at the municipal level, including in states with laws that are unfriendly to the LGBT community.

The index was issued in partnership with the Equality Federation Institute and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute.

Key findings from the MEI create a snapshot of LGBT equality in 137 municipalities of varying sizes drawn from every state in the nation – these include the 50 state capitals, the 50 most populous cities in the country, and the 25 large, 25 midsize and 25 small municipalities with the highest proportion of same-sex couples. San Diego and the 10 other 100-point cities serve as shining examples of LGBT inclusivity, with excellent policies ranging from non-discrimination laws, equal employee benefits and cutting-edge city services.

As America moves forward in support of LGBT equality, cities across the country are on the forefront of this movement. Cities in every region of the country are fighting for equality at the most intimate level of government. At the same time, cities across the country also have room for improvement. The index articulates a path forward and celebrates the success of cities doing this important work.

The index at a glance

• Eleven of the 137 cities surveyed earned a perfect score of 100 points – these cities came from both coasts and in between, were of varying sizes, and not all are in states with favorable laws for LGBT people;

• A quarter of the cities rated scored over 80 points;

• 45% of cites surveyed obtained a score of 60 or higher;

• Nearly a third of cites scored between 40 and 60 points, showing good intentions on behalf of municipal governments but also opportunity for improvement; and

• Just under a quarter of the cities scored less than 20 points, including eight cities that scored under 10 points and three that scored zero.

“Our nation is on an irreversible path forward in LGBT equality and local and state-level advocacy ensures our voices are heard in public squares across the country” said Chad Griffin, HRC president. “This index gives advocates and municipal lawmakers a potent tool to improve the lives of LGBT people.”

The index rates cities based on 47 criteria falling under six broad categories:

• Non-discrimination laws;

• Relationship recognition;

• The municipality’s employment practices;

• Inclusiveness of city services;

• Law enforcement; and

• Municipal leadership.

In today’s world, cities must compete for business and brain power. Research shows that to do this, they must treat their LGBT citizens with dignity and respect. Professor Richard Florida, who authored the forward for the index, is a pioneer in research into how the nurturing of a “creative class” (entrepreneurs, artists and architects, researchers, scientists, engineers, and other professionals) creates prosperous, economically competitive cities.

"Advances at the local level are often unheralded, but they are critical to building the momentum we need for statewide and federal victories," said Rebecca Isaacs, executive director of Equality Federation Institute. "The Municipal Equality Index not only recognizes the remarkable progress that state equality groups and local partners have made in cities and towns across the country, but is a powerful tool to help push local governments to do better."

"The freedom to be ourselves is most important where we live, work and raise our families. That's why it's so crucial that local and municipal governments understand the need to make life better for LGBT people. We work hard to make sure openly LGBT people participate in government as elected and appointed officials, and the MEI will be a great resource for them," said Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute.

San Diego’s report card

San Diego scored 18 of 18 points for having non-discrimination laws for employment, housing and public accommodations; 12 of 12 points for LGBT relationship recognition (domestic partnerships and civil unions); 26 of 26 points for municipality as employer benefits.

But San Diego scored 13 out of 18 points on municipal services and programs, largely because the city does not have a mayoral LGBT liaison or Office of LGBT Affairs. Mayor-elect Bob Filner will likely be asked to do so.

San Diego scored 18 out of 18 points on municipality with law enforcement attentive to LGBT issues; 8 of 8 points on the municipality’s relationship with the LGBT community.

The index notes:

“San Diego has received a rating of 100 points, including 5 points based on pro-equality leadership by the mayor or city council, and 3 points based on efforts to further pro-equality legislation or policy. Our research indicated that LGBT issues are of great importance to city leadership.”

The full report, including long form scorecards for every city and a searchable database, is available online HERE.

(Editor's note: This article contains original material as well as news-release content.)

Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at ken@sdgln.com, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.