WASHINGTONThe Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRC), in partnership with the Equality Federation, an advocacy accelerator rooted in social justice that builds power in a network of state-based LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations, released the twelfth edition of the Municipal Equality Index (MEI), the only comprehensive nationwide assessment of LGBTQ+ equality in the areas of municipal policies, laws and services.
The 2023 MEI shows a record breaking 129 cities scoring the highest possible marks on the indexincreasing the national average scoreeven in the face of state laws and policies that seek to shut transgender people and youth out of public life.
Chicago, Champaign and Rockford were the Illinois cities that garnered perfect scores. Aurora scored 94 and Naperville scored 92; Joliet scored the lowest of the state's municipalities surveyed, with a 65, although it wasn't far behind Springfield (72) and Peoria (74).
Earlier this year, HRC declared a first-in-its-history "National State of Emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans," citing the proliferation of hate against the LGBTQ+ community (particularly transgender people), legislative attacks on gender-affirming care, and growing numbers of extreme politicians fighting to turn back the clock on LGBTQ+ rights.
"Cities and towns around the country are stepping up each and every day, finding new and innovative ways to empower LGBTQ+ people in the face of a dire national state of emergency," said Kelley Robinson, President of the Human Rights Campaign. "Even when anti-LGBTQ+ extremists in state capitals are working to undermine their progress, mayors and city councilmembers keep fighting to make sure that LGBTQ+ people in their communities - especially trans people - are supported and lifted up to the fullest extent possible. This year's Municipal Equality Index shows the results of their dedication, while acknowledging the increasingly hostile environment in which they must govern."
Key findings from the 2023 Municipal Equality Index include:
Since the MEI's debut in 2012, the number of cities earning the highest score has increased by more than eightfold, and today at least 30.3 million people live in cities that have more comprehensive, transgender-inclusive non-discrimination laws than their state.
A record breaking 129 cities, or more than 25 percent of all 506 surveyed cities and towns, earned the highest score of 100. This is up from 120 in the 2022 MEI.
However, for the first time in the history of the MEI, fewer cities are providing transgender-inclusive health benefits to municipal employees. State-level legislation has gravely impacted the enforceability and accessibility of these benefits.
42 cities, or about 20 percent of those which have offered trans-inclusive health care in the past, are unable to offer the same benefits to dependent minors due to superseding state law.
The national city score average jumped to an all-time high of 71 points, up from 69 points last year. This is the sixth consecutive year where the national average has increased, illustrating the deep commitment on the part of cities and towns to their LGBTQ+ employees and residents.
This score jump is because of progress made nationally, with every region of the country seeing a higher score than last year.
Only five cities surveyed scored zero points.
"As we see opponents of LGBTQ+ rights increasing their attacks on transgender youth in state legislatures, the importance of local-level protections cannot be overstated," said Fran Hutchins, Executive Director of Equality Federation Institute. "Local advocates and community leaders are finding new, creative ways to keep their communities safe, to let queer and trans people know they are loved and belong, no matter what discriminatory state laws are passed. I find inspiration in this year's Municipal Equality Index, as it shows the dedication of these advocates who continue to have difficult conversations to change hearts and minds in order to witness progress in their communities. We all benefit from their unwavering commitment to equality."
In 20 states across the country that lack explicit protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in their non-discrimination laws, 75 cities earned a score of at least 85 points, designating them as "All-Star Cities" - recognizing their outsized work to push back on overreaching state-level legislation.
This year's all-star cities include:
Arizona: Chandler, Flagstaff, Glendale, Mesa, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe, and Tucson
Florida: Coral Gables, Ft. Lauderdale, Gainesville, Hollywood, Miami, Miami Shores, Oakland Park, Orlando, St. Petersburg, Tallahassee, Tampa, and Wilton Manors,
Georgia: Atlanta, Decatur, and Athens-Clarke County
Indiana: Terre Haute, Bloomington, and Evansville
Kansas: Lawrence, Overland Park, Topeka, and Wichita
Kentucky: Covington, Lexington, and Louisville
Louisiana: New Orleans
Missouri: St. Louis, Columbia, and Kansas City
North Carolina: Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and Carrboro
Ohio: Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbia, Dayton, Dublin, Lakewood, and Toledo
Pennsylvania: Allentown, Carlisle, Erie, Harrisburg, New Hope, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Reading, and State College
South Carolina: Myrtle Beach
South Dakota: Brookings
Texas: Dallas, Denton, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Arlington, and Austin
West Virginia: Charleston, Huntington, and Morgantown
The Municipal Equality Index scores the 50 state capitals, the 200 largest cities in the United States, the five largest cities or municipalities in each state, the cities home to the state's two largest public universities, 75 cities and municipalities that have high proportions of same-sex couples, and 98 cities selected by HRC and Equality Federation state groups, members, and supporters.
Even though local leaders continue to pave the way forward for equality, there remains an unacceptable patchwork of laws for LGBTQ+ people across the country. This reinforces the need for the federal Equality Act that would provide consistent and explicit non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people across key areas of life, including employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service.
The full 2023 MEI report, including detailed scorecards for every city and a searchable score database, is available online at www.hrc.org/mei.