Chicago earns high marks in HRC city-level LGBT equality index

Chicago skyline. Photo: Tony Merevick.

Chicago received high marks for LGBT-friendly policies, inclusion and equality at a city level in a new report by the Human Rights Campaign Tuesday and missed a perfect score by only a handful of points.

The HRC in partnership with the Equality Federation Institute and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute analyzed and scored 137 municipalities in its first-ever Municipal Equality Index, including 50 state capitals, the most populous cities, and the top 25 large, mid-size and small municipalities with high concentrations of same-sex couples. While Chicago earned a 95 on the 100-point scale, 11 cities — Seattle, Los Angeles, St. Louis and more — received perfect scores.

“First of all, a 95 out of 100 is an excellent, excellent score,” said Cathryn Oakley, Legislative Counsel, State and Municipal Advocacy at HRC and author of the index. ”Chicago has a lot to be proud of. They have done a lot of great work and I hope a 95 is a validation of that work.”

Over 25 percent of the municipalities scored at or above 80 percent. Nearly half of the cities received 60 points and under a quarter of the 137 earned less than a 20 point score. Advocates at the HRC point to the high scores as an indication of gradually improving policies at a grassroots level.

“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 HRC President Chad Griffin in a media release. “This index gives advocates and municipal lawmakers a potent tool to improve the lives of LGBT people.”

The average score in the 2012 index is 59 points, according to Oakley. Three cities, Montgomery, Ala., Frankfort, Ky. and Jefferson City, Mo., received zeroes.

Chicago was docked points in the “Municipality as Employer” section of the index for failing to provide city contractors with the protection of a non-discrimination ordinance, an equal benefits ordinance and legal dependent benefits for city employees. This section of the index is weighed most heavily because cities have the most immediate control on how they treat their LGBT employees, according to the report.

Oakley notes that Chicago’s two largest areas of improvement are grossing up and offering transgender health care benefits. Grossing up is when employers offset the higher costs for benefits shared with employees’ domestic partners and spouses who don’t receive the same tax cuts from the federal government as opposite-sex couples.

Adding grossing up and transgender health care benefits — a policy Oakley says is on the cutting edge of progress at a municipal level — would add seven points to the city’s score and bring it over 100.

Points were also taken away for a lack of city-level anti-bullying policies in schools and the city leadership’s “public position on LGBT equality,” read the report. This is due to the lack of support for LGBT equality in citywide leadership where the HRC expected to find it, Oakley said.

Oakley said she would be delighted to work with the city and help them set goals for next year’s index, which she added will double in municipalities rated and expand in scope and criteria.

Where it succeeded most, Chicago received full points for employment, housing and public accommodations non-discrimination laws and attentiveness of law enforcement to LGBT issues such as LGBT involvement in the police force and its willingness to report hate crimes to the FBI.  Chicago also stands out for not only having a state-level non-discrimination policy, but also a city-level policy. The city also shines for its inclusiveness and equality in its programs and services.

“We want to celebrate Chicago’s intentional choices to get to 95,” Oakley said. “You don’t just get there by accident. City leadership has invested in equality. With that said, they left points on the table. So we are going to help them move forward and set some goals for the future.”

Springfield, the only other Illinois city rated in the index, scored 70, due to shortcomings in the Municipality as Employer section as well as a lack of municipal programs and services for LGBTs and police department sensitivity to LGBT issues.