By Angela D. Giampolo
When I wrote an article in the Philadelphia Business Journal last year on the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) annual Municipality Equality Index (MEI), I had no idea it would become the first in a series. And yet, here we are after this year’s publication on Nov. 19 celebrating that Philadelphia has once again come out on top with higher than perfect score, 113, and New Hope has almost doubled its score and tallied 89 points. But what does this all mean?
The annual index is a comparative analysis of municipalities across America and how LGBT individuals are treated. The criteria used to evaluate each city is based on its non-discrimination laws, relationship recognition, municipal services, law enforcement, liaisons with the LGBT community, and how they are as an employer. The MEI is graded on a scale of 0 to 100, with bonus points possible.
Philadelphia has been a repeat all-star for the MEI. The City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection scored a 109 in 2012, and I am pleased to announce that we surpassed that this year and scored a 113! Philadelphia beat San Francisco and tied with Seattle — for being a welcoming place to work, having LGBT municipal leaders, providing services to at risk LGBT populations and overall city engagement with the LGBT community.
I’m particularly proud to report on New Hope’s progress this year. The borough of New Hope is located in Bucks County along the Delaware River, with just over 2,000 residents. Last year New Hope scored a measly 48 and after analyzing the disparity in scores between New Hope and Philadelphia, LGBT advocates in the New Hope community and I strategized on how to bring New Hope up to snuff with higher ranked municipalities.
As a result of this planning, New Hope Borough Council and I worked together to implement a series of LGBT friendly municipal actions and as a result almost doubled the MEI score from 2012 to an 89.
In addition to improving in all categories, New Hope scored nine bonus points for making the municipality a friendlier place by implementing domestic partner benefits for LGBT employees, instituting protocols for reporting hate crimes to the FBI, included sexual orientation and gender identity in their anti-bullying policies, and created a position for an LGBT liaison to the New Hope Borough Council to facilitate communication on LGBT issues.
Moreover, they are currently investigating, and hopefully implementing, a Life Partnership Registry. New Hope has fought hard all year to improve the lives of their LGBT citizens and I trust that a perfect score of 100 isn’t too far off.
It’s important to remember that not everyone has the option to live in the “bluer” and historically more LGBT-friendly portions of the Keystone State; by virtue of their career, family or finances.
Currently, Pennsylvania has no state law providing same-sex marriage equality, employment non-discrimination, housing non-discrimination, bans on conversion therapy, or the criminalization of hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation. The absence of these state laws makes municipal protections all the more necessary and the willingness of cities like Philadelphia and New Hope to improve their MEI is promising.
So where does Philadelphia go from here with its perfect score and 13 bonus points? There are still more bonus points to achieve — we missed out for not grossing up city employee benefits — with new categories being added each year to ensure that no city rests on its laurels. Philadelphia needs to continue heading in the right direction as a leader in LGBT rights and reform. Other cities are looking to us as an example as they try to improve their own indexes, and we need to show them that change is achievable.
In the meantime, I’m glad Philadelphia is embracing this incredible achievement and promoting its astounding LGBT community. Because let’s face it — it doesn’t get much gayer than getting a perfect 100 AND bonus points.