The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, released their latest annual Municipal Equality Index report last week, rating 353 major cities across the country on their support for LGBT rights. For major cities in Texas, the report highlighted a greater need for equality across our state, but also showed how numerous Texas cities are leading the state in terms of equality.
Cities were rated in a scale of 0 to 100 points in terms of their commitment to equality — upholding the rights of their LGBT population and protecting their LGBT residents from legal discrimination. Their total points were based on six criteria: Non-discrimination laws, relationship recognition, municipality as employer, municipal services, law enforcement, and relationship with the LGBT community.
Twenty-two cities in Texas received a rating as part of the report. Only one city in our state received a perfect score of 100 — the city of Austin. In Texas, Austin was followed by the city of Dallas with a score of 91 points. Third was the city of Fort Worth having scored 83 points. Other major cities with average to decent score points were the city of San Antonio with a score of 72 points; the city of Houston with a score of 54 points; and the city of El Paso with a score of 52 points.
However, the ratings for other Texas cities were not nearly as impressive. Out of the 353 cities rated in the report, five of them received the lowest score possible, a score of zero points. Four out of these five zero-scoring cities were located in Texas. These four cities were the city of McAllen, the city of Irving, the city of Lubbock, and the city of Mesquite – all receiving zero points, including no bonus points.
Despite the report shining light on the greater need for equality state-wide, the report also showed how numerous major cities across the state are taking it upon themselves to make sure their cities support their LGBT populations.
Michelle Stafford, who works with the Transgender Education Network of Texas, praised the progress made by some cities but pointed out how there exist gaps between the LGBT communities all over the state in terms of rights:
“As a fifth generation Texan the MEI is both encouraging and heartbreaking. Encouraging in that a few of our major cities are showing progress and are making efforts in the right direction. Heartbreaking because in this state that prides itself on its friendliness and on the right of the individual to express himself, so much of the LGBT population living in Texas continues to live in fear of expressing who they really are,” said Michelle Stafford of the Transgender Education Network of Texas in a joint-statement released by Equality Texas.
The future of LGBT rights in Texas is uncertain with the rise of the Tea Party in the Legislature.
The state of Texas currently lacks an LGBT anti-discrimination employment law. Employees can be legally fired based on their orientation or identity.
According to a 2013 poll by Equality Texas, an overwhelming majority of Texas voters, 75.8%, support banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace. 69.7% of Texas voters also support protecting trans citizens from workplace and housing discrimination.
Last legislative session, state Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) filed SB 237, bill mean to prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill was co-sponsored by Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth), Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), and Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin). While the bill managed to receive a hearing, it was ultimately left pending in committee.
A lot has changed in the Texas Legislature since last session.
With Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick leading the Senate floor, and countless of new Tea Party members joining him in both the Texas Senate and the House, this upcoming 84th Legislative Session promises to be one of the most hostile for the LGBT community.
Despite all this, LGBT advocates remain hopeful of being in the right side of history.
“The MEI scores… prove that through our efforts continued progress is achievable,” said Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith. “However, the 2014 MEI results also show us that there is much more work to be done. Protecting Texans from discrimination in the communities that they call home is a high priority for Equality Texas, and one that we will devote significant resources to for the remainder of 2014 and into 2015.”
You can find the complete MEI report here.
Follow Omar on Twitter at @AraizaTX.