The right for gay people to live and pursue happiness freely in the United States has new adversaries. So-called religious freedom laws, bathroom bills, and deep GOP support for child abuse in the form of “conversion therapy” attempt to criminalize and de-humanize us. However, with the right policies and people in place, our local city governments have the power to become staunch allies for LGBTQ residents, shielding us from discrimination and unnecessary harm. By taking steps such as providing services for the LGBTQ elderly, passing workplace non-discrimination ordinances, and appointing openly gay local leaders, our cities can become true havens for our community.
To assess the extent to which American cities protect our community, the Human Rights Campaign devised a survey called the Municipal Equality Index (MEI). This tool evaluates how well cities across the nation support their LGBTQ communities in five categories: non-discrimination laws, the municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement, and relationship with the LGBTQ community. Cities are scored from 0-100.
What the Municipal Equality Index is not:
Keep in mind that the MEI is not a way to measure a city’s gay awesomeness, gay fun-ness, or how much of a throbbing gay mecca it is. This tool simply measures how well our municipalities build relationships with their LGBTQ communities, and what steps they take to protect those communities from discrimination.
Let’s take a look at how New Orleans compared to cities across the United States and here in Louisiana in 2015, beginning with some of the nation’s largest:
In 2015, New Orleans scored 91 points on the MEI, putting it roughly on par with some of the largest and most progressive cities in the nation. The categories where New Orleans failed to score was on the provision of transgender inclusive healthcare (-6 points), having an LGBTQ liaison in the mayor’s office (-5 points), and having an LGBTQ police liaison or task-force (-10 points). However, NOLA won many bonus points for items such as being a welcoming place to work (2 points), and for the provision of services to LGBTQ homeless (2 points). Although there is room for improvement, I would say New Orleans makes an impressive standing for itself when compared to these national heavy-hitters.
To make things a bit more fair, I put together another chart as well. The following compares New Orleans’ MEI score to eight other cities that are about our same size:
When compared to cities of a similar size, NOLA really begins to shine. The peer cities listed have an average MEI score of 67.7 which NOLA beats by about 24 points, and a median score of 73 which NOLA tops by 18.
According to the MEI criteria, New Orleans is very LGBTQ-friendly for a city of its size.
Let’s now take a look at how all major cities in Louisiana compare to one another:
Most Louisiana cities did poorly, including our state capital which came in at a dismal 32. If Baton Rouge were to include sexual orientation and gender identification as protected classes from discrimination, that would raise its 32 to a more tolerable 62 with the stroke of a pen.
Bobby’s temper tantrum
The most interesting bonus question of the MEI was whether or not a city was pro-equality despite repressive state laws, allowing it to earn an additional 4 points…
In May 2015, then Louisiana Governor Piyush “Bobby” Jindal issued the “Marriage and Conscious” executive order, legitimizing discrimination against gay people on the basis of religion. The following day, New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu fired back with his own order. This order ensured that all city contractors would not discriminate against their employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identification. Landrieu stated that “the City of New Orleans appropriately balances religious beliefs of all kinds with civil liberties, including freedom from discrimination.”
New Orleans earned those 4 points. It didn’t cost a nickel, it only took courage.
A Missed Opportunity
If the argument that gay people deserve to live freely because we are human isn’t convincing enough for some policy makers, there are economic arguments to be made as well.
Many scholars have pointed out that tolerance correlates positively to the economic vitality of a community. Urban theorist Richard Florida writes that “throughout the 20th century, America’s real economic edge came from our country’s legacy as an open and inclusive country.” He adds that “communities that have long been more accepting and open to gay people have an underlying ecosystem which is also more likely to be accepting of new ideas and different types of people, including the eggheads and eccentrics who invent new things and start new enterprises.”
In a state with gutted university funding, crumbling transportation infrastructure, and a $313 million deficit, perhaps a few more gay-friendly cities is what Louisiana needs to pay the bills.
Photos by Tj Ellington