By now, you may have heard that Pittsburgh now has a perfect rating by the HRC, but what does that actually mean? QueerPGH takes a closer look.
The Human Rights Campaign is a civil rights organization that has been working since the 1980s to, in their words, work towards “a world where LGBTQ people are ensured of their basic equal rights, and can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.” Their name comes up in news stories on just about every queer legal justice matter, and rightfully so. Whether they are filing amicus briefs, cultivating youth leaders, or disseminating news about the community, HRC is there, along with its 3 million members.
One service that HRC provides is the Municipal Equality Index. This is a way to numerically code municipalities’ friendliness to the queer community. The score is calculated by awarding points for queer-friendly municipal laws, employment practices (for municipal employees), municipal employees’ benefits, etc. While HRC is extremely clear that this is not a way to determine how welcoming a city is to LGBTQIA+ residents, it can at least be viewed as a numerical representation of how friendly the municipal government is. This becomes a basis upon which a company might compare cities when choosing a location for a second headquarters, for example. It also gives cities clear instructions for making improvements, and the incentive of bragging rights to actually make those improvements.
The first category municipalities are evaluated on is Non-Discrimination Laws. To get a perfect score here, a city needs to operate under laws that prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. The laws can be state-wide, county-wide, or city-wide laws. Pittsburgh scored perfectly in 2016, as well as 2017, on account of county-wide and city-wide laws.
The next category on the list looks at the Municipality as Employer. The city needs to have regulations prohibiting discrimination in hiring municipal employees, as well as in hiring contractors. In 2016 Pittsburgh scored perfectly here, too, but there were two glaring areas. This category also covers trans-inclusive health benefits. Pittsburgh’s score in 2016 was zero. By providing inclusive healthcare benefits to its trans employees, Pittsburgh now gets a perfect score here. The City of Pittsburgh also received a bonus of 2 points for being a “welcoming place to work”. This is given if a city provides employees with LGBTQIA+ diversity training, actively recruits LGBTQIA+ employees, or supports those employees with an affinity group.
Municipal Services is another category, which includes having a Human Rights Commission (we do), and LGBTQ liasion in the city executive’s office (we have several) and explicit anti-bullying policies for schools. In 2017, Pittsburgh received full points for the first two. Anti-bullying policies in schools is still an issue. To get points for anti-bullying, 75% of a city’s students need to be covered by a policy, so the score we received for policies that prevent bullying on the basis of sexual orientation may only apply to 75% of our students. Even in 2017, Pittsburgh did not receive points for policies that protect students from bullying on the basis of gender identity. The city did get some bonus points for services provided specifically to LGBTQ homeless people, youth, and elders, as well as people living with AIDS, and the transgender community.
The Law Enforcement category does not examine practices, but, again, policies. Our city gets maximum points for having a task force and/or liaison. In 2016, Pittsburgh received zero points for this, but there have clearly been some developments. This section also includes a policy of reporting hate crime statistics to the FBI, which is voluntary for police departments, but crucial to tracking national data. The Pittsburgh City Police receive full credit for this category.
The last category is the Relationship with the LGBTQ Community, in which Pittsburgh received a perfect score. It includes legislative efforts, as well as the leadership’s public attitudes about LGBTQIA+ issues. Pittsburgh received a bonus for having LGBTQ elected oficials, as well.
In 2017, the HRC scored 506 municipalities on this scale. They chose municipalities that had the highest number of same-sex couples as measured by the US Census in 2010. Only 68 of these municipalities received a perfect 100. The perfect score does not mean that a city has received full points in every category. Bonuses in one area can offset issues in another. Our schools’ lack of anti-bullying policies to protect gender-diverse students is still a major area for improvement, and this is not reflected in Pittsburgh’s perfect score.
What is measured or quantified gets attention. Mayor Bill Peduto and his LGBTQIA+ Advisory Council recently announced that trans employees of the municipality will now receive inclusive healthcare. A cynical person might remark that this was a cheap and easy way to obtain a perfect score by HRC so that Pittsburgh stands out as a prospective location for companies that value this type of thing. The fact is, that incentive is the very purpose of a rating like the Municipal Equality Index. Providing healthcare to all employees is the right thing to do. Having a police liaison or task force to the queer community is the right thing to do. If the HRC steered Pittsburgh into making good choices and gave us a number to be proud of, I’ll take it.
The 2016 report for Pittsburgh is here.
The 2017 report for Pittsburgh is here.
The full report for 2017, and an explanation of categories is here.