HRC Municipal Equality Index: Why Some Michigan LGBTQ Cities Are Not On The List

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Every year, human rights campaign (HRC) publishes its Municipal Equality Index Report (MEI). In it, they highlight cities across the country when it comes to LGBTQ+ inclusivity and representation.

And, every year, for the past 10 years, Michigan’s major cities have been on their list. Just last year, HRC pointed 11 Michigan cities whose scores ranged from 100 to 16. But several LGBTQ-friendly cities were missing. Why were some cities not included? Especially the ones you think should be on the list? Pride Source contacted HRC to understand their process.

The HRC process

It takes months for the HRC to gather information for its annual report. “The research period is generally from February to June each year,” explained Colin Kutney, Associate Director of state and municipal programs HRC. “So this means our internal team conducts research based on publicly available data that includes a program manager, staff, legislative counsel and a group of law fellows throughout the year.”

During this research period, HRC is also determining how it will select cities. For example, the 506 cities rated last year were:

  • The 50 State Capitals
  • The 200 largest cities in the United States
  • The five largest cities or municipalities in each state
  • Cities that are home to the two largest public universities in the state (including undergraduate and graduate enrollment)
  • 75 cities and towns that have high proportions of same-sex couples
  • 98 cities selected by members and supporters of HRC and Equality Federation state groups

Once the city selection criteria have been determined, they draw on public and available documentation to evaluate the dashboard projects, classify and index each city. A city’s score is ranked out of 100 and is determined by anti-discrimination laws, the municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement and leadership in LGBTQ+ equality.

“Sometimes we look at Google searches or report hate crime statistics to the FBI,” Kutney said. “We would go to the FBI report and review that documentation there. But most of the documents that support the scores come from city websites.

Cities can submit oneself their information to qualify. No Michigan cities participated in 2021, but 11 Michigan cities qualified based on the initial selection criteria referenced above: Ferndale, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, East Lansing, Lansing, Pleasant Ridge, Sterling Heights, Traverse City and Warren, which ranked lowest with a score of 16%.

Once draft scorecards are created, HRC then sends them to cities for review. “They have the opportunity to respond, but if we don’t hear from the cities, that’s what will come out in the report,” Kutney said.

A queer mecca that didn’t make the list

Saugatuck and neighboring Douglas are much smaller than the majority of Michigan’s 11 cities featured in the MEI report. Yet, with populations of only 964 (Saugatuck) and 1,408 (Douglas), according to the world population reviewthe two cities have created something of an LGBTQ+ “mecca,” said Saugatuck Mayor Garnet Lewis.

“Our history showed us that we were that,” Lewis told Pride Source.

According to Saugatuck GLBT History Project, Saugatuck-Douglas is the oldest and most popular LGBTQ+ destination in the Midwest. The area has over 100 LGBTQ and friendly businesses and is a vacation hotspot for LGBTQ+ people.

Saugatuck-Douglas local government is also LGBTQ inclusive. Lewis herself is an outspoken lesbian who served on the Saugatuck City Council before being named mayor in 2021. “It’s a very welcoming community,” she says of Saugatuck.

Douglas shares this distinction, something City Manager Richard LaBombard agrees with.

“Douglas as a hub for the LGBTQ+ community has deep roots established by the creative community,” LaBombard explained.

Over the years, LaBombard said Douglas has made continuous efforts to expand his LGBTQ+ support within his community. Although Douglas hasn’t made the current list of Michigan’s 11 cities, he recalls that the city submitted to the MEI report two years ago.

“The city actively studied how the MEI reporting process works because we felt it was important that the community of Douglas be represented,” LaBombard said. “City staff also reviewed current policies and made recommendations to the City Manager to revise several policies and ordinances based on information available in the MEI investigation.”

Kutney told Pride Source that “MEI’s feedback deadline is the last business day of July, and this outreach was well past the 2019 deadline,” as the city emailed HRC on November 27. 2019, according to Kutney. “Had the city completed the self-submission process by then, they would have been included in the 2020 release cycle.”

“I responded on December 19, 2019 and clarified that the MEI would not increase the number of rated cities beyond 506,” Kutney added, “but they were welcome to receive a rating through the self-rating process. I sent a link to the self-submission process We have not received any correspondence or additional documentation for the Douglas assessment since this initial outreach.

Other cities that have been contacted about their potential efforts to help their city rank on the HRC’s MEI include Royal Oak, Berkley and Marquette, none of which responded to our inquiries before press time. .

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