A Missouri city is among less than a dozen others in the country deemed to have the highest inequality for LGBT people in the country, a new report found.
Jefferson City received the lowest score possible — 0 — on the “Municipality Equality Index.” The ranking of more than 500 cities was compiled in part by the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates and lobbies on behalf of the LGBT community.
The Missouri capital is among just 10 other cities in the country to receive a score of 0.
But a city leader and a member of the LGBT community say they have a plan to hopefully make progress in countering discrimination.
The ranking was based on a number of factors, including: non-discrimination laws protecting LGBT people’s employment, housing and public accommodations; fairness in granting city contracts and in employing LGBT people, such as offering transgender-inclusive health-care benefits; inclusion of the LGBT community in city services and programs; serving as advocates in law enforcement by offering an LGBT police liason through the police department and reporting hate crime statistics to the FBI; and finally having leaders who publicly support the LGBT community and propose pro-equality legislation.
Jefferson City received the lowest score possible in all the above categories.
Carrie Tergin, the mayor of Jefferson City, said she believes the city has no ordinances to protect LGBT rights because residents “tend to have no issues here.”
She added that she recently wrote an award recommendation for an LGBT-owned business.
“So as a mayor, I reflect the attitude that we respect each other and we’ll never tolerate discrimination,” she said.
When asked if she supported a possible future ordinance to prevent anti-LGBT business owners from firing workers for their sexual orientation or gender identity, Tergin said she would.
“I support that concept,” she said “Because we should not fire — we should not tolerate discrimination, period.”
Mitchell Woodrum, a Jefferson City resident and member of the LGBT community, said his experience in the city has been overwhelmingly positive.
He’s also lived in KC and St. Louis — two cities that received perfect scores on the Equality Index report — but Jefferson City is a place he is “proud to be a part of.”
“I am by no means saying discrimination does not exist in Jefferson City, because unfortunately it exists in every city,” he said by text message. “As a community we should strive to be better every day and Jefferson City should continue to move forward in ensuring protection for LGBT citizens.”
He and Tergin both referenced a new effort to reform the city’s Human Relations Commission. Woodrum said the board would serve marginalized communities, including the LGBT community, by bringing attention to and awareness of discrimination and by creating opportunities for dialogue.
Richard Florida, a global research professor at New York University, writes in the report that inclusiveness attracts residents, businesses and employees.
“A growing body of research has shown that cities that have vibrant gay and lesbian communities have higher levels of income, life satisfaction, housing values, and emotional attachment to their community as well as higher concentrations of high-tech business,” Florida wrote.
The Index has become an important tool for identifying exemplary cities at a time when “anti-equality politicians have been emboldened by a political climate where hate and discrimination have entered the mainstream,” wrote Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. “But at a time when it would be easy to grow weary and complacent, cities and towns are leading the way forward.”
Some of those leading cities are in Missouri. Kansas City, St. Louis and Columbia all received perfect scores on the Index.
KC received bonus points for electing openly LGBTQ people to municipal leadership roles.
“The City of Columbia has been a leader in the state” by passing laws to protect those classes, the report said. Columbia was chosen as a “success story” for its legislation despite a lack of statewide protections for the LGBT community.
Missouri is one of several states that does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, the report stated.
Kansas’ cities saw an average increase of 5 points on the ranking, putting the state in the top 10 most improved list.
No Kansas cities received 0 points. The lowest scoring Kansas city was Olathe, with 7 points. The highest scoring was Lawrence, with 74.