This is how bad it is for gay city-goers in Georgia: Even cities known for their progressive attitudes, including Atlanta and Decatur, score embarrassingly low when it comes to the day-to-day reality of how they treat LGBT residents and employees.
Even a city that doesn’t exist – North Druid Hills – couldn’t fake it until they make it, scoring a 15 on the new Municipal Equality Index released Tuesday by the Human Rights Campaign. But that’s nearly twice as good as the real-life Avondale Estates, which scored an 8.
The rankings score 137 municipalities across the country on 47 criteria that include non-discrimination laws, relationship recognition, employment practices, inclusiveness of city services, law enforcement and city leadership. Some 11 cities received a perfect 100, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, St. Louis and New York. No Southern city received a perfect score.
Atlanta scored the highest – 82 – among the four Georgia cities included in the rankings, getting dinged for its treatment of LGBT employees, its services and programs, and relationship with the LGBT community. Despite the botched Atlanta Eagle raid in 2009 and its stubborn refusal to settle an HIV discrimination lawsuit aimed at its police department, Atlanta notched a perfect score for its police department on LGBT concerns.
Lesbian-haven Decatur scored a miserable 27, earning most of its points thanks to LGBT-friendly employment policies. Avondale Estates did worse, notching just eight points, six of which came thanks to employment policies. That said, each city can lay claim to historic LGBT firsts. Decatur City Commissioner Kecia Cunningham is the city’s frist lesbian official and Avondale Estates is home to state Rep. Karla Drenner, the first openly gay person elected to the Georgia General Assembly.
North Druid Hills received a 15 – nine points for its employment policies and five for its services and programs, which is ironic since it’s not an actual city. It’s not the first time the non-city rated high in gay rankings.
HRC explains it away by calling it unincorporated DeKalb County but then doesn’t rank Fulton County or other metro Atlanta counties with large populations living in unincorporated areas. The HRC ranking also doesn’t include Pine Lake or Doraville, small DeKalb cities with gay-friendly policies and LGBT elected officials, or Futon’s East Point. That big charity drag pageant ought to count for something.
“Our nation is on an irreversible path forward in LGBT equality and local and state-level advocacy ensures our voices are heard in public squares across the country,” HRC President Chad Griffin says in a prepared statement. “This index gives advocates and municipal lawmakers a potent tool to improve the lives of LGBT people.”
Georgia Equality, which worked with HRC to compile the index, says the rankings in Georgia show that there’s room for improvement.
“While we’re very proud of the work we have done to pass pro-equality ordinances and policies in 15 municipalities around the state, the Municipal Equality Index clearly indicates that there is much more work to do,” Jeff Graham, Georgia Equality’s executive director, says in a prepared statement.
But for all of Atlanta’s gay-friendly bluster, the embarrassing city rankings about match the performance of Atlanta-based companies. Just six sit atop HRC’s list of perfect scores on its Corporate Equality Index.
HRC’s Kathryn Oakley, author of the Municipal Equality Index, called on Wednesday to clarify that they do, in fact, know that North Druid Hills does not exist. It’s one of a handful of non-existent cities included in the report.
Here’s why: The report includes the 50 state capitals, the country’s 50 largest cities and 75 cities with the highest proportion of same-sex couples. That last segment is split among 25 large cities, 25 mid-size cities and 25 small ones. And some of those small ones, including North Druid Hills, are really unincorporated census-designated places. In those instances, HRC based its score on the policies of the most local level of government. For North Druid Hills, that means DeKalb County.
“We were only rating DeKalb County because North Druid Hills is unincorporated,” Oakley says. “We understood that it was unincorporated.”
But the methodology leaves out other unincorporated areas with large LGBT populations and gay-friendly policies and officials, such as Fulton County. Oakley says those places – as well as other gay enclaves (and actual cities) such as East Point and Doraville – can submit an online application and supporting materials for evaluation.
That’s exactly what Decatur will be doing. The lesbian enclave scored a dismal 27 and City Manager Peggy Merriss says she didn’t complete the evaluation forms correctly, so she’s redoing and resubmitting the materials.
Image via HRC Municipal Equality Index