Atlanta perfect on LGBTQ equality for ninth straight year

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The City of Atlanta once again earned a perfect-or-better score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index for 2021. Other Georgia cities made big jumps in the right direction, while others failed to improve their flunking grades.

HRC released the ninth annual report last week.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms celebrated the city’s highest-ever score of 109 in a Facebook post.

“Our administration has made it a priority to ensure Atlanta is a more equitable and inclusive city for our LGBTQ community,” Bottoms said in a prepared statement. “Thank you to HRC for recognizing our efforts, and thank you to our City officials, LGBTQ Advisory Board and partners for their counsel and support in moving equality forward for LGBTQ Atlantans.”

This is the ninth consecutive year that Atlanta scored perfect-or-better on the MEI. HRC gave Atlanta an 82 when the MEI started in 2012. The city then started a streak of perfect scores in 20132014201520162017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

The MEI rates hundreds of cities across the country in five areas. It rewards points in non-discrimination laws, city policies for its LGBTQ employees, municipal services, law enforcement and relationship with the LGBTQ community.

The 2021 report included 10 Georgia cities and geographic areas. Four of those improved on last year’s scores: Athens, Atlanta, Sandy Springs and Savannah. Atlanta’s individual report stands at 112, up from 109 last year.

A falling grade came for one more. Columbus, Ga., is down only slightly from last year.

HRC counts Atlanta and Decatur among its “All Star Cities” because they rate above 85 in a state that struggles overall with LGBTQ equality. Georgia Equality’s Jeff Graham lauded the upward movement of some cities on the report.

“The increase in scores from several municipalities shows the progress that is being made to protect LGBTQ Georgians against discrimination around the State of Georgia,”  Graham told HRC. “Local advocates and elected officials should be commended for their work on this issue. Until we have laws on a state and federal level that provide these protections, it is crucial that municipalities step forward to fill this gap.”

Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham

Statewide ups and downs

Other Georgia cities show no movement on the report. Some with LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances may be too new for this year’s survey. Augusta passed its non-discrimination ordinance just last week.

The number of cities in the state participating in the survey is down — from 11 in 2019 and 2020. Doraville is not included for 2021, despite spearheading the movement for LGBTQ inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances across Georgia in 2018. It is home to one of the state’s only openly LGBTQ mayors and only openly transgender elected official.

Athens-Clarke County’s score, which fell dramatically in 2020 for not reporting its 2019 hate crime statistics to the FBI, rebounded to gain its highest score ever. Now in addition to Mariah Parker as the first openly LGBTQ person elected to the Athens-Clarke County Commission, Jesse Houle became its second in 2021. Both pushed passage of the city’s new non-discrimination ordinance in August.

The average score for cities in Georgia is 48 out of 100 points, which falls 19 below the national average of 67. Georgia’s 2021 scores (2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016 scores if available):

  • Athens-Clarke 68 (29, 40, 28, 33, 21)
  • Atlanta 112 (109, 107, 105, 104, 104)
  • Augusta-Richmond 28 (28, 28, 33, 14, 12)
  • Avondale Estates  18 (18, 18, 18, 24, 41)
  • Columbus 58 (61, 61, 36, 34, 38)
  • Decatur 86 (86, 54, 45, 51, 21)
  • North Druid Hills 7 (7, 7, 0, 6, 12)
  • Roswell 5 (5, 5, 5, 11, 11)
  • Sandy Springs 33 (21, 21, 17, 22, 22)
  • Savannah 80 (78, 40, 40, 44, 44)

Several more Georgia cities did not participate in HRC’s survey but do have new, inclusive policies on the books.  Brookhaven, East Point,  Smyrna, Hapeville, East Point and Statesboro passed NDOs in 2020 and 2021.

Other key findings from the report:

  • 181 cities have transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits for municipal employees—up from 179 in 2020, despite more rigorous standards this year, and only five at the start of the MEI.
  • The national city score average jumped to an all-time high of 67 points, up from 64 last year and 59 in 2012, marking both the fourth consecutive year of national average increases as well as the highest year-over-year national average growth ever.
  • Cities around the country saw progress, with every region of the country seeing a higher average score than last year.
  • 43 municipalities have anti-conversion therapy ordinances in states with no state-level protections, up from 38 last year.

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