Cities Given High LGBT Ratings Despite Trans Exclusions

The Human Rights Campaign had pledged not to support Plano's equal rights ordinance because it failed to contain trans protections; later, the organization awarded the city a high pro-LGBT rating.
The Human Rights Campaign had pledged not to support Plano's equal rights ordinance because it failed to contain trans protections; later, the organization awarded the city a high pro-LGBT rating.

Earlier this year, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) indicated it would not support Plano’s Equal Rights Ordinance due to an exemption allowing businesses to restrict transgender patrons’ access to public restrooms.

Last week, however, HRC awarded full credit to Plano and Fort Worth, which has a similar exemption, for their respective nondiscrimination ordinances on the group’s Municipal Equality Index (MEI).

On Tuesday, in response to an inquiry from the Observer, MEI author and HRC senior legislative counsel Cathryn Oakley said the group intends to review related criteria in advance of next year’s MEI, an annual scorecard that rates cities nationwide according to LGBT inclusion. But Oakley said HRC has no plans to lower the scores of Fort Worth and Plano this year, even though the group has done so for other cities in past years when scoring problems were identified.

“To date, MEI criteria has looked at whether cities have ordinances that ‘include protections in places of public accommodation on the basis of gender identity,’” Oakley said. “But frankly that language is too broad to capture important nuances that reflect the work HRC has done on the the political front and demands as best practice. Recently, a number of unacceptable exemptions in ordinances have arisen and we are looking at how we could change the MEI so that cities must meet a higher bar.”

Nell Gaither, president of Dallas’ Trans Pride Initiative and an outspoken critic of the Plano Equal Rights Ordinance, which passed in December 2014, penned a scathing post last week in response to the city’s MEI score.  

“Let’s pull back the curtain on the Gay Inc. Money Machine,” Gaither wrote. “HRC has tended to give wealthier municipalities like Plano higher scores. Why? Gets them more donations. … Who cares about marginalized and low-income persons left out; they don’t donate.”

Thanks largely to the ordinance, Plano received a score of 77 on this year’s MEI, up from 22 in 2014. And Fort Worth received a 99, up from 83 last year.

Houston, where voters repealed an Equal Rights Ordinance in November based largely on the fact that it included trans restroom access, wasn’t awarded any points for nondiscrimination and received a score of 48.

Austin and Dallas were the only cities in Texas to receive perfect scores of 100. The average MEI score among 23 Texas cities was 32, compared to 56 nationally.

John Wright is a freelance journalist based in Austin. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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