Columbus once again scored a perfect 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s annual rating of cities on LGBTQ inclusion.
The Municipal Equality Index rates over 500 cities across the country on criteria such as anti-discrimination laws, municipal services, and how they perform as an employer. It’s the only nationwide rating of LGBTQ equality.
Columbus, which boasts one of the largest LGBTQ populations in the country, has scored perfectly on the index every year since 2013.
In addition to Columbus, Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton and Toledo all received a perfect score. Of the Ohio cities rated, only Dublin and Lakewood received lower – with just 31 and 85 points, respectively.
Cities can win points by instituting LGBTQ protections in housing, employment and accommodations, by providing transgender-inclusive health care benefits, by offering LGBTQ-specific services, and through engagement with law enforcement, among many other categories.
Columbus racked up perfect scores in the categories of non-discrimination laws, law enforcement, leadership positions on equality, and municipal services. It won bonus points for banning conversion therapy by mental health professionals and for having openly LGBTQ leaders – Columbus City Council president Shannon Hardin, who appointed to the position in January, is openly gay.
"What is great about the scorecard is it gives cities a chance to stand in front of the mirror and see where we can do better," Hardin says.
Hardin says he was excited to see Columbus score so high, after having worked on the Municipal Equality Index back in 2012, while he worked as a staffer for then-Mayor Michael B. Coleman. That year, Columbus scored just an 83.
Hardin points to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Columbus Police liaison for the LGBTQ community as concrete improvements made by the city. The very next year, Columbus earned the full 100 points.
This year, though, there was one category that Columbus didn’t sweep: ensuring an inclusive workplace. That category judges how well the municipality recruits and promotes diversity in the workplace, and if they mandate LGBTQ-inclusive diversity training for city staff. Hardin admits Columbus could do more there.
"Diversity and inclusion is never, you never get to 100, truthfully," Hardin says. "It's always something you have to strive for and push for and continue to work on."
There are other measures of equality, which aren't rated in the HRC report, that Hardin would also like to see addressed.
"In terms of housing, I think about the young LGBTQ folks that are housing insecure in our community," Hardin says. "We have work to do there."
The Human Rights Campaign ranks Ohio pretty highly on LGBTQ inclusion in general, even though Ohio does not have state laws that explicitly prevent housing or employment discrimination based on gender identity or sexuality. Business groups around Ohio pushed strongly for such protections, which have been stalled in the Republican-dominated legislature.
"It's critically important that LGBTQ people throughout the state have the same protections that we have in the city of Columbus," Hardin says.