UPDATE: Columbus scores low on LGBT equality rating

acarlson@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 20, 2013 

The Government Center in Columbus

MIKE HASKEY — mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

Columbus scored only 20 points out of a possible 100 on a yearly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality index of city laws and policies, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

On Tuesday, the HRC released its yearly Municipal Equality Index, whose centerpiece is a scorecard which "demonstrates the ways that many cities can — and do — support the LGBT people who live and work there," according to the HRC's website.

Research on each city draws from public records, according to the HRC. Every indexed city was given its scorecard in advance as well as the chance to submit revisions.

This year's MEI includes 291 cities, more than double the number included in the 2012 MEI, including five cities in Alabama and seven in Georgia. Some of the cities included are not, technically, cities and are instead "census-designated places." In that case, "we (the HRC) rated the local government that actually serves that census-designated place, which is usually the county," according to the report.

Each city is scored on six categories for a possible total of 100 points, with the scoring broken down into non-discrimination laws, relationship recognition, municipality as employer, municipal services, law enforcement and relationship with the LGBT community.

Columbus scored a 20 out of 100, earning zero points in four of the six categories. It earned points only for reporting 2011 hate crime statistics to the FBI (10 points) and for preventing discrimination on the basis of orientation or gender identity in city employment (five points each). See Columbus' 2013 MEI scorecard.

Columbus wasn't included on the 2012 MEI.

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said that the city may be able to provide the HRC with more information as it prepares the 2014 scorecards.

For example, Columbus has an inclusive non-discrimination policy regarding state contractors — and Tomlinson pointed to the Mayor's Commission on Unity, Diversity, and Prosperity as a possible Human Rights Commission, which was one of the requirements the city did not fulfill. The Mayor's Commission doesn't have enforcement powers, "but it certainly is educational and does promote equality," she said.

Tomlinson also pointed to her relationship with the Chattahoochee Valley Better Way Foundation, an AIDS advocacy group.

Unfortunately, she said, a lot of these decisions are governed by what's already been decided at the state level. Georgia has a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

“We’re bound by state law, so in those categories I think we’re not going to be able to make any headway until, as a state, public policy is changed,” Tomlinson said.

A 20-point score puts Columbus below a majority of the Georgia cities who were indexed, though it scored higher than both the Augusta-Richmond area (12) and North Druid Hills (15).

Atlanta earned a perfect score, an increase from its 2012 score of 82.

Georgia's seven indexed cities averaged a 39 out of 100, with an almost 50-point difference between the average of its highest scorers (Atlanta, 100; Athens, 44; and Avondale Estates, 56) and its lowest (Columbus, 20; Augusta-Richmond, 12; Decatur, 27; and North Druid Hills, 15).

Alabama fared much worse. Its highest-ranked city, Mobile, scored a 21 out of 100; its lowest, Birmingham, scored a nine out of 100.

— Mike Owen contributed to this story

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