Connecticut cities and towns scored higher than average in a national assessment of laws and policies supporting the LGBTQ community, with Stamford and Hartford at the top in the state, according to a report released Tuesday by the educational arm of the Human Rights Campaign.
The campaign, which is the nation’s largest civil rights organization for LGBTQ people, partnered with the Equality Federation Institute to produce a “Municipal Equality Index” for 506 communities in 50 states assessing them on a scale of zero to 100 points.
Nine municipalities were evaluated in Connecticut with Stamford getting 100 points, followed by Hartford at 99 and Norwalk at 97. Connecticut has a statewide average of 74 points, compared to the national average of 60 points.
Of the nine cities assessed in the state, the lowest-scoring were Bridgeport at 42 points, and Fairfield at 46 points.
The cities were assessed on 49 criteria, including city-wide non-discrimination protections, policies for municipal employees, city services, law enforcement and the city’s leadership on LGBTQ equality.
The Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the education arm of the group, said that since the debut of the Municipality Equality Index eight years ago the number of cities earning the top score of 100 points has gone from 11 to the highest ever — 88 — this year. Last year, 78 communities achieved perfect scores.
It also noted that transgender-inclusive health care benefits are offered to employees of 164 municipalities this year — up from 147 in 2018, 111 in 2017, and only five in 2012.
And 408 cities have equal employment opportunity policies that expressly include sexual orientation and/or gender identity, the report says, up by 30 from last year.
“These inclusive and welcoming cities are standing up to the unrelenting attacks on the LGBTQ community by the Trump-Pence administration, and sending a clear message that the fair and equal treatment of our community, our families and our neighbors is a true American value,” said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
“This year’s Municipal Equality Index shows that across the country, city leaders are working tirelessly to ensure that their constituents can secure housing, make a living and participate in community life without being discriminated against because of who they are,” David continued.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said, “We’re proud of our work with the Human Rights Campaign to improve our ranking in the Municipal Equality Index, and we are committed to the ongoing, daily work of building and being an inclusive and affirming city. No matter who you love or how you identify, you are welcome in Hartford, and when we say our diversity is Hartford’s greatest strength, we work hard to match words with action.”
However, some leaders of the LGBTQ community raised questions about the index.
“While it is great to see some Connecticut cities achieving successful numbers, it’s important that we recognize the nonprofits and other supports that have promoted and advocated on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community to which these cities owe a tremendous debt of gratitude,” said Rep. Jeff Currey, D-East Hartford. “We also must acknowledge that while checking a box can be seen as a successful outcome, there must be a culture shift to ensure that all our LGBTQ+ residents feel respected and heard. ”
Currey said there is always more work to be done, especially “in an already polarized national political climate. It will take a concentrated effort at the state and local levels to ensure all of Connecticut’s cities are truly inclusive and welcoming to all.”
Shawn Lang, deputy director for AIDS Connecticut, said that it appears the campaign looked at city ordinances and policies to see if HIV services were available.
But it “doesn’t really look at quality of life for the actual people who live in these cities, or the extent of HIV services,” she noted.
“For me, I’m proud .. to have been a part of getting progressive LGBT and HIV policies and legislation enacted. But we all know, great policies don’t necessarily enhance quality of life for everyone.
“I think, even in Connecticut, the experiences of middle and upper middle class white LGBT people may be quite different than for people of color, young queer people, people who struggle economically, and transgender folks, especially trans women of color,” Lang said.
Other Connecticut cities and towns given equality index scores were: New Britain, 73; New Haven, 85; Storrs, 52; and Waterbury 71.
In Hartford, David Grant, who was hired in January as the mayor’s executive assistant and liaison to the LGBTQ community, said that staff at the city’s Reentry Welcome Center have been trained to ensure that those recognized as LGBTQ are treated fairly and given access to resources for their specific needs as they re-enter the community after incarceration.
“A modified intake form allows them to express their gender freely without being constrained to the binary of male or female,” Grant said. “The staff there have received training, from our office, not only in the resources available to LBGTQ folks throughout the city but also in how to address those needs in a humane way so they feel affirmed.”
He said that the city’s employee applications are also more inclusive so that employees are not confined to male or female categories.
“Part of what the city has done over the past year, which I feel is really progressive, is we’ve really tried to shape the culture,” said Grant, “and I think that’s a culture of not just tolerance, but affirming people’s individuality and recognizing their diversity is our strength.”
The city received strong scores on the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, on its employment policies, and on efforts to ensure that LGBTQ constituents are included in city services and programs, as well as bonus points for a youth bullying prevention policy and services for LGBTQ youth and homeless people.
Despite a high profile case involving the alleged sexual harassment by a Hartford police sergeant of a fellow officer who was serving as the department’s LGBTQ liaison, the Hartford Police Department also received the most points possible for “fair enforcement of the law” including responsible reporting of hate crimes and “engaging with the LGBTQ community in a thoughtful and respectful way.”
The sergeant in the police case was given a 35-day unpaid suspension in September for lewd language and behavior against the fellow officer, according to the Hartford Courant.