Months after setting up its first LGBTQ working group, the City of Charleston earned a substantial bump in its Municipal Equality Index score from the Human Rights Campaign.
The city’s equality index score increased 26 points between 2018 and 2019 — from 65 points in 2018 to 91 points in 2019 — out of a possible 100.
The Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index is an annual report on efforts by municipalities to achieve equality for their lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer residents. The Human Rights Campaign, which is the largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, evaluated 506 cities this year.
Charleston was among the top 25 percent of cities evaluated in the index.
“I am proud the City of Charleston embraces diversity and inclusion for all people regardless of race, gender, age, sexual orientation or gender identity,” Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin said in a news release Tuesday. “While we still have more to do, the 26-point increase in our MEI score shows a commitment to equality for everyone who works, plays and lives in our Capital City.”
In May, Goodwin established the working group, meant to consider policy issues affecting the city’s LGBTQ community.
Billy Wolfe, chairman of the working group, said Tuesday he was proud of the progress Charleston had made toward becoming a more inclusive city.
“Although more work remains, this dramatic improvement in Charleston’s MEI score is a sign that elected officials here are taking the needs of the LGBTQ community seriously,” Wolfe said in the news release.
Charleston’s score is the second-highest among the seven cities in the Mountain State that the Human Rights Campaign evaluated — Huntington was one of 88 cities in the nation to earn a perfect 100 score.
Morgantown had the third-highest score in the state, earning 75 points, according to the Human Rights Campaign website. Wheeling was next with 57 points, followed by Lewisburg (43 points) and Parkersburg (13).
Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia, said he was glad to see Charleston’s score improve and for Huntington to earn its first perfect score on the index, saying those scores were “an important signal to the rest of the world that West Virginia has a culture of acceptance for all people.”
“West Virginia has made important strides in ensuring that LGBTQ people feel safe to live, work and raise a family,” said Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia. “Our communities should feel proud of the progress we’ve made in a year, but we can’t stop now. All LGBTQ people — no matter their zip code — should be equally protected. It’s time for our legislators to adopt a statewide law banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Currently, only 12 municipalities have local laws banning discrimination against LGBTQ people in the areas of employment, housing and public accomodations. This means that only 200,000 people, or just 11 percent of the state’s population, live somewhere with these protections.
“This patchwork of protections isn’t working,” Schneider said. “An LGBTQ person can be protected from discrimination in one city, but then can be legally discriminated against just outside of city limits.”