Cities like Pittsburgh continue to take the lead in providing legal protections for LGBT people and workers when states and the federal authorities have not, according to the fourth annual Municipal Equality Index by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization.
“Pittsburgh should be pretty proud of their score,” said Cathryn Oakley, senior legislative counsel for HRC and the study's author.
Eight Pennsylvania cities scored above the national average of 56: Pittsburgh, 95; Philadelphia, 100; New Hope, 84; Allentown, 82; State College, 73; Harrisburg, 68; Reading, 58; and Erie, 57.
Oakley said municipal leaders understand that as politicized as LGBT policies can be, the issues come down to treating people the same.
“Really, at the local level, that’s particularly powerful because you’re talking about your neighbors, you’re talking about your friends, you’re talking about other people in the PTA, and you’re looking around at each other and you’re thinking, ‘It’s OK for us to be different; It’s not okay for us to be treated differently in the eyes of the law,’" she said.
Pittsburgh adopted its LGBT rights ordinance in 1990. But according to Oakley, the equality rating is not based solely on local laws. Scores also consider how cities treat their employees, how inclusive city services are and what city leaders are doing in the matter of equality.
Pittsburgh fell short of a perfect score for 2014 because at the time it did not have an LGBT liaison in the police bureau. However, according to Public Safety spokesperson Sonya Toler, Police Commander Eric Holmes has served in that role since March 2015.
According to Oakley, municipalities lead the way in equality because people want to take pride in their cities “and being an inclusive, welcoming place for LGBT people is something that make people really proud.”
Oakley said 408 cities nationwide were rated and 47 received perfect scores.
“More than ever before," she said. "That’s great news.”
Pennsylvania now has 34 municipalities that protect LGBT people from discrimination, said Ted Martin, executive director of Equality PA.
"However, more than two-thirds of the LGBT population in Pennsylvania remain unprotected from discrimination in the workplace, in housing and in business and government services," Martin said. "We hope the state will follow the lead of municipalities and update our statewide laws to protect everyone from discrimination."
Eight cities across the country received zeroes, including four in Texas.