Featured photo: Attendees at the 2022 Greensboro Pride Festival.

This story was originally published by NC Newsline, story by Joe Killian

Despite a legislative session that featured several broad assaults on LGBTQ+ people, their visibility and their allies, most North Carolina cities and towns scored high for LGBTQ+ equality measures in a new study from The Human Rights Campaign.

The national LGBTQ+ advocacy organization released its annual Municipal Equality Index this week, scoring more than 500 cities across the country on 49 different criteria with regard to law, policies and services of municipalities. The group calls the annual report, now in its twelfth year, “the nation’s premier benchmarking tool for municipal officials, policy makers and business leaders to understand how well cities across the nation are embodying LGBTQ+ inclusion in their laws, policies, and services.”

Towns and cities can also earn supplemental “flex points” for offering things like domestic partner benefits and youth bullying prevention policies and programs. While flex points can boost the total score for a municipality, none of the scores can exceed 100.

The index scored ten North Carolina municipalities this year — the same as the last two years. Two of those — Greensboro and Chapel Hill — received the top score of 100.

While still scoring high, several municipalities saw their scores slip slightly this year. Carrboro, which the index scored at 100 last year, got a 95 this year. Durham’s score went down from 92 last year to 91 and Winston-Salem went from 92 to 90.

Carrboro’s slip from a score of 100 came as it lost points in several categories, with its “municipality as employer” rating going from 26 out of a possible 28 points to 21. Last year the town got a perfect score of 6 out of 6 points for “transgender healthcare benefits,” one of the criteria on which the municipality was graded as an employer. This year it got just one point.

Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, said decreasing access to transgender health care is a trend the organization saw across the nation as it put together this year’s index. Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation (Photo: Human Rights Campaign Foundation)

“For the first time in the history of the MEI, fewer cities are providing transgender-inclusive health benefits to municipal employees,”  Robinson said in a statement released with the report. “While the number of cities offering such benefits has increased—215 cities now provide packages inclusive of transgender health care—state legislation has substantially affected their enforceability and accessibility.”

Raleigh, the state capital, went from a score of 85 last year to 78. Fayetteville, already the lowest scoring municipality ranked by the index, went from 41 last year to 34 this year.

Other towns and cities continued to make gains this year – some significant. Wilmington leaped 20 points from 46 last year to 66. Charlotte went from 86 last year to 95 while Cary went from 50 last year to 54.

As Newsline has reported, new local non-discrimination ordinances became possible when a state ban on new local protections — including nondiscrimination ordinances for employment and housing — was lifted in 2020. The ban was a legacy of the brutal fight over HB 2 and HB 142, the controversial laws that excluded lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from statewide non-discrimination protections.

Those new ordinances have been key to higher equality scores for a number of municipalities and greater freedom and opportunity for LGBTQ people who call them home.

“Over the past year, the importance and impact of existing local-level protections became even more crucial as the attacks on LGBTQ+ people at the state level rapidly increased,” said Fran Hutchins, executive director of the Equality Federation Institute, in a statement released with the new report.

“Our opponents are fixated on denying medical care to transgender youth, banning drag performances, and preventing youth in schools from reading or discussing anything about queer and trans identities,” Hutchins said. “There is no doubt about it: our community is under attack. Yet, I am heartened by the advocates and community leaders who are doing all they can to fight for LGBTQ+ folks during this state of emergency, even when their power to fix the damage done by the state is limited.”

The full equality index rankings for North Carolina, in descending order:

  • Chapel Hill – 100
  • Greensboro – 100
  • Carrboro – 95
  • Charlotte – 95
  • Durham – 91
  • Winston-Salem –  90
  • Raleigh – 78
  • Wilmington – 66
  • Cary – 54
  • Fayetteville – 34

NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: [email protected]. Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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