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Ohio cities are leaders in LGBTQ-friendly policy, according to new survey

 An attendee raises her fist smiling at the Pride in CLE march.
Austin Harris
Pride in the CLE
An attendee raises her fist smiling at the Pride in CLE march.

The latest Municipal Equality Index from the Human Rights Campaign finds Ohio is a national leader in LGBTQ-friendly policy and legislation according.

The index does not rank the best cities in the country for LGBTQ people to live, said Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel for the Human Rights Campaign. Instead, it evaluates 506 cities across the country and scores them on the nondiscrimination laws and polices each one has.

Though cities tend to have less powers to pass nondiscrimination laws compared to state and federal governments, Oakley said the study gives cities the opportunity to demonstrate the power they do have.

"They still have a lot of ability to influence what's happening within the city," she said, "and so that includes a nondiscrimination ordinance where the city is saying 'discrimination against LGBTQ people is not acceptable here, and we'll do whatever we can at the city level to prohibit that and also to provide remedies to people who have experienced discrimination.'"

Each city is evaluated on their nondiscrimination laws, municipal benefits provided to LGBTQ+ employees, municipal resources, policing practices and the leaderships' commitment to LGBTQ inclusivity and equality.

"All of these things put together turn into a score that we use to help incentivize cities to continue to work on the things that they have left to do," Oakley said. "We also like to encourage a little friendly competition, but it's also a really great way for cities to signal the really important work they've already done."

In Ohio, eight cities were surveyed, and all scored above average, Oakley said. Six cities, including Columbus, Clevelandand Akron, earned the highest score of 100. Lakewoodreceived 81 points.

"That might feel a little surprising to the city of Lakewood, which is currently at 81%, but has long been at 100% in past years," said Alana Jochum, executive director of Equality Ohio, who works closely with the HRC on the index. "That just really does show that growth and the importance of keeping up with developments."

The goalposts on the scorecard change from year to year, Oakley said, as the needs of the LGBTQ community evolve and the nondiscrimination legislation becomes more common.

"We're making sure that the scorecard is being fair to cities and what cities truly can do," she said, "but it's also pushing them toward doing more, doing better."

One way the Human Rights Campaign does this is by offering bonus points, or "flex points," to recognize a municipality for work they've accomplished that might not be status quo, or possible for every city to replicate.

On their scorecards, Lakewood, Akron and Cleveland earned zero of six possible points for transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits, but Akron and Cleveland were able to cover the loss of those points by earning flex points in other categories.

Cleveland earned nine flex points for having legislation protecting youth from conversion therapy, providing social services to LGBTQ adults and resources for those with HIV and AIDS, having openly LGBTQ leaders and extending benefits to domestic partners of city employees.

Akron earned 11 Flex Points for its banning conversion therapy, its youth bullying prevention policy and providing all-gender housing facilities and services for LGBTQ youth, those with HIV and AIDS and transgender people.

Lakewood earned four bonus points for having openly LGBTQ leadership and passing legislation to protect youth from conversion therapy.


"I always want to encourage cities to do better, but I wouldn't be too hard on Lakewood for the 81," Oakley said. "I'm sure that they can get to that 100 in fairly short order if they put some some work into it."

Ohio overall was highlighted as a success story due to efforts led by Equality Ohio that worked with Cuyahoga County and 34 cities to pass "fully inclusive" ordinances.

"The way Equality Ohio defines fully inclusive is that it must protect both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in the areas of housing, employment and in public accommodations," Jochum said. "They must match state and federal law and they must be in parity and narrowly construed the way that our current state and federal laws are."

Jochum said she expects more cities and counties in the state to adopt similar ordinances to combat larger legislation.

"We are here to work with any municipality that wants to advance these protections," she said. "I think that we are only seeing an increase in interest as the hostility towards the LGBTQ community has grown at the state level."

For cities looking to improve their scores, Jochum recommends reaching out to Equality Ohio for help in connecting with and understanding its LGBTQ residents.

Cities who weren't scored by the index can self-submit their data and legislation to receive a scorecard.

Oakley said she would encourage all cities, even those who scored 100, to keep working on achieving full inclusivity.

“Equality isn’t an end post, right? Like there isn't a line that you cross and then you get to say we've won equality we're all done now," she said. "It's important that we all continue to be having these conversations about how to do more and how to do better."

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Zaria Johnson