An Imperfect Perfect Score

City could do better on LGBTQ rights

Council Member Martinez with his wife Lara Wendler at this year's Pride parade
Council Member Martinez with his wife Lara Wendler at this year's Pride parade (Photo by Amy Kamp)

This week, the Human Rights Campaign issued its annual Municipal Equality Index Scorecard. According to HRC, “the Municipal Equality Index (MEI) examines the laws, policies, and services of municipalities and rates them on the basis of their inclusivity of LGBT people who live and work there.”

Austin scored 100 points. Council Member Mike Martinez’s office issued a press release saying, “It’s an honor to be the only city in the state of Texas to receive a perfect score on the HRC’s Municipal Equality Index for a second year in a row ... While we always have more work to do to protect the rights of LGBT people, I’m honored that the Human Rights Campaign has recognized our hard work.”

While Austin’s high score isn’t bad – the highest of any Texas city – it isn’t perfect, either. HRC offers quite a few opportunities for bonus points. Austin garnered a base score of 85, but received 15 bonus points (to get to 100 out of a possible 120). Last year, Austin received 89 points (plus 11 bonus points).

In May, Council passed a resolution sponsored by Council Member Chris Riley calling for the city to “take proactive steps to improve its performance” on the scorecard.

Austin made two important improvements after that resolution – the addition of LGBT Police Liaison Charles Loosen, and a reduction in the cost of same-sex partner benefits for city employees, an issue championed by Riley. So what’s missing? For starters, “transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits.” Austin gets a zero out of four points for that one; exactly the same number of points it got last year. The other two big zeroes are for a “city contractor equal benefits ordinance,” and for an “LGBT liaison to the city executive.”

However, as Martinez said, he knows the city needs to do better. In response to an inquiry from the Chronicle, he sent out a statement, reading in part, “Our work is never done to ensure that equal rights are guaranteed for all of Austin’s residents. Austin does not currently offer transgender-inclusive health coverage to its employees, and in order to make our benefits as inclusive as possible, I will be preparing an item for the December 11 agenda to consider this measure for next year’s budget process when city employee benefits are considered and updated.”

Getting the issue back on the agenda is a start. Right now, trans city employees are having to pay for a portion of their health care out of their own pockets. Hopefully, the item will do more than simply kick the ball back to staff, who showed no enthusiasm for including the benefits when they analyzed last year's scorecard.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

LGBT, transgender, City Council, Mike Martinez, Charles Loosen, Human Rights Campaign, Municipal Equality Index, discrimination, health care

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