Austin Excels in LGBTQ Scorecard

Austin continues to lead the nation in offering inclusive policies to the LGBTQ community, according to a new report

Photo by John Anderson

Austin continues to lead the nation in offering inclusive policies to the LGBTQ community, according to a new report.

The city earned a top score of 100 from the Human Rights Campaign's annual Municipal Equality Index scorecard, released this week. The scoring is based on a combination of factors, including nondiscrimination laws, city employment policies, and law enforcement's hate crimes reporting.

In 2014, the city scored 85 points but racked up enough bonus points to reach 100. The next year, Austin reached 95 points, plus 16 bonus points. This year, the city finally made it to 100, and also netted 12 bonus points for policies such as offering services to homeless and youth LGBTQ residents. So what's changed over the years? For starters, the city's nondiscrimination ordinance now covers city contractors, and transgender-inclusive health benefits have been extended to city employees. The score now also reflects the city's inclusion of an LGBTQ liaison in Mayor Steve Adler's office.

Dallas and Ft. Worth were the two other Texas cities to receive final scores of 100. San Antonio earned a 95. Laredo, Irving, and College Station all trailed in Texas with a score of six. Cities in Texas scored an average of 39, below the national average of 55. HRC noted that for the first time this year it subtracted points for cities that have NDOs with carve-outs banning individuals from using public facilities that align with their gender identity, and formed a new category of points to award cities that offer transgender-specific city services.

"I'm not surprised at all," Paula Buls, a transgender woman and member of the city's Human Rights Commission, told the Chron­icle. "Austin is a go-to destination for a lot of people in the LGBTQ community." Buls points to relatively recent LGBTQ-friendly progress, such as allocating funds for city employee transgender reassignment surgery and a 2015 ordinance that requires businesses to post gender-neutral signs on single-stall restrooms. (Though not all businesses are complying with that rule, and advocates continue to push for full enforcement; see "Battle of the Bathroom Bigots," May 27.)

Buls warns that local success could be jeopardized this upcoming legislative session by anti-LGBTQ politicos. Texas officials are currently in the process of suing the federal government over trans health benefits and trans-inclusive restrooms policies at public schools, and have signaled mounting a strategic effort to erode LGBTQ protections this session. "There is a real fear in the community over the push by state politicians to attack our rights," says Buls.

In a statement, Equality Texas CEO Chuck Smith echoed those concerns, saying municipal protections are especially important in Texas because there are no statewide nondiscrimination rules. "In the coming year, it will be critically important to ensure that any attempts by the Texas Legislature to roll back any existing municipal protections are defeated."

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Paula Buls, Human Rights Campaign, Chuck Smith

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