Foon Rhee

The Numbers Crunch: Some cities are far more gay-friendly than others

Mike Furioso wears a rainbow hat and pride sunglasses during the Sacramento Pride Festival parade in June.
Mike Furioso wears a rainbow hat and pride sunglasses during the Sacramento Pride Festival parade in June.

California has a well-deserved reputation for being more welcoming than most states of gays and lesbians. Even here, however, some cities are far more gay-friendly than others.

The Human Rights Campaign’s latest equality index ranks 408 municipalities across the nation, including 55 in California. Golden State cities averaged 73 points out of 100, well above the national average of 56.

But the California scores were as low as 42 and as high as 100. Sacramento, as on quite a few measures, is somewhere in the middle with a 75.

Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco are among eight California cities that received 100 points, while Bakersfield, Fresno, Salinas and Visalia were among cities that had the lowest scores. While this is another dividing line between more politically liberal cities on the coast and more conservative cities inland, Brisbane, just south of San Francisco, had that 42.

“California boasts some of the best cities and towns in the world for LGBT people to live, work and visit,” Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California, said in a statement. But he said “there is still a huge gulf” between cities with perfect scores and “other cities and towns in California that are still blind or inattentive to the needs of LGBT residents, employees and visitors.”

The Human Rights Campaign – the largest civil rights group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans – bases its index on 41 criteria in five broad categories: how strong nondiscrimination laws are; whether cities treat their LGBT workers equally; how much effort cities exert to make sure their services are inclusive; what law enforcement’s relationship is with the LGBT community and whether it reports hate crimes; and municipal leaders’ commitment to equality.

For instance, Sacramento scored a perfect 30 for its ordinances. But points were deducted for its treatment of LGBT employees and its room for inclusiveness in municipal services, and the city got docked 10 points because the Police Department lacks an official LGBT liaison or task force.

In a year when the nation’s highest court made same-sex marriage legal across America, the Human Rights Campaign says there continues to be progress in all regions, even in unexpected places. Overall, 47 cities received 100 points, compared to 38 in 2014 and only 11 in 2012, the first year for the index. Millions of Americans live in cities with more comprehensive anti-discrimination laws than their state or the federal government.

While cities help lead the charge for full equality, LGBT Americans can still be fired, denied housing or refused service in 31 states. So advocates are pushing in Congress to pass the Equality Act, which would extend nondiscrimination protections nationwide.

Even in California and even with Caitlyn Jenner raising awareness, there has been backlash against transgender people, including a proposed ballot measure to require people to use public bathrooms that correspond to their gender at birth. After it failed this week to qualify for November 2016, gay rights advocates announced a statewide education campaign to forestall future measures and combat misunderstanding about transgender people.

That’s a good reminder that in the long run, winning public opinion is just as important as passing a bunch of laws.

By the numbers

Municipal Equality Index scores, measuring how LGBT residents and employees are treated, for selected California cities:

  • Long Beach, 100
  • Los Angeles, 100
  • San Diego, 100
  • San Francisco, 100
  • San Jose, 100
  • Stockton, 83
  • Elk Grove, 77
  • Sacramento, 75
  • Oakland, 73
  • San Bernardino, 62
  • Anaheim, 61
  • Bakersfield, 59
  • Modesto, 59
  • Fresno, 57
  • Visalia, 50
  • Brisbane, 42

Source: Human Rights Campaign