HUNTINGTON — For the first time since the ratings began, Huntington has received a perfect score in a national report that grades cities based on inclusiveness of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals.
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, released its annual Municipal Equality Index on Tuesday. The index scores 506 cities of varying sizes based on a number of factors, such as local nondiscrimination laws, providing transgender-inclusive health benefits for city employees and offering LGBTQ-inclusive city services.
Huntington was given a score of 100 on a 100-point scale, which is nearly double the score given to the city five years ago. That score is also 39 points higher than the average score for cities in West Virginia, meaning Huntington leads the state in terms of LGBTQ equality. Charles Town, Charleston, Lewisburg, Morgantown, Parkersburg and Wheeling were also included in the report.
“Receiving a perfect score in the 2019 Municipal Equality Index validates what our community already knows — that Huntington is a city of honor, respect and compassion,” said Mayor Steve Williams. “And while we have made strides to become more inclusive in Huntington, our work is not done.”
Huntington’s perfect score was earned after the city revived its Human Relations Commission earlier this year. For the past two years, the city had received a score of 95 out of 100 because that commission was not active.
Without the Huntington Human Relations Commission in place, the city had no mechanism to enforce its nondiscrimination ordinance, which includes gender and sexual orientation among its protected classes. The 11-member commission has the authority to investigate alleged violations of the ordinance and take action against those found to be in violation of it.
The city’s previous Human Relations Commission was disbanded in 2011 amid a lack of funding. It was revived after City Council members set aside money in the city’s 2019-20 fiscal year budget, which was one of Williams’ goals for several years.
In October, Williams hired Marshall P. Moss, a longtime employee of the West Virginia Human Rights Commission, to serve as the commission’s executive director.
Since first being placed on the index in 2014, Huntington has nearly doubled its score because of City Council’s passage of an anti-discrimination ordinance, the assignment of an LGBT liaison to city executives and the Huntington Police Department, providing services to those living with HIV/AIDS, leadership’s pro-equality policy efforts and a nondiscrimination policy for city contractors, according to HRC. The organization is based in Washington, D.C.
In 2016, the city launched an Open to All campaign asking businesses and organizations to sign a campaign pledge and place a sticker in their windows that identify them as a place that does not discriminate against anyone. The campaign now includes more than 200 businesses, religious organizations, professional services and others that have taken the pledge.
In addition to evaluating Huntington, the HRC gave Charles Town a score of 45; Charleston a score of 91; Lewisburg a score of 43; Morgantown a score of 75; Parkersburg a score of 13; and Wheeling a score of 57.
In West Virginia, only 12 municipalities have local laws banning discrimination against LGBTQ people in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations. That means that 200,000 people, or only 11% of the state’s population, live somewhere with these protections, said Andrew Schneider, executive director of Fairness West Virginia, the state’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization.
“West Virginia has made important strides in ensuring that LGBTQ people feel safe to live, work and raise a family,” Schneider said. “Our communities should feel proud of the progress we’ve made in a year, but we can’t stop now. All LGBTQ people — no matter their ZIP code — should be equally protected. It’s time for our legislators to adopt a statewide law banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
To read the full report from the HRC, visit www.hrc.org/mei.