HUNTINGTON — In terms of LGBTQ equality, Huntington is a "shining beacon of hope" in the state of West Virginia, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
HRC, the largest civil rights organization working on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer Americans, released its annual Municipal Equality Index on Monday. The index scores cities based on things such as local non-discrimination laws, providing transgender-inclusive health benefits for city employees and offering LGBTQ-inclusive city services.
Just five points away from a perfect score of 100, HRC said Huntington is a shining example of a city leading the way for LGBTQ inclusivity in a difficult state. Huntington is one of 46 municipalities across the country to earn the "All-Star" designation by advancing LGBTQ equality without relying on state law.
The average score for cities in West Virginia is 57 out of 100 points, which falls below the national average of 58. West Virginia has no statewide non-discrimination laws for LGBTQ individuals.
Of the six cities scored in West Virginia scored, Huntington, Morgantown, with a score of 80, and Charleston, with a score of 64, got above the national average. Wheeling was close with a score of 57, followed by Charles Town with a score of 45, Lewisburg with a score of 43 and Parkersburg with a score of 13.
"Our city is full of compassion and seeks to be inclusive," Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said. "This really speaks to the strength and character of our people."
Since first being placed on the index in 2014, Huntington has more than 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 on 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.
Williams said the Open to All campaign has gotten a lot of attention, with other West Virginia mayors reaching out to him to learn more about starting their own campaign.
This is the second year in a row Huntington has scored 95 and named an all-star city.
Justin Murdock, a member of the Mayor's LGBT Advisory Committee, said Huntington could get a perfect score of 100 if funds could be found in the budget to start a Human Right Commission, which is already allowed per city code. A Human Rights Commission would hear things like employee discrimination complaints.
"We are really going to focus on getting that started," Murdock said.
He also credited Williams for picking up the mantle after 2014 and working to raise Huntington's score.
Both men said inclusivity is good for the people but also good for business. Murdock said Fortune 500 companies already have these types of policies and look for them when they search for new locations.
The equality index rated 506 cities including the 50 state capitals, the 200 largest cities in the United States, the five largest cities or municipalities in each state, the cities home to the state's two largest public universities, 75 municipalities that have high proportions of same-sex couples and 98 cities selected by HRC and Equality Federation state group members and supporters. It assesses each city on 49 criteria covering citywide nondiscrimination protections, policies for municipal employees, city services, law enforcement, and city leadership's relationship with the LGBTQ community.
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