Perfect score for five NJ municipalities in HRC Equality Survey

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HRC 2022 Municipal Equality Index includes 100% for five NJ municipalities graphic map

Hoboken, Jersey City, Lambertville, Montclair, and Princeton receive a perfect 100 percent

Across the country there was a rise in anti-LGBTQ legislation in many other states and localities. But here in New Jersey most cities and towns continued to show progress in LGBTQ equality. Nationwide, 120 U.S. cities excel in protecting LGBTQ rights, and they received a top score on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s LGBTQ+ Municipal Equality Index released in late 2022.

In the Garden State five towns received the perfect score of 100 percent. Hoboken, Jersey City, Lambertville, Montclair, and Princeton all got the top score. The remaining seven cities that HRC rated in the state had very good scores in general but need to do some work still, says the survey.

The HRC Foundation, in partnership with The Equality Federation Institute, released its 11th annual Municipal Equality Index (MEI), the only nationwide assessment of LGBTQ equality in the areas of municipal policies, laws, and services. This year, a record-breaking 120 cities earned the highest score of 100 percent, up from 11 in 2012’s inaugural index, illustrating the striking advancements many municipalities have made despite some being in states that have seen increased extremist-led anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and legislation.

Montclair was one of the perfect scores of 100 percent in the MEI. “With the changes in law and policy that we enacted at the Council level in 2021 and the explosion of programming administered by Out Montclair over the last two years, we have reshaped the lived-equality experience for LGBTQ+ people in Montclair,” said Montclair Councilor-at-Large Peter Yacobellis, who also serves as executive director of Out Montclair. “But we’re far from done.”

Last year the Montclair Township Council enacted a sweeping LGBTQ equality agenda led by Yacobellis, the township’s first-ever openly LGBTQ elected official. That agenda successfully enacted new laws to protect people on the basis of gender identity and expression in township procurement and hiring practices and required that all single-user restrooms in the Township be designated as gender neutral. The effort also included designating a LGBTQ Community Liaison at Town Hall, re-affirming the state’s ban on conversion therapy, flying a progress pride flag at Town Hall, and supporting LGBTQ teens and seniors with public programming.

Hoboken was rated at 93 percent just last year and increased its score to a perfect 100. Lambertville, which was at 98 perecent in the last survey, gained two extra points to get a perfect score in 2022.

Asbury Park fell four points to 80 percent in the latest survey. The town needs to do more work in municipal services with a Human Rights Commission and in law enforcement with a LGBTQ community liaison or task force to serve its LGBTQ residents better, says the MEI. In adjacent Ocean Grove (Neptune Township) the score was 89 percent once again. This municipality needs to work on a trans-inclusive healthcare ordinance and a city contractor non-discrimination ordinance, among other issues.

Trenton dropped six points from 95 to 89 in the new MEI survey due to no LGBTQ Liaison/Task Force in the police department and a lack of trans-inclusive healthcare benefits. Elizabeth was rated the same as last survey at 71 for the same issues as Trenton, as well as a lack of a LGBTQ liaison in the city executive’s office and no public position on LGBTQ equality and no pro-equality legislative efforts. New Brunswick received 67 percent again in 2022 and has all the same issues as Elizabeth, plus the city is not rated as an inclusive workplace by the HRC MEI survey.

New Jersey’s largest city of Newark did improve its score from 61 to 65 percent but has a ways to go. Municipal services for LGBTQ youth are lacking and all of the ills mentioned for New Brunswick, Elizabeth, and Trenton are seriously lacking in Newark. Paterson came in dead last out of the 12 New Jersey towns surveyed, with similar problems to Newark that need to be addressed by the city.

“LGBTQ+ people everywhere deserve to live in welcoming places that are focused on building equality for all. Since its launch 11 years ago, the main priority of the Municipal Equality Index remains supporting and celebrating the work cities do to serve LGBTQ+ people in the places they call home,” said JoDee Winterhof, Human Rights Campaign senior vice president of policy and political affairs. “This year, we’ve seen a disturbing number of extremist state legislators attacking transgender and non-binary youth for no reason other than to try to erase them and their families. However, we’re seeing local leaders continue to push forward in making equality and inclusion the cornerstone of their cities. By doing so, they have helped to create safe, welcoming spaces for all families while spurring economic growth by signaling to residents, visitors and employers that their city is open to everyone.”

This year alone, HRC tracked more than 345 pieces of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation introduced in statehouses across the nation, more than 145 of which specifically targeting transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. While some extremist state legislators seek to abolish fundamental human rights, many city leaders and officials have stepped up to protect the rights of LGBTQ communities.

In 20 states across the country, 80 cities earned over 85 points, despite their state lacking non-discrimination statutes that explicitly protect sexual orientation and gender identity — an increase from 74 municipalities in 2021 and up from just five in 2012. These municipalities set a standard of LGBTQ inclusion by prioritizing measures such as enacting comprehensive non-discrimination laws, providing transgender-inclusive health benefits for city employees, and providing services for particularly vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community.

“At a time when anti-LGBTQ+ opponents are using the rights of transgender youth as a political wedge issue, it can be disheartening to be a queer or trans person in this country,” said Fran Hutchins, executive director of Equality Federation Institute. “But despite the increasing attacks we are seeing on transgender youth in state legislatures, the important work to advance protections for LGBTQ+ people continues at the local level. Often the greatest opportunities for victories to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people are in the states and cities—where the work is hard but the impact is great. I am encouraged by the work of state and local advocates who keep having the tough conversations, changing hearts and minds, and seeing progress in their communities as a result — we are all better for it.”

The report also contains issue briefs for policymakers that covers how cities can support transgender individuals with healthcare protections. This was one of the areas that are lacking in some New Jersey towns.

“The progress made on a local level for greater LGBTQ+ equality and inclusion for all has never been more important. The MEI continues to help guide, shape, and inspire more LGBTQ+-inclusive laws and policies in cities of all sizes throughout the nation,” said Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director & senior counsel for the Human Rights Campaign and founding author of the Municipal Equality Index.

“This program is one of the key ways HRC is able to impact the daily lives of our members, supporters and allies. At a time when extremist state and federal lawmakers are using increased inflammatory rhetoric and enacting anti-LGBTQ+ agendas, it’s inspiring to see cities continue to push themselves to better serve their LGBTQ+ communities. I am incredibly proud of this project and of the MEI team who have made this report a vehicle of enduring change and of our partners in communities around the country who have enthusiastically embraced its possibilities,” said Oakley. 

Other significant findings from the nationwide 2022 MEI include:

The national city score average jumped to an all-time high of 68 points, up from 67 points last year, marking the fifth consecutive year of national average increases.
This year, 187 cities have transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits for municipal employees — up from 181 in 2021.
41 municipalities have anti-conversion therapy ordinances in states with no state-level protections.

The MEI rated 506 cities, including the 50 state capitals, the 200 largest cities in the U.S., the five largest cities or municipalities in each state, the cities home to the state’s two largest public universities, the 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 non-discrimination protections, policies for municipal employees, city services, law enforcement, and the city’s leadership on LGBTQ equality.

Even though local leaders continue to pave the way forward on equality, there remains an unacceptable patchwork of laws for LGBTQ people across the country. The full report, including detailed scorecards for every city, as well as a searchable database, is available online.

Cities around the country saw progress, with almost every region of the country seeing a higher average score than last year:

  • Great Lakes – 83 (up from 82 last year)
  • Mid-Atlantic – 82 (up from 80 last year)
  • West – 77 (same as last year)
  • New England – 69 (same as last year)
  • Plains – 64 (up from 63 last year)
  • Southeast – 55 (up from 52 last year)
  • Mountain – 55 (up from 53 last year)
  • Southwest – 54 (up from 51 last year)