NEWPORT – While community organizations and leaders have made great strides in providing more resources to support the city’s LGBTQ community, Newport itself has stagnated, with little work done to establish policies and protections specific to the city. LGBTQ at the municipal level, according to the Human Rights Campaign’s Annual Municipal Equality Index.
“There is still a lot to be desired,” said Rex Lebeau, strategy specialist for the Newport Health Equity Zone. “There are just a few things that are highlighted in this score that Newport could really use.”
The Human Rights Campaign publishes an annual report that assesses American cities on their LGBTQ-based policies and protections. Although scoring criteria have changed over the decade since the inception of the Municipal Equality Index, Newport has scored below the national, regional, and national averages in every year since 2018.
This year the city got a 62 out of 100, which is two points more than his score of the previous year, but these two points were awarded thanks to statewide law passed in July Require public buildings to make their single-use toilets available to all genders by 2022.
The colon were also additional points, or “flexible points,” to the Newport score and are designed to balance scores so that they are comparable between states with varying protections statewide.
Newport’s regular score, not counting his flex points, has remained stable at 55 for the past four years.
Of the city’s 55 points, 28 were awarded through Rhode Island’s non-discrimination laws regarding employment, housing, and public housing; 12 were awarded due to Newport’s participation in the FBI’s hate crime reporting program; 14 were awarded for the benefits and protections the city provides to its municipal employees, and 1 point was awarded for political efforts to promote equality for city leaders.
Sean O’Connor, co-founder of Newort’s leading LGBTQ community organization, NewportOUT, said the stagnant score offers insight into Newport’s gaps in LGBTQ resources. Comparing the score to cities like Providence, which has received a 100 every year, O’Connor said Newport can see how he can establish certain resources that he has missed points on.
“I want to know, ‘OK, Providence got a score of 100. What are trans-inclusive health care delivery like in their municipal human resource systems? “, Said O’Connor. “This could be a gap in our job at the municipal level that has gone under the radar. Maybe it has or hasn’t affected anyone directly yet, but it’s definitely something that’s important to anticipate so that when the time comes, we can make sure that sort of thing is in place.
This year there were 21 flex points available in addition to the 100 regular points a city could earn. Only three of the seven flex points earned by Newport were not based on state action and were awarded because city employees can receive benefits for national partners and because there is at least one openly LGBTQ leader Angela McCalla, member of the city council.
As an advocate and non-binary person, Lebeau keeps an eye on Newport’s MEI score year after year to see where the city lags when it comes to LGBTQ resources. While some aspects of the score may not be as relevant to Newport’s needs, such as establishing an LGBTQ liaison at the city’s executive office, Lebeau said there are some resources the city could use, such as a human rights commission.
“I think we’ve seen a lot of things crop up over the past few years, especially racial ones, that have to do with human rights,” Lebeau said. “LGBTQIA equity is another side of it, but there isn’t really a deep commitment in Newport to social justice and human rights. “
Since the score focuses primarily on what the city government has done for the LGBTQ community, Lebeau and O’Connor said it ignores the work that local organizations have done in recent years.
As an example, Lebeau cited the recent Gay alliances at Thompson Middle School, Rogers High School, and Martin Luther King Jr. as Newport-based services for LGBTQ youth, the criteria for two flexible points the city did not receive.
Likewise, Lebeau and O’Connor said that one of the most important issues for Newport’s LGBTQ community is access to inclusive and supportive health care, which is primarily addressed by local organizations.
The two are members of the Newport Health Equity Zone’s LGBTQ Health task force, which formed last year to address the accessibility of LGBTQ health care and has helped establish two LGBTQ Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island safe zones in the city, one at the Women’s Resource Center and another at Newport Mental Health. This designation certifies that both organizations provide inclusive treatment and services, and was one of the founding goals of the group.
Now, O’Connor said the group is working on a similar certification program for businesses and organizations in the Newport area.
“It gives this idea of creating a welcoming space or organization a lot more reality,” O’Connor said.
The HEZ has also worked with AIDS Project RI to offer free HIV and hepatitis C testing at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, which is another prevalent health issue for the LGBTQ community.
“These are things that happen at the municipal level, but these kinds of activities are not counted in the HRC Municipal Equality Index scorecard because it is a list of very specific criteria, ”said O’Connor. “I don’t want to downplay it though. If you look at things like health benefits including transgender people, for me that’s really interesting, and it’s a question mark (for the city) as well.
This article originally appeared on Newport Daily News: Newport RI’s Note on the Human Rights Campaign Municipal Equality Index