The Human Rights Campaign released scores for its Municipal Equality Index for 506 cities across the U.S.
For the 10th year in a row, St. Louis City has scored the highest ranking possible – 100 – on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index. Last week, the Human Rights Campaign released the scores for 506 cities across the U.S., scoring each city’s legal inclusivity for LGBTQ+ individuals.
“For more than a decade, the city of St. Louis has made it clear that our LGBTQ+ community can succeed and thrive here,” Mayor Tishaura Jones said in a press release. “While we proudly welcome this distinction from the Human Rights Campaign, my administration will not stop pushing the envelope to make the city safer and more inclusive of our LGBTQ+ family and friends.”
St. Louis has scored perfectly every year of the Municipal Equality Index’s existence, with 2021 being the program’s 10th anniversary. The score is broken down into five categories: non-discrimination laws, municipality as employer, municipal services, law enforcement and leadership on LGBTQ+ equality. Each of these categories is broken into subcategories where points are awarded to the municipality. St. Louis scored perfectly in every subcategory except “inclusive workplace” in reference to the municipality as employer.
The city regained those points, however, in extra credit awarded for other benefits in St. Louis, such as protecting youth from conversion therapy, city employee domestic partner benefits and other programs.
“You can thrive here [in St. Louis] even if you are a member of the LGBTQ community,” Nick Dunne, public information officer and spokesperson for Jones, said, “even in spite of state laws that seek to discriminate against queer people.”
Dunne, also a Webster University graduate, said part of the reason St. Louis is such a safe haven for LGBTQ+ people is the amount of representation within local government. St. Louis has three openly queer aldermen and Dunne himself serves as the LGBTQ+ liaison for the mayor.
“The fact that people are willing to support and elect queer people is a big step for our community just to show that there is support for our community there,” Dunne said.
Other cities within the state of Missouri, however, scored on average 58 points, with the lowest city, Cape Girardeau, scoring a 12. St. Louis being a safe haven for queer people within the state of Missouri, Dunne said, is important for those looking to remain close to home and family in Missouri, but wanting their own space safe and inclusive of their identity.
“We do have an ordinance in place that was signed into [effect] a few years ago prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and expression,” Dunne said. “To make sure there’s no discrimination against trans people, whether that’s in employment, housing, that’s strictly prohibited.”
Discrimination in the workplace is not an uncommon occurrence in the rest of Missouri, however. This is something Webster alumni John Wallis is familiar with.
Wallis resigned from his teaching job in his hometown Neosho, Missouri after being told to remove a pride flag from his classroom and sign a letter promising not to talk about gender or sexuality in his class. After his resignation, Wallis is back in St. Louis.
“Personally, I am so much happier here than I ever was anywhere else,” Wallis said. “The school district that I work for has a very clear commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. I can be myself without fear of retribution.”
Wallis said, along with feeling more comfortable teaching at Brentwood School District, he is also more comfortable with the general culture for LGBTQ+ people in St. Louis.
“I walk down my street where I live in the Central West End and I see pride flags hanging from homes. For once, I finally feel like I belong,” Wallis said. “That is not a feeling that I would have if I still lived in Southwest Missouri.”
Within the past decade, the U.S., as a whole, has seen multiple changes in conversations surrounding LGBTQ+ inclusivity. With same-sex marriage being legalized in 2016, the “bathroom debates” of the late 2010s and now conversations about trans women within sex work, St. Louis has had to keep up with different fights regarding the LGBTQ+ community.
“We’re always looking for new opportunities to work with our non-profit partners and advocacy groups and just to ensure that we always are enforcing and upholding laws that will support our community,” Dunne said.
As its culture is still evolving, the St. Louis government is still constantly adapting and learning. Currently, the city is looking into health insurance bids from companies for employees. The city is specifically looking for insurance companies that can provide hormone replacement therapy, HIV care for those who have tested positive and HIV prep. The city is also currently working with advocacy groups to see possible areas of change for legislation surrounding sex work, an industry commonly abusive to transgender women.
“The mayor has only been in office since April, but one of the things she campaigned on is that you should be able to succeed here regardless of who you love, how you worship and any identity you hold,” Dunne said. “That is a reflection of her commitment to just continue identifying and understanding what the issues are within the LGBTQ+ community.”
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Alexandria Darmody (she/they) is the news editor for the Journal, and a senior journalism major and FTVP minor. She enjoys digital art, photography and reading nonfiction stories. In her free time, she makes collages from old magazines and collects stickers to decorate surfaces. She's interested in the business side of journalism, and she's an avid viewer of Succession.