City of Lawrence receives near-perfect score for LGBTQ inclusivity; much of the credit given to local law enforcement
photo by: Journal-World File Photo
The city of Lawrence has earned a high “A” for LGBTQ inclusivity in annual rankings by the Human Rights Campaign, in large part because of score improvements in the category of law enforcement.
Lawrence scored 98 out of 100 possible points on the 2020 Municipal Equality Index, or MEI, which scores cities on various criteria including nondiscrimination protections, policies for municipal employees, city services, law enforcement and city leadership’s commitment to include the LGBTQ community and advocate for full equality.
Lawrence was the third highest-scoring city in Kansas in the 2019 rankings. Some changes in the past year led to an increase of 29 points, or 42%, in 2020, according to a news release from the city. The score put Lawrence over the top of the nine other ranked cities in Kansas.
Lawrence received a perfect score in three of five areas of the scorecard: nondiscrimination laws, municipal services and law enforcement. Two big improvements to the total score came from the Lawrence Police Department.
In December 2019, former Lawrence Police Chief Gregory Burns Jr. appointed Officer Amber Rhoden as the department’s diversity/LGBTQ+ liaison. Her role is to serve as an advocate for LPD and the Lawrence LGBTQ+ community “in an effort to build trust within the community we serve,” Burns wrote in a memo announcing her appointment. “A main focus will be to help foster an inclusive environment both internally and externally so that all members of the LGBTQ+ community feel safe in reporting issues that may be impacting them.”
photo by: Mackenzie Clark/Journal-World File Photo
Cities also receive points for reporting hate crime data to the FBI. As the Journal-World has previously reported, area law enforcement switched to a new software program in 2014 that is not compatible with software used by the FBI. Even though the city does track hate crime data, the inability to report to the FBI resulted in some points lost on the 2019 MEI.
Kansas cities’ 2020 MEI scores
• Lawrence: 98
• Overland Park: 93
• Manhattan: 81
• Topeka: 80
• Olathe: 71
• Kansas City: 68
• Emporia: 63
• Hutchinson: 61
• Wichita: 59
— Source: Human Rights Campaign’s 2020 Municipal Equality Index, hrc.org/mei
“The Police Department worked tirelessly to try to find a solution to this issue,” Porter Arneill, a city spokesperson, said via email of this year’s MEI. “This effort was acknowledged by the HRC, resulting in an increase in our score.”
Another area where the city gained 6 points in 2020 over the 2019 score was adding transgender-inclusive health care benefits. City leaders told the Journal-World last year that by the time the MEI was released, the city did provide those benefits to employees and that would be reflected in the 2020 index.
The city lost 6 possible points for not having a contractor nondiscrimination policy or ordinance, which would require all businesses the city contracts with to have an employee nondiscrimination policy that expressly covers sexual orientation and gender identity, according to the HRC.
Lawrence also received 1 out of 3 possible points for pro-equality legislative or policy efforts, meaning how actively the city has been pursuing pro-equality city policies, resolutions and proclamations.
However, the city received “flex points” for providing services for LGBTQ youth and for people living with HIV or AIDS, and for having openly LGBTQ elected officials or appointed leaders, according to the scorecard.
The second highest-scoring Kansas city in 2020 was Overland Park, with 93; Manhattan came in third with 81. Wichita came in last with a score of 59.
“The City of Lawrence has long been a welcoming community,” Jennifer Ananda, city commissioner and recent mayor, said in a news release from the city. “While our work is far from over to ensure our LGBTQAI residents do not experience discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity in our city and in our society, we are very proud of this distinction and the strides we’ve made and continue to make each year.”
Kansas, North Dakota, Nebraska and Virginia had the top four highest state average increases in 2020, according to the HRC. The full report is available at hrc.org/mei.
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• Oct. 12, 2020: City of Lawrence announces first director of equity and inclusion