A handful of Florida cities received top marks on the Human Rights Campaign Municipal Equality Index. The  Municipal Equality Index (MEI), released last week, measures how well-protected the LGBTQ community is in cities throughout the United States. In Florida, a traditionally red state, there are several key cities taking giant leaps to create a safer and more inclusive environment for LGBTQ residents and visitors.

What is the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Municipal Equality Index (MEI)?

The index rates cities on anti-discrimination laws and policies, municipal employment services, LGBTQ-inclusive services and programs, law enforcement, and city leadership views on LGBTQ equality.  In the latest index from 2019, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) awarded 88 out of 506 participating cities scores of 100.

This year, more cities scored a perfect ranking than the previous year. In 2018, only 78 cities scored 100. When the initiative started in 2012, only 11 cities scored 100. Because of the initiative, more businesses and municipalities are embracing the concept of equality.

“Both companies and municipalities understand that embracing equality is not only the right thing to do — it also helps businesses and economies thrive,” says Alphonso David, HRC Foundation President.

It’s worth noting that not all cities are invited to participate in the HRC MEI. According to HRC, the cities that were chosen to participate were “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 (including undergraduate and graduate enrollment), 75 cities & municipalities that have high proportions of same- sex couples (see page 19 for more information) and 98 cities selected by HRC and Equality Federation state groups members and supporters.”

In Florida, 18 cities/towns participated, including Cape Coral, Coral Gables, Daytona Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Gainesville, Hialeah, Hollywood, Jacksonville, Miami, Miami Shores, Oakland Park, Orlando, Pembroke Pines, Port Saint Lucie, St Petersburg, St Petersburg, Tallahassee, Tampa and Wilton Manors. Out of 18 participants, only 5 achieved perfect scores while 3 were just short of perfection.

How Scores Are Calculated

HRC reports that “Cities are rated on a scale of 0-100, based on the city’s laws, policies, benefits, and services. There are 100 standard points and 22 bonus points (bonus points are awarded for items which apply to some but not all cities).” Still, the highest score possible to achieve on the HRC MEI is 100. While a few municipalities achieved a total calculated score greater than 100, all scores above 100 were capped at that perfect 100 ranking. For more information on the scoring system, see pages 20-24 of the HRC MEI Report.

Who Measured Up

Five Florida cities achieved perfect 100 scores on the HRC Municipal Equality Index. And three additional cities weren’t far behind. Here’s how each city measured up:

Tallahassee, Oakland Park and Gainesville: Next time!

Although these three didn’t knock it out of the park with a perfect score, their scores ranged between 94-99 with Tallahassee coming in strong at 99, only one point shy of overall perfection. The state capital received perfect scores on non-discrimination and LGBTQ-inclusive law enforcement.

Wilton Manors: 100?

We’re still trying to fully understand the math behind this one, but Wilton Manors, the ever-popular LGBTQ resort and retirememt town, ten minutes outside of downtown Fort Lauderdale, scored a 94 on standard questions and 15 in bonus points. You do the math, but we’re still giving this town a 100, just as the HRC did, for its inclusive feel and strong gay retirement community.

Tampa: 100

The third largest city in the state, Tampa, scored a 92 on standard questions and an additional 13 in bonus points for a total score of 100 (rounded down from 105). Tampa brought in high scores across the board and only faltered slightly in municipality employment. Still, the city is known for an extremely inclusive law enforcement and LGBTQ leadership, which comes as no surprise since Tampa’s current mayor, Jane Castor, is an out-and-proud lesbian and the former Chief of Police in Tampa.

St Petersburg: 100

This popular tourist destination is home to the largest pride celebration in Florida. Known as St Pete to locals, this Gulf Coast city has one of the hottest real estate markets in the state, in part, due to the growing LGBTQ community. St. Pete received the highest possible score for law enforcement, which has an LGBTQ liaison and reports hate crime statistics. They also received the highest possible score for leadership, as the city has several leaders who are open members of the LGBTQ community. Across the board, St Pete received strong scores (base score of 97 plus 14 bonus points) for a total score of 100 (rounded down from 114).

Orlando: 100

Orlando isn’t only known for family-friendly entertainment options, like Disney and Universal Studios. The tourist town is also known for its inclusive policies toward LGBTQ people. Orlando made headlines in 2016 when the Pulse Nightclub massacre left 49 LGBTQ people dead and dozens of others injured. Although forever scarred, the city rebounded stronger than ever before and has made LGBTQ inclusion a top priority. The City of Orlando achieved 98 on standard requirements plus 14 bonus points for an overall total score of 100 (rounded down from 112). Similar to Tampa, the city achieved high marks across the board with room for improvement in employment.

Fort Lauderdale: 100

There was only one Florida city that achieved a score of 100, before bonus points were added, and that city was Fort Lauderdale. This very LGBTQ-inclusive East Coast destination received a base score of 100 plus 7 bonus points. Fort Lauderdale has long been lauded as an LGBTQ safe space. In more recent years, with the help from Fort Lauderdale’s Visitor’s Bureau President, Richard Gray, as well as local political advocates and courageous transgender community leaders, the city is possibly the most trans-inclusive town in the nation. The city is also host to the Southern Comfort Conference, a national transgender conference that has taken place since 1991.

In Florida, the average city score was only 76. The index shows that these Top 5 cities are paving the way for LGBTQ equality in the state.

To read the full report, click here.