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A new report by the Human Rights Commission gives Springfield low marks for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. The 2013 Municipal Equality Index rated 291 cities across the nation, including five in Missouri.
According to the report, cities across the country, including in Missouri, continue to prove that municipalities will act to support equality for LGBT people even where states and the federal government have failed to do so.
The average score for cities in Missouri is 65 out of 100 points, which falls above the national average. Kansas City and St. Louis scored the highest with 100 points, and Columbia received 74 points. Springfield was fourth in the state with 37 points, and Jefferson City had only 12 points.
Charles Abernathy is spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Community Center says the report is a shared disappointment for many individuals living in Springfield.
"The LGBTQ individuals and families we pay taxes, you know, we go to school, we try to build a life just like anyone else, and the scorecard is not surprising. However, it provides the public with insight into the climate in which LGBTQ individuals live in here in Springfield," he said.
The report looked at six areas: non-discrimination laws, relationship recognition, municipality as employer, municipal services, law enforcement and relationship with the LGBT community.
Springfield earned zero out of 18 points for non-discrimination laws. That category evaluated whether discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited by the city, county or state in areas of employment, housing and public accommodations.
The city attempted to pass a bill last year that would have added sexual orientation and gender identity to Springfield’s nondiscrimination ordinance, but the proposal was tabled after several citizens spoke out against it. A task force on sexual orientation and gender identity was formed to address the issue.
John Duckett is vice-chair of the Mayor’s Commission on Human Rights and Community Relations. He says since the task force was formed it has made recommendations to City Council, but nothing has been acted on yet.
"Obviously, some of them were just to accept the proposal as written. That was the primary suggestion. They also talked about not passing any of it, and there was conversation about passing only the housing portion of the sexual orientation and gender identity ordinance," he said.
Duckett says the current nondiscrimination ordinance in Springfield does nothing to protect the LGBT community. He believes sexual orientation and gender identity need to be added to the ordinance.
The report, he says, shows Springfield has a long way to go.
"There's nowhere to go but up is how I see it when I look at a report like that," he said.
In other findings in the HRC’s 2013 Municipal Equality Index, the city earned 10 out of 18 points under law enforcement because it doesn’t have a LGBT police liaison or task force, but it did report 2011 hate crimes statistics to the FBI.
Springfield received seven out of 26 points under the category “Municipality as Employer” because it doesn’t offer domestic partner health benefits, legal dependent benefits, a city contractor non-discrimination ordinance or a city contractor equal benefits ordinance. But it earned points for being a welcoming place to work and for non-discrimination in city employment.
It earned maximum points for leadership’s public position on LGBT equality and for the city engaging with the LGBT community.
Abernathy says the city is making an effort to work with those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered in Springfield, but more needs to be done.
"The LGBT Community Center has a real good rapport with the city. I think there's things that the city can do to help promote the well being of individuals in our community, so I think it's a working relationship, and we're at a really good start," he said.
Meanwhile, John Duckett says communication is key to meeting the LGBT community’s needs. He says the city needs to have more direct communication with LGBT people to see what their needs are so it can better meet those needs.