The city has lost points for the first time in three years in a national study analyzing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality, and some community leaders and officials are questioning the accuracy of the report.
The Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index, released Nov. 12, scores 353 cities based on anti-discrimination laws, relationship recognition, the municipality’s employment policies, inclusiveness of city services, law enforcement and municipal leadership on matters of equality.
In 2012, Fort Worth scored 89 out of 100. In 2013 it had 91, and this year it dropped to 83 — without altering policies.
But the Human Rights Campaign altered its scoring criteria, which David Mack Henderson, president of Fairness Fort Worth, said makes it difficult to judge the progress cities are making.
“We are not comparing an apple with an apple, unfortunately, when we compare the scores from one year to the next because their scoring system changes,” he said.
“It is still a compelling tool, but the problem is when you stick a score out there, the general public just looks at a score and compares it to the last score. They don’t do all the homework.”
In addition, Angie Rush, human relations administrator with the city, said the scoring criteria do not seem consistent from city to city.
For example, Fort Worth received full points in 2013 for the Fort Worth school district’s anti-bullying policy that specifically includes protection for gender identity.
In 2014, however, the city got no points in that category because not all the school districts within the city limits have the same enumerated policy, and in changing criteria this year, the Human Rights Campaign said all school districts in the city must have such policies for the city to receive credit.
But Dallas, where not all school districts in the city have such anti-bullying policies, received full credit in that category.
“They gave those same points to Dallas who has the same issue that we would, so I don’t know that there are errors, but I think it was applied differently,” said Rush.
Xavier Persad, legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, said in an email that Dallas received the anti-bullying points because “over 90 percent of students attend schools in districts that expressly cover sexual orientation and gender identity.”
The organization’s scoring criteria, however, say cities will receive credit only if “all schools within city limits have enumerated anti-bullying policies.”
Henderson said: “It makes it look like our anti-bullying policies evaporated. They did not. The criteria from city to city has not been consistent.”
Lots of work left
Despite the change in criteria, Henderson said the scorecard is still a good way to start conversations in cities about how they are addressing LGBT rights.
The average score for cities in Texas is 28 of 100 points; the national average is 59. Arlington received 11; Austin 100; Dallas 91; Grand Prairie 11; and Irving zero.
Arlington officials would not comment on the report.
“I think for the cities who have been in the index for several years, it is encouraging to see many of them work to improve and increase their scores each year,” said Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas. “At the same time, when the scores range from 100 down to zero, it shows us there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.
“We use the report as a starting point to begin discussions either with city staff and/or with residents in these communities to see how they might make changes,” he added.
Henderson said Fort Worth should put advocating for LGBT equality at the state and national level back on their legislative priorities, which was one of the recommendations from a diversity task force created after the raid on the Rainbow Lounge in 2009.
After losing points in the equivalent family leave section, Rush said the city manager and city attorney offices are studying Fort Worth’s policies with regard to leave for domestic partners under the Family Medical Leave Act. The city does include domestic partners in insurance coverage.
“This wasn’t expected that it went down as many points as it did,” Rush said.
“We will be looking into finding more about FMLA, to find out about the equivalent leave, and I’m certain we will be looking into the other school districts and such.”