How LGBTQ-Friendly Are Eight Colorado Cities?

An image from John Cameron Mitchell's 2006 film Shortbus. Additional images and more below.
An image from John Cameron Mitchell's 2006 film Shortbus. Additional images and more below. File photo
When it comes to LGBTQ rights, all Colorado cities aren't equal.

Still, one thing is clear: Plenty of places here and beyond have a lot of room to improve.

That's among the takeaways from the latest edition of the fifth annual Municipal Equality Index, a study conducted by the Human Rights Campaign, a national organization that advocates for LGBTQ equality.

The report, on view below in its entirety, graded hundreds of cities across the United States from the perspective of LGBTQ rights on a scale of 0 to 100. Eight Colorado communities were included, and while none performed disastrously — the specific details are below — neither were any of them among the sixty U.S. communities to notch a perfect score.

Moreover, two Colorado places finished below the national average of 55, and three others did only a little better.

Cathryn Oakley, senior legislative council at the Human Rights Campaign and the author of the Municipal Quality Index, provides an overview.

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Human Rights Campaign
"We looked at 506 cities from around the country: big cities, small cities and pretty much everywhere in between," Oakley says. "Then we rated them on how inclusive their laws and policies are for LGBTQ people."

The report uses 44 criteria grouped under a number of major headings.

"First," Oakley continues, "are non-discrimination policies — laws at the local or state level for housing, employment and places of public accommodation. Next is how the city treats its own employees: Do employees have benefits inclusive of LGBTQ people, and are there discrimination policies in place to protect them? Third are municipal services — making sure that when the city is offering services to the community, they're inclusive of LGBTQ people."

In addition, Oakley notes, "there's also a category for law enforcement. What we're looking for first is whether the city has an LGBTQ liaison to the police department — whether there's a member of the police department whose job is to liase between the LGBTQ community and the police and to make sure the police department is educated about and competent on matters of equality. That's important, because if there are concerns in the community — if someone experiences harassment, for example — the community can voice those concerns to someone who will understand them. And we also look to see if the jurisdiction reported hate-crime statistics to the FBI."

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Human Rights Campaign
Finally, Oakley says, "we look at leadership — what leaders in the community have said about matters of equality. Have they spoken in favor of LGBTQ equality? Have they spoken against it? And also, we look at what cities are doing on matters of equality — not just whether or not they issued a pride proclamation, but from a legislative standpoint."

Regarding the scores, Oakley stresses that "this isn't a high-school math test. The average is 55, but to me, the numbers are data; they're not the story."

She notes that "some of the cities that are scoring fifty or sixty points may be doing it in states where they are fighting the odds to have any points at all, including several cities in the reddest of the red states, like Mississippi. Jackson, Mississippi, had a 71, but the average score in the state was a 17. The next best city in Mississippi was Bay St. Louis, which had a 34, Southhaven had a 0, and three other cities [Starkville, Ocean Springs and Hattiesburg] got either a 2 or a 4, which is hard to do. Hate-crimes reporting is something every single community should be doing no matter what their philosophy is about LGBTQ, and we gave 12 points for that. So those aren't good scores."

What about the Colorado cities?

Continue for details about how eight cities in Colorado scored on the Municipal Equality Index, as well as more of our interview with the Human Rights Campaign's Cathryn Oakley and the complete report.

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An image from the film Tongues Untied.
File photo
Here are the scores for the eight Colorado communities, ordered from highest to lowest.

Number 1: Denver — 82

Number 2 (tie): Boulder — 74

Number 2 (tie): Fort Collins — 74

Number 4: Aspen — 62

Number 5: Lakewood — 60

Number 6: Aurora — 59

Number 7: Colorado Springs — 53

Number 8: Littleton — 48

Even the least impressive of these totals aren't Mississippi-sad, because, as Oakley points out, "Colorado has a statewide non-discrimination law that includes gender identity — and we take that into account. A city might have a good reason not to pass an ordinance or a law that does the same thing the state law already does. So in Colorado, there's a floor: Because of the state law, you basically start with 36 points."

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Human Rights Campaign
That means Littleton only notched twelve more points — all of them coming from the city's policy of reporting hate-crime statistics to the FBI.

"I will say in their defense that it's possible some places have additional laws and policies they didn't share with us," Oakley allows. "We compile a draft scorecard for every city — research everything we can find publicly available, put together a scorecard and then show them to the city and ask if there's anything we might have missed. We want to make sure every city has the opportunity to review what we've done; we ask for their feedback and then make adjustments. So it's possible they didn't share additional information with us and we weren't able to find it on our own."

Other Colorado cities did marginally better on the index for a variety of reasons, Oakley maintains. Lakewood "had a better non-discrimination policy for city employees than either Aurora or Littleton," while Aurora "received six points for having a non-discrimination employment policy."

Denver, for its part, "received full credit in the non-discrimination category," Oakley says. "The city has both a local ordinance and state-level protection. And they also have a non-discrimination policy for city employees on the basis of gender identity and are offering transgender-inclusive health benefits to city employees, which is something we've really been working on educating cities about. Unfortunately, there's been a pattern for many years of insurance companies refusing to cover transition-related care, among other things, for people undergoing transition who have medical needs — and that medically necessary care is not covered because a person is transgender. We've been working to let cities know about how affordable it is to offer this care and what a difference it can make to a transgender employee."

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Human Rights Campaign
On the debit side of the column, Denver lacks an LGBTQ liaison for the police department, as well as a separate person fulfilling this role for the mayor's office — items that contributed to the city topping out at 82 points rather than joining the 100 club.

Oakley hopes that by pointing out these shortfalls, the Municipal Equality Index has helped to nudge communities to make positive changes over its five-year run.

"It's hard to claim causation," she admits. "As author, I would love to personally take credit for changes for the better. But we've certainly seen cities that are doing things now that they weren't doing five years ago and are continuing to push the envelope. Our first year, only five cities had transgender-inclusive health care. This year, there were 86."

She's also proud that the report "highlights cities that are doing really hard work in places that folks might consider to be unlikely, whether it's Jackson or Cleveland, Ohio, or Juneau, Alaska. These are all places that have taken major steps forward over the past year — and it hasn't been a terribly easy year for LGBTQ people, with more than 200 anti-LGBTQ bills having been introduced in state legislatures. The vast majority of them didn't become law, but some of them did, including HB2 in North Carolina [which mandates that trans people use the public restroom that corresponds to their gender at birth]. Even with that as a backdrop, though, we're still seeing cities charging forward and doing the right thing by LGBTQ people."

We'll have to wait until next year to see if Colorado cities make such strides. Here's the latest Municipal Equality Index.

Municipal Equality Index 2016

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
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