A new report grading over 500 cities in the U.S. on LGBTQ equality shows Little Rock leading the eight Arkansas cities surveyed.
The Human Rights Campaign’s annual Municipal Equality Index scores cities on policies, such as non-discrimination laws and transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits, on a scale of zero to 100.
Xavier Persad is senior legislative counsel with the Human Rights Campaign. He says the report looks at several indicators to gauge the overall state of equality in individual cities.
"We're talking about citywide nondiscrimination laws, the city's own policies for its own employees, city services, law enforcement and city leadership's public position on LGBTQ equality," Persad said.
Little Rock received a score of 66, while Eureka Springs came in second at 63. Fayetteville scored a 44, while Conway, Fort Smith, North Little Rock and Springdale received scores under 20. Jonesboro scored a zero in the report, the lowest in the state.
Persad says cities are also graded on protections put in place to shield their own employees from discrimination.
"We want to provide specific recommendations of policies that every locality across the country can enact now, like protecting their own municipal employees from discrimination in employment and providing those employees transgender-inclusive health care benefits," Persad said. "So we want this to be a positive framework so that cities can see, take stock of where they are when it comes to equality and get to work in advancing equality on the local level."
The average score for cities in Arkansas was 31, which is below the record-high national average of 64. Little Rock scored high marks for protections for city employees, as well as law enforcement practices and views on equality among city leadership.
Persad says, when it comes to issues of equality, policymakers on the city level can sometimes have the greatest opportunity to affect change.
"Often times local protections are the only line of nondiscrimination protections that LGBTQ people have, so it's vital that local leaders act expeditiously to make sure that their residents, their constituents, are not discriminated against when they go to work, when they try to find housing," Persad said.
The full report can be viewed online.