Olympia deserves better LGBT municipal rating

The OlympianNovember 24, 2013 

It will come as a surprise to many that the city of Olympia ranked near the bottom of six Washington cities rated for giving the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community equality under municipal law. That seems odd for a city that most would consider friendly to LGBT residents, if not a contender for the movement’s epicenter — outside of Seattle, of course.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, thinks otherwise. It gave Olympia a minuscule one-point edge over Vancouver, Wash., and well below the statewide average.

Olympia was included in the second annual survey because it is one of the 50 state capitals.

On a scale to 100, the group scored Olympia at 67, while giving Seattle a perfect score. It rated Vashon Island at 95, Tacoma 90 and Spokane 71. Only Vancouver, at 66, scored lower than Olympia.

What gives? That doesn’t sync with the city’s self-image, one that prides itself on diversity and tolerance, and has a history of cutting-edge artists and musicians.

The discrepancy occurs because the HRC’s 2013 Municipal Equality Index looked exclusively at the city’s inclusion of LGBT issues in municipal law and somewhat unfairly. Plus, it did no on-the-ground research to justify its ratings, relying instead on a superficial Internet search.

As a result, we scored woefully low on municipal services, because the city has neither a Human Rights Commission nor an LGBT liaison in the mayor’s office. We lost a bucket of points under the law enforcement category for not having an LGBT police liaison or task force.

The HRC’s rating system doesn’t account for city size, and it’s doubtful that many, if any, cities of Olympia’s population have a human rights commission or LGBT liaisons.

The survey also did not take into account that Olympia had employment and workplace policies way back in the 1990s, recognizing and supporting LGBT rights before almost every other municipality.

Olympia was one of the first cities in the state to enact nondiscrimination laws, and we did score a perfect 18 in that ratings category.

Had the Human Rights Campaign bothered to talk to any city officials or representatives of the LGBT community — they only did online research — they would have found Olympia was one of the first cities in the nation to create a domestic partner registry allowing same-sex couples to gain some legal status and the right to family benefits.

The rating group failed to notice that Olympia was also one of the first to require domestic partner benefits for major contracts with the city.

And somehow the Human Rights Campaign missed the city’s active support of the local Gay Pride Parade since its inception.

And that’s the problem with these supposed nationwide rankings, whether they focus on colleges, teacher education programs or municipal support of LGBT communities. They don’t dig deep enough to be meaningful and consequently create an inaccurate and unfair characterization.

Olympia has an excellent record of supporting the LGBT community. Could it do more? Of course, and it probably will. But in this sketchy review, the Human Rights Campaign did an injustice to a city with a long history of supporting LGBT rights.

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