There are threats floating around Texas right now. They’re blustery, guffawing complaints about depictions of queer intimacy in books, the inclusion of transgender athletes in school sports, and even the validity of same-sex marriage. Whether they’re much to worry about, or just conveniently controversial grabs for attention, they send a very strong message that Texas is willing to entertain debates that devalue the safety and dignity of its LGBTQIA community. Despite the state’s unflattering (though not unearned) reputation as being unfriendly to its queer and trans populations, these citizens simply cannot be stifled. Local governments are picking up the slack.
This November, five Texas cities were named “All-Stars” by the Human Rights Campaign, which used data from its Municipal Equality Index to prove that this state contains some deeply needed safe havens for its LGBTQIA citizens. An All-Star designation marks cities that score 85 or higher on the MEI within states lacking specific discrimination statutes that explicitly protect gender and sexual orientation.
Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Arlington all received perfect scores of 100, far exceeding state expectations and proving that smaller governments can break away from state hang-ups. These five Texas cities joined 69 other All-Stars in setting great examples in under-protected states. Lagging behind at 78 and 76 respectively, the next closest Texas cities to attain All-Star status are Denton and Houston. The lowest scores in the state, both 17, went to Killeen and McAllen.
Now in its 10th year, the MEI generated scores for 506 municipalities in total across every state. Each city was graded on its non-discrimination laws, inclusiveness of employment policies, services and programs, law enforcement, and equality leadership. This year’s report is hopeful: Every region across the U.S. showed improvement in 2021.
“This is all particularly notable in the context that state legislatures across the country spent their efforts in another direction: More than 40 states introduced anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in 2021 and a historic number of those passed,” the report points out. “Yet local leaders continued undeterred to do what local officials do best: listen to their constituents and move the needle of policy a little further towards progress.”
Although the Texas average came in below the national average (53 and 67, respectively), the state experienced an average increase of 10 points since last year’s report. That’s nearly a 25 percent increase in just a year, which the report attributes to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2020.
The court held in Bostock v. Clayton County that “an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act].” While a similar case in Texas took the legal precedent to interpret the state’s discrimination laws the same way, the written legislation was not updated to include those more specific protections.
It can be hard to accept these designations as a win, considering their starting points as anomalies in resistant states. But each little win is a story, in numbers, about resilience. All the big wins are stories of progress. When things feel like they’re sliding back, five bright lights shine in Texas.
To see scorecards and read the report and the accompanying brief on recommendations for supporting transgender and non-binary citizens, visit hrc.org.