Half of U.S. states have towns, cities scoring high on LGBT index

By Sebastien Malo

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Towns and cities in half of the United States' 50 states earned perfect scores in an index measuring their treatment of LGBT people, a mark of progress for the historically discriminated community, an advocacy group said on Thursday.

Perfect scores on the Municipal Equality Index reflect measures that protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people from discrimination, said the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, which compiled the index.

The study "absolutely demonstrates wonderful forward progress at the city level," Cathryn Oakley, the index's author, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Newly top-scoring cities this year include Detroit, a Midwestern city struggling to recover from economic hardship, and Louisville, Kentucky, located in the nation's conservative "Bible Belt."

Oakley said she was pleased by the geographic distribution of cities with perfect scores.

"Every region of the country - Northeast, Southeast, Plains, Great Lakes, Southwest, West and Northwest - had at least one 100-point score," she said.

"People have this idea that it's only going to be folks on the coasts who are going to be acting on these things, and that is absolutely not the case."

While the proportion of U.S. cities scoring high on the index has remained more or less constant, the addition of varied cities around the nation is cause for optimism, Oakley said.

Perfect scores on the index, started in 2012, require laws that do not discriminate, benefits and protections for LGBT municipal employees and efforts to include them in city services and programs. Also, law enforcement must have taken specific measures to protect LGBT individuals.

States which lacked a perfect score in any municipality - following an assessment of laws and policies in at least five of their largest cities - ranged from Alaska to Wyoming in the West to Mississippi in the Deep South.

"In too many communities, LGBT Americans continue to face barriers to equality, overt discrimination, and even violence," said HRC President Chad Griffin in a statement.

To compile the index, the Washington-based group looked at 408 U.S. cities.

(Reporting by Sebastien Malo, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)