Jefferson City flunks equality survey

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JEFFERSON CITY - Columbia scored a 100, Springfield came in at 21 and St. Charles collected 38 points, but the capital city received a zero out of a possible 100 points on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index, MEI, survey.

The survey is the only nationwide rating system for LGBTQ inclusion in city law and policy.

“Our legal department undergoes intensive research on city laws and policies based on publically available resources,” said MEI author and HRC legal counsel Xavier Persad.  “We take that information and compile it into a draft scorecard, which we then sent to the city manager’s office and the city mayor’s office.”

Jefferson city Mayor Carrie Tergin said she did receive the scorecard internally, but overlooked its significance.

“Sometimes I’ll get national things and not realize locally the importance of such a survey,” Tergin said.

Tergin reached out to the HRC recently and said she is looking forward to better working with them next year.

“It’s also great to kind of start those conversations and just make sure that we are welcoming because we are as much as we can be here in Jefferson City,” Tergin said. “We also want to make sure that we reflect that more on paper too. 

Persad said the survey isn’t just for city leaders, but for residents living in the community as well.  

“It’s important for residents to know what protections exist in their communities, and then it’s important for city leaders and advocates to understand what work is left to be done in tangible specifics,” Persad said.

He said cities could learn a lot about LGBTQ inclusive policies by working with the campaign and taking action.

“In the case of low scoring cities there is lots that can be done, but we want cities to know the specific steps and that we are here to work with them to improve that score,” Persad said.

One transgender woman in mid-Missouri said, with the publication of the survey, she hopes the city can move forward.

“The potential is there now,” Cathy Serino said. “Now that the city basically got a black eye, hopefully that will give us some momentum to change things in the city and maybe start laying groundwork for a nondiscrimination ordinance in the city along with the other factors the equality index covers to try and bring that score up.”

Serino said Jefferson City should be leading the may in policy, not taking direction from surrounding cities.

“It’s kind of embarrassing that your state capital city get a zero for equality,” Serino said. “You would think that it would be some little hillbilly town out in the middle of nowhere that would get the zero, not the state capital. “

Serino wants to help advance change in Jefferson City, so she is moving back and plans to take action right away.

“I’ve picked Jeff City because of this index. I’m going to move to Jeff City and I’m going to sign up for human relations commission,” Serino said.

Tergin said the human relations commission has been inactive recently due to a lack of interest from the community to fill the spots, but there are plans to restart the commission. The committee is something that the city will gain points for next year.  

“It’s more than points. It’s what’s actually what’s happening in the community and so we want to reflect what we truly are and that is a welcoming community,” Tergin said.  

Serino disagrees with Tergin on that point. During her time in Jefferson City she didn’t have the most welcoming experience.

“You couldn’t pay me to walk the sidewalks in Jeff City after dark,” Serino said. “There’s no way I’d ever take that chance.”

Serino said it’s a matter of protection against discrimination and overall safety.

“I’d watch my back a little more in Jeff city than I would in, say, Columbia,” Serino said.

Nationally HRC saw improvements from last year regionally and overall. Persad said every region in the country increased its regional average and the national averaged increased by two points.

Persad said the increase gives him hope and encouragement for the future.

“This report shows that city leaders are acting now. They are acting boldly despite state and federal efforts to roll back LGBTQ equality,” Persad said.

To see how other states matched up against Missouri visit HRC’s website

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