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Northampton earns perfect score for LGBTQ rights

  • Sarah Lazare, of Springfield, holds her daughter Ka'lonie, 4, high up for a better view of Northampton's 37th annual Pride march, May 5, 2018. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING



Staff Writer
Thursday, October 11, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — The city is being credited with a perfect score by the national Human Rights Campaign for its friendliness to LGBTQ people, though a local advocate for the LGBTQ community says the score paints an incomplete picture of the Paradise City.

The annual evaluation, called the 2018 Municipal Equality Index, scores the friendliness of municipalities to LGBTQ people and their rights. It is released annually by the HRC and the Equality Federation Institute.

“I’m incredibly proud of it,” Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz said of the score.

LGBTQ activist Ben Power, however, says the score doesn’t fully reflect the reality of LGBTQ life in Northampton.

“It’s great for tourism,” said Power, executive director of the Sexual Minorities Educational Foundation, which administers a large collection of LGBTQ historical documents, media and artifacts.

Northampton is one of 78 communities to score 100 points — the most in the index’s history — and up from 68 last year.

The average municipal score rose nationally from 57 to 58 points; 506 cities were evaluated.

Cities were ranked in five categories: non-discrimination laws; municipality as employer; municipal services; law enforcement; and leadership on LGBTQ equality. Bonus points were also available for things like protecting youth from so-called “conversion therapy” and having openly LGBTQ elected or appointed officials.

Power, a transgender man, said the index is limited in what it looks at, noting that gentrification is a real concern for those in the LGBTQ community in Northampton. Indeed he, along with his nonprofit, were priced out of the city when the house he had rented for decades went on the market. Power now lives in Holyoke.

He also said that he would love to see an index that deals with LGBTQ racial and socio-economic diversity.

Behind the score

In this year’s index, Northampton received full credit in four of the categories, and a partial majority credit in the municipality as employer category. Although it had a score of 94 from the five categories, eight bonus points pushed it to 100 — a municipality could not exceed a 100-point score.

Northampton received its bonus points for having openly LGBTQ appointed and elected officials, a youth bullying prevention policy for both gender and sexuality for city services and city-provided services for LGBTQ youth and elders.

Northampton missed two points for having an inclusive workplace, and got two out of a possible six points for a city contractor non-discrimination ordinance.

Narkewicz said that the inclusive workplace points were not given because the city does not have an LGBTQ employees association or special training related to LGBTQ employees. On the contractor front, he said that the city’s procurement and contracting documents do not specifically call out LGTBQ discrimination, although he said the city was given partial credit for beginning to develop a draft amendment.

Jo Comerford, who is running unopposed for the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District seat in the Massachusetts state Senate, said the score was the result of the efforts of both advocates and municipal officials.

“Kudos,” she said.

Comerford, who lives in Northampton with her wife and children, also said that Northampton’s status as a city that’s welcoming to LGBTQ people would require effort to maintain.

“I’m sure everybody agrees that it’ll take work to keep our city open and affirming to the LGBTQ community,” she said.

Other communities

Elsewhere in western Massachusetts, Amherst scored a 76 while Springfield scored 60.

Amherst received half credit for municipality as employer, law enforcement and leadership on LGBTQ equality, for a total score of 71 in the five categories, while also receiving five bonus points.

In an email, Deborah Radway, director of human resources and human rights for the town, said that Amherst scored 63 last year.

“It is a fair assessment, and we are really proud (of the increase),” Radway said.

She said score improvements were made in the areas of increased services for LGBTQ seniors from the Amherst Senior Center, the designation of all-gender single-occupancy restrooms throughout town government, the designation of an LGBTQ liaison for the town, the endorsement of the town manager for legislation to protect from repeal Massachusetts’ transgender anti-discrimination law, and having an openly LGBTQ elected official.

Speaking via phone, Radway said it’s important to place the score in the context of all the town’s citizens, as it does not apply the same rigor to other diverse groups, such as immigrants and those of different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.

“The town of Amherst embraces all of its residents,” she said.

As for what’s next on the LGBTQ front, she said that the Human Rights Commission discusses ideas regularly. She said the town’s human rights bylaw in Amherst calls for the protection of everyone, regardless of their identity or preference, under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She also said that the town’s focus this year has been on Amherst’s status as a sanctuary/welcoming community

Springfield received no bonus points, while getting half credit in municipality as employer, law enforcement, and leadership on LGBTQ equality. It got no credit for municipal services.

Power noted, however, that Springfield has more affordable housing than Northampton, and that it has a vibrant LGBTQ community of color that is based in churches and community organizations.

While he said he’s grateful for the score, Narkewicz said he didn’t think it was the be-all and end-all, and that Northampton has been on the vanguard of LGBTQ rights.

“I’m less concerned about a score than the work we’re actually doing,” he said.

As for what’s next, Narkewicz said that the focus is on making sure Question 3 is adopted, which would retain Massachusetts’ anti-transgender discrimination law.

“I don’t want us to go backwards,” he said.

Power also said that the improvements in municipal government in Northampton began in the administrations of mayors Mary Ford and Clare Higgins.

“There’s a history behind why now it’s 100 percent,” he said.

He also gave credit to the LGBTQ community for building a relatively safe community in the city since the 1970s.

“I think it’s less because of city government than it is because of the LGBTQ community itself,” he said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.