Scales of Equality: Municipal and State Level LGBT Policy in the US

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Benjamin Forest
Department of Geography
McGill University
Grant received in 2014-2015

Our study examines the factors that lead cities to provide (or not) protections and rights to sexual minorities. Urban economist Richard Florida famously claims that city governments try to attract an educated, “creative” workforce by advertising themselves as tolerant communities. One of the most effective ways to do so, according to this thesis, is through progressive LGBTQ policies. Yet we suspect that there is much more to the story. Every city would like to have a growing, dynamic economy with a highly paid labour force, yet we see a wide range of policies across urban governments. Urban policies arise – at least in part – out of the political preferences of their residents. These preferences may be relatively hostile or relatively open to sexual minorities regardless of the (purported) economic benefits of tolerance. To test this relationship, we use data collected by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), one of the largest LGBTQ advocacy organizations in the U.S. We analyze their 2014 survey that includes nearly 350 cities. The unique index scores cities based on their about policies and services of concern to the LGBTQ community, such as employment equality, presence of openly LGBTQ elected officials, police-community relations, and the like. We match these scores with Census data for the cities, including information such as the total population, age and education, economic characteristics, and racial/ethnic composition. In doing so, our research paints a portrait of the types of citizens most likely to live in LGBTQ-friendly cities.

Our study has three key findings:

• Larger, denser cities tend to have policies and services friendlier to sexual minorities
• Cities with relatively “high tech” and educated workforces score well on the HRC Equality Index.
• There is a strong regional influence. All other things being equal, cities in the southern U.S. have less tolerant policies and practices, and cities in the northeast have more tolerant ones.

PhD students in geography and political science at McGill University and UQàM contributed to this research.

This research contributed to a succesful grant application with the SSHRC.

Presentations

  • Forest, B. (2015, april). Scales of Equality: LGBT Rights in States and Cities. Communication presented at the Association of American Geographers‘ Annual Conference, Chicago.