Earlier this month, the Kansas City Star printed an article announcing the results of the Municipal Equality Index reflecting a score of zero for Jefferson City, but scores of 100 for Columbia, Kansas City and St. Louis. The article itself was not entirely unbalanced, but the headline was very misleading. It shouted:
"THIS MISSOURI CITY IS ONE OF THE WORST FOR LGBT PEOPLE IN THE NATION, REPORT SAYS."
If you just read the headline and skimmed the story, you could jump to the conclusion that Jefferson City is hostile to its LGBT residents. I cannot say for sure whether my LGBTQ friends face hostile attitudes in Jefferson City, but I have never heard such a complaint. I could not understand how the scoring could be so drastically different for the three towns.
When I looked deeper I found that the headline was flat wrong. The study only examines municipal codes. A city gets a good score if there are specific laws and policies aimed at protecting and supporting it LGBT population. It does not even study whether the laws and policies are enforced, or how effective they are. In fact, if you will find this honest disclaimer:
"[The study] is not a ranking of the friendliest cities to live. It neither attempts to quantify how respectful cities enforce their laws, nor does it gauge the experience of an LGBTQ person interacting wth the police or city hall . . . The MEI specifically rates cities on their laws and policies; it is not a measure of an LGBTQ person's lived experience in that city." (page 39).
As I think this through, I'll bet that the low scoring cities tend to be cities where the prevailing attitude is that local government (and all other levels of government) should be limited in how much they attempt to control the lives of their citizens. I'll bet low scoring cities, in addition to not codifying LGBT protection, also tend to have less restrictive measures in other areas of governance such as code enforcement, environmental and historic preservation. I believe Jefferson City residents value those things, but they would rather that government not hold a gun to their heads. In fact, one could conclude that we don't have laws and policies protecting the LGBT population because we don't need them. Maybe our residents are welcoming and friendly to the extent that the LGBT population has not expressed the need for such measures. The study shows a heavy concentration of 100 scores in larger cities, where (I suggest) local government is prone to regulate everything aggressively because of the problems they face due to their size and complexity.
It's worth noting that several towns that seem pretty friendly and welcoming are in the "zero" club: Pierre, SD; Rapid City, SD; Myrtle Beach, SC; Bend,OR; Stillwater, OK. Cape Girardeau got a score of three.
I think the study does point out some interesting facts, and there are things we can learn from it. Maybe Jefferson City can look to laws and policies that seem to work elsewhere. Maybe we should head off problems before they arise. Maybe there is hostility that I'm not aware of. But I suspect (but of course do not know for sure) that our LGBT population gets along just fine with everyone else, and I do not feel the KC Star headline saying Jefferson City is "one of the worst for LGBT in the nation" was fair at all. In fact, it was misleading and it represents journalism far below the standard normally set by that newspaper.