Green Bay scores high on LGBTQ equality
By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – Green Bay is rising in the ratings when it comes to municipal LGBTQ+ rights.
The city received its highest score to date – 84 – on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index (MEI), the only nationwide assessment of LGBTQ+ equality in municipal policies, laws and services.
“(Equality) is something that I feel really strongly about,” Mayor Eric Genrich said. “It’s the community we are meant to be. Our impression of ourselves as a community is one that is very welcoming and hospitable to people who are visiting, and I just want that to be the impression of ourselves that we live every single day of the year. Green Bay is really kind of destined to be that place for all people.”
Green Bay’s rating has increased each of the three years Genrich has been mayor.
He said he has made inclusiveness a priority of his administration.
“When I took office, our MEI score stood at 28, it’s now 84 and climbing,” he said. “I’m proud of the progress we’ve made, grateful to all who’ve made it possible and committed to continuing the work of building a Green Bay for all – a community that’s known for LGBTQ equality.”
Municipal Equality Index
The MEI scores cities on a scale of 1 to 100 based on how supportive city services and policies are for LGBTQ residents.
It assesses each city on 49 different criteria covering citywide nondiscrimination protections, policies for municipal employees, city services, law enforcement and city leadership’s relationship with the LGBTQ community.
“In reflecting on the MEI’s 10-year history, it feels as though these past few years have been the most challenging, and yet the most critical, to advancing LGBTQ+ equality,” Fran Hutchins, executive director of Equality Federation Institute, said.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the MEI.
The 506 cities rated include state capitals, the 200 largest cities in the United States and the five largest cities or municipalities in each state.
The average score nationwide was 67.
Other Wisconsin cities scores are:
• Madison – 100
• Milwaukee – 100
• Racine – 86
• Kenosha – 36
• Appleton – 94
• Oshkosh – 75
The full report, including detailed scorecards for every city, as well as a searchable database, is available online at hrc.org/mei.
Genrich said the importance of increasing the MEI score is two-fold.
“First and foremost, it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “I think it’s really important for us to be a leader in equality in general, and specifically to the LGBTQ+ community. So, the fact that we’ve been able to make these concrete policy advances is really important to me, and I think a benefit to the community.”
He said it also makes Green Bay more competitive “as a community of choice for people all around the country.”
“I think now, more and more, communities are competing for individuals rather than companies when it comes to community development, because we are so much more able to work remotely and flexibly, so I think it just enhances the importance in making advancements in these areas – making it really clear that Green Bay is an open, inclusively and welcoming community.”
Genrich said the continued increase of Green Bay’s MEI score demonstrates that.
Genrich credits the city’s higher score to the creation of the Equal Rights Commission, which came about following the adoption of an equal rights ordinance by City Council in a 9-3 vote in October 2020, and the addition of the diversity and inclusion coordinator as part of the 2020 budget.
“We also put in place nondiscrimination language with respect to employment, housing and public accommodations, so that was an area where we were rewarded more points,” he said. “In addition to that, within the first year of us really looking at our scorecard, our police department has had a pride team in place for the last couple of years. So, that is a really important part of our increased score.”
District 8 Alderperson Chris Wery, who voted against the ordinance in 2020, said he was unaware of the ratings.
“I did not know that, as I don’t follow a fringe groups ratings,” Wery said. “At least the mayor appeased his radical base, I guess.”
Natalie Buhl with The Green Bay Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, a LGBTQ+ welcoming congregation, said Green Bay’s score increase is definitely something for the community to be excited about, and “something that should inspire us to continue to work for fairness and equality in our city.”
One of the principles of Unitarian Universalists is a belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person,” she said. “Our congregation is proud to be a safe and welcoming space for our LGBTQ+ community in Green Bay.”
Genrich said the nine-member Equal Rights Commission – which includes District 2 Alderperson Veronica Corpus-Dax – has met twice, with a third meeting scheduled for mid-December.
“At our next meeting, I’ve asked our diversity and inclusion coordinator to present this report to also let people know of the progress we’ve made, as well as get direction on where the commission thinks we should go to further enhance our score and to continue to create a community that is open to everybody.”
Based on Green Bay’s scorecard, Genrich said there is room for growth in further creating an inclusive workplace, transgender inclusive healthcare benefits and banning conversion therapy.