San Jose earned perfect score for LGBTQ equality, despite some shortcomings
"LGBTQ flag" by stockcatalog is licensed under CC BY 2.0

For the fifth year in a row, the Human Rights Campaign gave San Jose a perfect score for equality in services, laws and protection for its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer residents.

The eighth annual Municipal Equality Index researched 49 criteria for local communities, including hot-button issues such as actions against conversion therapy and single-user gender-neutral bathroom accessibility, both of which San Jose earned points for because of state laws.

Eighty-eight out of 506 cities nationwide earned a perfect score — the highest number in the index’s history – and the national city average jumped to a record high of 60 points. Neighboring Oakland and San Francisco also earned a perfect score.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said he’s grateful the city’s continued efforts toward inclusivity were reflected in the city’s perfect score. San Jose earned full points for nondiscrimination in city employment, transgender-inclusive health care benefits, LGBTQ liaisons within government leadership and the 13-member Human Services Commission.

However, the city fell short in several individual categories, despite its perfect score.

San Jose surprisingly earned no points in the “inclusive workplace” category, which measured whether a city actively recruits LGBTQ employees or conducts LGBTQ-inclusive diversity training.

San Jose also was called out for not offering domestic partnership benefits and missed out on one of many “bonus” points in that category.

But the mayor’s office said that information is inaccurate, and that employees in domestic partnerships get the same benefits as married employees.

“We certainly have more work to do, but I’m really grateful for Khanh Russo on our team,” Liccardo told San José Spotlight, referring to the city’s LGBT Liaison. “He’s worked really hard to ensure that I better understand the issues and that the city is more responsive to the community.”

Councilmember Pam Foley was glad to hear of the city’s perfect rating, but said it’s more important to focus on future actions than reflect on past work. In addition to supporting the San Jose Police Department’s Safe Places Initiative against LGBTQ hate crimes, adding LGBTQ voices to city commissions and advocating for equitable treatment of people who have HIV/AIDS, the outspoken ally thinks the next big step is housing.

“The number one priority has to be housing. We have to figure out a way to build more housing and make it safe for our senior LGBT community, not to mention our homeless and at-risk LGBT youth,” said Foley, adding that she’s heard concerns about the safety of LGBTQ people entering senior residences. “We opened up the LGBT shelter earlier this year, but we need to open up another one and make sure that we have more facilities.”

Sunnyvale, the only other Santa Clara County city the index measured, did not fare as well as San Jose.

Sunnyvale earned a 73 and did not receive marks for the county’s Human Rights Commission and its Non-Discrimination Ordinance Enforcement, although San Jose did. Sunnyvale also lost points for a lack of LGBTQ liaisons and an inclusive workplace.

Neither San Jose nor Sunnyvale earned “bonus” points for dedicated city services for LGBTQ people who are youth, elders, homeless or have HIV/AIDS. But Sunnyvale spokeswoman Jennifer Garnett said her city helps coordinate resources in other ways, despite working with fewer resources than larger cities like San Jose.

“I would not want people to really take the score in isolation. We help fund some of our local human services agencies that do provide services to the LGBTQ community, like The Bill Wilson Center,” she said. “While we don’t necessarily provide it directly, that doesn’t mean we’re not actively supporting that component of our community through another means.”

The Bill Wilson Center serves more than 4,100 children, youth, young adults and families in Santa Clara County through its programs, which focus on housing, education, counseling and advocacy.

Sunnyvale was dinged for lacking LGBTQ liaisons in the police department and the city executive’s office. Garnett said the city will explore adding liaisons in these departments if it has the staff and money to do so.

“We really think it’s a valuable tool to help us evaluate how we’re doing,” Garnett said of the annual index. “We appreciate the rubric, and we’re always looking to find ways that we can improve.”

Contact Katie Lauer at klauer77@gmail.com or follow @_katielauer on Twitter.

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