One hundred points to St. Petersburg

By Breanne Williams, Columnist
On October 23, 2016

St. Petersburg received a top score on the Municipal Equality Index. The city is praised for being inclusive toward all its residents and a great place for members of the LGBT community to live. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

In light of the current election, it is easy to feel as though the country is one step away from catastrophe. Politicians are constantly highlighting this nation’s many flaws and rarely bring up its plethora of strengths. 

We may have had 372 mass shootings in 2015, owe $19 trillion in debt and still be fighting against racism in 2016, but at least we are making improvements on one crucial social justice issue: gay rights.

St. Petersburg was one of three Florida cities to have received the highest score available on the Municipal Equality Index, an measure of the quality of life for residents in cities who are members of the LGBT community. 

The index critiques non-discrimination laws, municipality employment availability, municipal services, fair law enforcement and city leadership’s relationship with the LGBT community. 

With states like North Carolina, whose oppressive governor could thankfully be unseated Nov. 8, continuing to persecute its citizens based solely off of who they love or the gender with which they identify, it is a breath of fresh air to know we live in a community that is inclusive of all of its members. 

St. Pete scored 100 on the index and Tampa followed close behind with a still-impressive score of 86. 

Tampa’s laws do not discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and the city offers multiple services and programs for members of the LGBT community.

One of the services offered for our community is the Metro Wellness Community Center, which consists of a network of locations including LGBT-specific sites, which provides health and wellness services to the citizens of Tampa.

The centers offer support groups, workshops, free HIV testing and prevention programs, and counseling services. 

A total of 506 cities were evaluated and only 60 received a top score. Unfortunately, not every city in Florida respects the rights of all of its citizens. 

Cape Coral and Port St. Lucie received the lowest scores for the state: 25 and 30, respectively. Both cities received a zero in the non-discrimination laws and municipal services categories because they are both legally able to discriminate against LGBT members and fail to offer sufficient services for the affected community.

St. Pete recognizes the intense obstacles many in the community face. According to the Trevor Project, “The rate of suicide attempts is 4 times greater for LGBT youth and 2 times greater for questioning youth than that of straight youth.”

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found one in six LGBT high school students have seriously considered suicide within the past year. 

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has not been shy in opposing not only marriage but also adoption for same sex couples. His overwhelmingly harsh and antiquated mindset has led to tensions throughout the state despite his assurances of not challenging Florida’s current policy on gay adoptions. 

Until Jan. 7, 2019, Scott’s last full day in office, the LGBT community cannot safely assume their rights will be protected under the state. It’s up to individual cities to ensure their citizens feel not only safe and protected, but welcomed and cherished. 

Hence the importance of cities like St. Petersburg scoring so high on the Municipal Equality Index. Florida, along with the rest of the country, may still have major hurdles to overcome, but it is reassuring to know we are moving — though at what often feels a glacial pace — toward an inclusive tomorrow.

 

Breanne Williams is a senior majoring in mass communications. 

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