- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 19, 2019

A new study from the Human Rights Campaign notes that a record number of U.S. cities have implemented anti-discrimination policies in 2019, the third consecutive year of growth for LGBTQ inclusion in cities during the Trump administration.

But the study’s authors attribute that growth to city governments shoring up protections for LGBTQ residents that the federal government is trampling.

“These inclusive and welcoming cities are standing up to the unrelenting attacks on the LGBTQ community by the Trump-Pence administration,” said Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David on Tuesday. “These policies are not only the right thing to do, but they are also critical in driving economic success by attracting residents, visitors and businesses that place a high value on inclusivity.”

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The group’s 2019 Municipal Equality Index scores cities from 1-100 on anti-discrimination policies dealing with a variety of issues, including employment, housing and public restrooms. This year, nearly 90 cities achieved the index’s highest score, up from 11 at the beginning of the decade.

The study highlighted mid-sized communities in conservative states, such as Norman, Oklahoma, and Overland Park, Kansas, where local leaders adopted policies to protect LGBTQ persons from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations over the last year.

The city of Norman “also amended its nondiscrimination contractor policy to ensure that all contractors that conduct business with the City also adhere to these antidiscrimination provisions,” the study says.

Anti-discrimination policies that critics say can infringe on religious liberty have come under scrutiny and/or been revised by the Trump administration.

This month, the Department of Health and Human Services announced it no longer enforce would Obama-era anti-discrimination rules spelling out protections for “gender identity” and “sexual orientation.”

In May, President Trump announced he would not support the Equality Act, which has been approved in the House and would include protections for LGBTQ people in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The legislation has not been brought forward for a vote in the Senate.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is expected to issue next year a ruling on whether federal civil rights law prohibits an employer from firing an employee because of the worker’s sexual identity.

On Tuesday, Rep. Angie Craig, Minnesota Democrat and a member of the House Agriculture Committee, held a briefing on the need for adding federal protections for as many as 4 million LGBTQ people who live in rural communities.

“I also grew up in rural America, and I know what it’s like to come out in a community that doesn’t necessarily support you and you have to tell your family and friends and your own Christian communities who you are,” said Ms. Craig, who has four sons with her wife.

Rob Larew, an LGBTQ advocate, cheered Ms. Craig for joining nearly 70 members of Congress in writing to the Department of Agriculture in January to warn against removing LGBTQ protections from 4H requirements.

The letter “was instrumental [in] sending a very strong message of ‘Hands off,’” Mr. Larew said. “The support of our youth is too important and critical to mess with.”

On Wednesday, the Religious Freedom Index will be released for the first time by Becket, a nonprofit legal fund.

“The new study will provide in-depth information about American views on a wide range of religious liberty questions, with the aim of moving past the usual partisan talking points and culture war battles and toward a deeper understanding of how our society deals with religious differences,” Becket said in an email.

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