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Flagstaff Municipal Equality Index has not improved since 2018, falling behind other Arizona cities

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Council In Person

Members of the Flagstaff City Council.

Flagstaff City Council on Tuesday was presented with a breakdown of the city’s 2021 Municipal Equality Index (MEI) that revealed Flagstaff has not improved its score since 2018.

The MEI is a score issued by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) that examines how inclusive municipal laws, policies, and services are for LGBTQ+ people who live and work there. Cities are rated based on non-discrimination laws, the municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement and leadership on LGBTQ+ equality. In its 2021 assessment, the City of Flagstaff scored an 88/100, plateaued at the same place it was in 2018. By comparison, Phoenix, Tempe, Scottsdale and Tucson all scored 100/100 on their 2021 MEI.

“There were 11 areas where we could have gotten points, and we either received zero points or did not score the full points available,” explained city management analyst Chris Rhode. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re failing to provide a service for people. It’s a scorecard given by the HRC, and I think it serves as a good framework to discuss some of these issues.”

Some of the areas where Flagstaff lost points are “highly subjective,” Rhode said, such as the item “Testing limits of restrictive state laws,” in which Flagstaff city government received no points. Others are far more concrete, such as housing non-discrimination laws, provision of transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits and the presence of single-occupancy all-gender facilities. Currently, the City of Flagstaff has none of these.

In some cases, improvements to these areas are already in the works. Earlier in the same meeting, the Commission on Diversity Awareness recommended “the creation and passage of a city ordinance requiring that all single-occupancy restrooms be available for use for everyone regardless of gender.” Implementation of such an ordinance would help the City of Flagstaff come into compliance with the 2018 International Building Codes, which the city adopted in 2019, and earn more points on future MEI evaluations. Council was generally supportive of the recommendation.

Heavier fixes, such as the introduction of a housing non-discrimination law, will take more legwork and negotiation of legal boundaries, but Mayor Paul Deasy opined that city council should not be deterred.

“[Housing non-discrimination law] is something we should be pursuing,” he said.

To address this, Deasy called an executive session with City Attorney Sterling Solomon to investigate implementation of such a law.  

Council’s reactions to the city’s MEI score varied.

“There’s things on this list that I feel strongly that we should do, and then there’s other things that I don’t think we need to do,” Councilmember Jim McCarthy said. “We want to do what’s right for our community, we want to be fair to everyone, but we don’t want to put any single group on a pedestal and treat them better than other people.”

Councilmember Austin Aslan took time to “celebrate adequacy,” by noting that the city scored full points in the category of Law Enforcement.

“Law enforcement is the simplest category, because there’s only two items on it,” explained Rhode.

Flagstaff received full points because the local police department retains a LGBTQ+ liaison and reports hate crime data to the FBI.

“I don’t want to leave it at that,” Aslan said. “There is certainly work to be done; I don’t want to white-wash the places where we are deficient, but I just wanted to lift that up and thank our city police department.”

Overall, there was agreement that while this MEI score indicated work to be done, that work should start with community input.

“Scorecards are one thing, but personally I think these are the kinds of decisions we should be making from the ground up rather than the top down,” Deasy said. “We need to open up this conversation far more broadly, get real input from the community, particularly the transgender community.”

Council resolved to reach out to their relevant commissions and local organizations to discuss forward action. There was no public participation during this agenda item.

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