Seven Iowa cities are more welcoming to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people than the national average, according to a recent analysis by the Human Rights Campaign. The organization rated 506 cities across the country and nine cities in Iowa for its annual municipal equality index.
The HRC’s municipal equality index analyzes local policies including ordinances barring LGBTQ discrimination, protecting equal employment opportunities and ensuring access to health coverage, including for transgender-inclusive care.
Under the 2019 MEI, Cedar Rapids, Dubuque and Iowa City each received perfect ratings of 100 points. West Des Moines was rated a 95, Des Moines rated a 93, while Ames scored 87 points and Davenport scored 80. Waterloo and Sioux City earned the lowest ratings in the state, with 59 and 57 points respectively.
The average rating of Iowa cities is 86 points, well above the national average of 60.
Iowa City earned a perfect score for the sixth year in a row and HRC staffers traveled to the city to recognize its work, highlighting steps like hiring an LGBTQ liaison for its police force and passing a local anti-bullying ordinance.
“Iowa City has long been committed to LGBTQ rights,” Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton said. “We in Iowa City government are very proud of the work we’ve done to merit the Human Rights Campaign staff visit.”
HRC staffers say their equality index is a valuable tool for governments, employers, residents and visitors to gauge a community’s inclusivity, and can send a message to families and businesses as they consider where they want to relocate.
“Both companies and municipalities understand that embracing equality is not only the right thing to do, it also helps businesses and economies thrive,” said JoDee Winterhof, HRC Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs. “The municipal equality index therefore serves not only as a guide for city leaders but also as a resource for companies looking to expand into places that are actively fostering inclusion.”
Tony Sivanthaphanith is involved with Iowa City Pride and says the rating can help young people decide where they’ll build their lives.
“In recent conversations with LGBTQ students at the University of Iowa, their biggest concern was their human rights as the current administration in the White House right now seems to not want to protect those,” Sivanthaphanith said. “Now I’ll be able to go back to [UI LGBTQ student group] Spectrum and let them know that they can look at this index. And for when they graduate, they’ll be able to figure out where they can go and feel safe and welcome.”
The Trump administration has taken steps to rollback discrimination protections for transgender Americans, and has effectively banned transgender people from joining the U.S. military.
At a time when a patchwork of state and national protections for LGBTQ people are inconsistent, advocates says local policies are increasingly important.
Bruce Teague is an openly-gay Iowa City council member. He says local policies in place in Iowa City helped make his career possible.
“Twenty-six years ago I arrived in Iowa City, 17 years old, a young, black, gay youth from the inner city…of Chicago. I have never felt more safe and more comfortable being open and honest about who I am than here in Iowa City,” Teague said.
Teague says there is more work to do to advance LBGTQ protections in Des Moines and Washington, D.C. But he says he chooses to stay and invest in Iowa City, starting businesses and engaging in public service, because he felt welcomed here.
“Iowa City has allowed me to thrive and grow as a unique individual with dignity and self-love,” he said. “Because of the love and acceptance that I felt here I choose to stay and give back.”
Editor's note: this story has been edited to clarify information in regards to Councilmember Teague.