Augusta is falling behind on the path towards gay equality, according to a Human Rights Campaign scorecard measuring inclusivity released this week.
The city scored 12 out of 100 possible points on the Municipality Equality Index, a rating of the inclusivity of laws, policies and services for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders who live and work in Augusta.
Augusta earned zero points in four of the six categories including nondiscrimination laws, recognition of domestic partners on a registry, city employment fairness and law enforcement support for the gay community.
“The (low) score is to be expected,” said Lonzo Smith II, the vice president of the gay rights group Augusta Pride. “In the 20 years I’ve been in Augusta, the community has changed. But the public image has not changed.”
More people in Augusta are accepting of gays because many have friends, family and co-workers who are gay, Smith said. Still, the city’s Deep South roots have slowed progress.
“When it comes to progress, we are still in the Bible Belt. People are rooted in traditional values, and it’s really hard to break away from that,” Smith said.
This was Augusta’s first time being scored on the Municipality Equality Index, which was created in 2012. Seven municipalities were scored this year in Georgia, which had an average score of 39. Atlanta scored a perfect 100, Columbus scored 20 and Athens earned a 44.
Jacqueline Humphrey, Augusta’s Equal Employment Opportunity director, said local recruitment and hiring processes need improvement. Policies need to be applied more consistently and in accordance with state and federal regulations, she said.
“When there’s no area of transparency or the guidelines are inconsistent, there’s room for things to be interpreted in a negative way,” she said.
Augusta earned seven points for having a human rights commission, but Augusta’s Human Relations Commission, which studied racial and cultural issues, was disbanded several years ago although it is still listed on the city’s Web site. Humphrey said the city needs to reinstate the commission.
Smith said gay inclusivity won’t change without strong leaders that reach out to gays and enforce equal policies.
“Politicians are forgetting a huge part of their constituents,” he said.
On the report card, Augusta scored three out of five possible points for leadership with a commitment and advocacy for full gay equality. The city earned two bonus points for engaging with the gay community.
Augusta also is losing talented people who can contribute to the city’s economy because they do not feel welcome or safe, Smith said. He said he knows people who moved to cities where they felt more free to express themselves.
“If you don’t feel safe in the community you call home, you leave the community you call home,” he said.