For the second year in a row, New Haven has earned a perfect score on the 2014 Municipal Equality Index, a metric for LGBT inclusion.
Administered by The Human Rights Campaign — a civil rights organization that promotes LGBT equality — the MEI evaluates 353 US cities according to 47 criteria across six categories. New Haven was one of the 38 cities awarded with a perfect score of 100, standing out in comparison to Connecticut’s average score of 74 and the national average of 59.
“This is the second year that New Haven has received this rating from the HRC, which I believe is a testament to New Haven’s combined continued efforts, whether individual, government, Yale University or business, to be inclusive,” said Joshua O’Connell, the co-president of the New Haven Pride Center.
In September, New Haven hosted a gay pride festival, holding the opening ceremony at City Hall for the first time in the event’s history. O’Connell attributed Mayor Toni Harp’s involvement in the city’s revived festival, which came back after a two-year hiatus, as a new development that symbolizes the city’s commitment to its community. He added that the development helped New Haven maintain its score.
While the three Yale LGBT community members interviewed found the score exciting, they also expressed doubts that Yale is as inclusive as New Haven as a whole.
Parmesh Shahani, a Yale World Fellow and author of the book “Gay Bombay: Globalization, Love and (Be)Longing in Contemporary India,” said he viewed New Haven’s score as an opportunity for Yale to improve its own LGBT inclusion efforts.
“My experience on Yale’s campus has been that it is not actively anti-LGBT, but neither is it proactively welcoming of LGBT students, faculty and staff,” said Shahani, who has been at Yale since this August. He attributed his to what he has found to be a small number of people on campus who are openly gay and a lack of on-campus activities that would promote inclusion.
Shahani explained that while he was a graduate student at MIT from 2003–06, the University organized an annual retreat for all LGBT student groups and allies. The retreat featured information sessions and workshops, making him feel that he was welcome at the University, he said.
“I really feel that Yale can up its game. It needs to explicitly commit its intent to the LGBT community by allocating more money,” he said.
Alexander Borsa ’16, the president of the Co-Op, Yale’s undergraduate LGBTQ umbrella organization, said that Yale is a liberal institution that welcomes the LGBT community, but he agreed with Shahani in that there is still room for improvement. He referenced mixed-gender housing for underclassmen and LGBT competency training for Yale Health workers as issues the administration still needs to address. He said that many students have had “damaging” encounters with Yale’s mental health workers because the workers had not received adequate training.
He went on to explain that while he is excited to learn of New Haven’s perfect score, he worries that the implications of that score can be misinterpreted.
“A score like that implies that everything is right and everything is done or perfect,” he said.
What was not explicitly noted in the MEI was the presence of bonus points. Though cities are scored out of 100 points, some 120 points are available to cities, with 20 points allotted in bonus categories for cities to make up in deficits. Despite its perfect score, New Haven failed to earn a single point in two categories: transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits and city contractor equal benefits ordinance.
New Haven earned bonus points in optional categories such as providing services to people living with HIV/AIDS and having openly LGBT elected and appointed municipal leaders.
Recognizing this inconsistency, O’Connell said that there certainly is more New Haven can do, but added that it is definitely taking on a leadership role.
The New Haven Pride Center celebrated its 18th anniversary yesterday on Nov. 17.