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Kansas City got one perfect score for LGBTQ+ equality — and also one of the worst

Closeup photo of a cardboard sign in a crowd that reads "Trans and Proud."
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Marchers in Kansas City protest with students from Crossroads Preparatory Academy on April 13, 2022 who walked out of class to protest anti-LGBTQ bills in the Missouri legislature.

The Human Rights Campaign gave Kansas City high marks on its municipal equality index, but another group said the city is one of the worst places for LGBTQ+ people to live.

Kansas City received a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s latest Municipal Equality Index for its record on LGBTQ+-friendly legislation.

The annual report looks at how well municipal policies, laws and services include LGBTQ+ people. This year’s index ranked 506 municipalities across all 50 states, about 25% of which received perfect scores — including St. Louis and Columbia.

In contrast, Clever Real Estate group ranked Kansas City and St. Louis as two of the 10 least LGBTQ+-friendly cities in the country, because of Missouri's anti-trans and anti-queer legislation.

Cathryn Oakley, founding author of the HRC index, said the ranking focuses on how cities are protecting their LGBTQ+ residents.

“What it is about is whether or not these cities are trying to make it a space that is respectful of LGBTQ people,” Oakley said. “The politicians who are the closest to the community are making radically different decisions from the folks who are in the state legislature."

Kansas City received top marks for not allowing discrimination in city employment or in public places, and for reporting hate crime statistics to the FBI. It received additional points for its laws against youth conversion therapy and its services supporting people living with HIV or AIDS.

Despite the perfect score, the HRC report said the city needs to better support vulnerable LGBTQ+ people and trans-inclusive benefits for city employees.

Justice Horn, the chair of the LGBTQ Commission of Kansas City, said there are a lot of ways the city needs to continue to show up for LGBTQ+ people — especially for those experiencing housing instability.

“There needs to be greater protections for folks who get city dollars or even city partners or even contracted workers to also be held to the same non-discrimination ordinance everyone else is,” Horn said.

The report also doesn’t take state law into account for its rankings.

Missouri filed the second-most anti-trans bills in the nation during its 2023 legislative session, according to Track Trans Legislation. The 40 bills this year far outpaced the 14 in 2022 and 11 in 2021.

LGBTQ advocates speak at a rally on the steps of the Missouri Capitol Feb. 7, 2023.
Annelise Hanshaw
/Missouri Independent
LGBTQ advocates speak at a rally on the steps of the Missouri Capitol Feb. 7, 2023.

The Missouri legislature voted to restrict students from receiving some forms of gender-affirming care and barred transgender students from participating on school sport teams that align with their gender identity.

“There's absolutely no doubt these state legislatures are making it so that it is in some cases unlivable, unsustainable, terrifying for LGBTQ+ folks to continue to live in these states where the state legislation is making it a really hostile place,” said Oakley, the HRC index author.

She said people should look at the HRC’s scores through the lens of a state of emergency, which the nonprofit declared for the first time this year in response to anti-LGBTQ+ legislation passed in states across the country.

At the same time, Oakley said it's important to look at how cities respect and serve LGBTQ+ people.

“The city governments are closer to the people, and when cities think about why does someone want to live here as opposed to somewhere else, the word that most often comes up is that this is a welcoming city,” Oakley said. “This is a place that you want to build your life. It's a place you wanna invest in your future. You wanna buy a house, you wanna send your kids to school, you wanna find a great job.”

The Clever Real Estate group took “fun aspects” of the LGBTQ+ community into its ranking, like the number of gay bars or Pride events per 100,000 residents. However, it also looked at the number of anti-trans bills passed at the state level.

Its report found that the bottom-ranking cities all had low state equality scores, and many had “Don’t Say Gay” laws that prohibit discussion on gender and sexual orientation in the classroom.

Inoru Morris, executive director of the Midwest Rainbow Research Institute, said cities have little to no authority to influence state policy once it’s implemented. That’s why he says cities will go above and beyond when it comes to visibility — like making proclamations or having a LGBTQ+ liaison in the police department.

“It does send a clear signal to the community that although the state has actors in it that are actively trying to pass legislation to oppress you, we're doing everything we can within our jurisdiction to ensure you know that your diversity is not only welcomed here, we're not going to be neutral towards it, we're going to celebrate it,” Morris said.

People gathered in Mill Creek Park in Kansas City to protest legislation in Kansas and Missouri targeting LGBTQ communities.
Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
People gathered in Mill Creek Park in Kansas City to protest legislation in Kansas and Missouri targeting LGBTQ communities.

Morris said cities can implement policies within their jurisdiction, like including gender-neutral bathrooms at Kansas City’s new airport. The city also declared itself as a sanctuary city for the transgender community when state laws threatened access to gender-affirming care for adults and children.

Justice Horn, the chair of the LGBTQ Commission of Kansas City, says the city deserves credit for being a sanctuary for queer people even as the state is hostile.

“Municipal law can only go so far,” Horn said. “I really want people to understand that. It’s sad that we have to operate in a state where our only governmental ally is our municipal government.”

Kansas City, Kansas, received a score of 63 out of 100, which is below the national average but up from previous years. The city lost points for not having a LGBTQ+ liaison in the police department or reporting hate crime statistics to the FBI.

Oakley said the city still deserves acknowledgement for the progress it's made.

“You don't go from a zero to 63 in just a few years by accident,” Oakley said. “That's something that folks really spent time doing, and I think it's important to acknowledge that work that is there.”

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