Hattiesburg scored two points less than last year on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index, according to its 2016 report.
The Municipal Equality Index (MEI) examines how inclusive municipal laws, policies and services are of the LGBTQ people who live and work in each city, according to the HRC’s website.
“Cities are rated based on non- discrimination laws, the municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement and the city leadership’s public position on equality,” the website stated. “The 2016 MEI is the fifth annual edition and rates a total of 506 cities from every state in the nation. The number of cities rated increased by 98 cities from 2015 and increased by 369 cities since 2012.”
In 2014 and 2015, Hattiesburg scored 6 out of 100 on the Municipal Equality Index in the Leadership’s Public Position on LGBT Equality and Leadership’s Pro-Equality Legislative or Policy Efforts categories.
“HRC’s Municipal Equality Index demonstrates the ways that many cities can – and do – support the LGBTQ people who live and work there, even where states and the federal government have failed to do so,” the HRC website stated.
“This is a super low score for us being an arts school,” said Leslie Varner, a senior music education major. “It’s shocking that we scored so low. Hattiesburg has a lot of different people with different cultures and backgrounds.”
The overall state of Mississippi scored a 17 out of 100. The average score, however, was 55 out of 100.
“Below average does not even begin to touch on explaining how unbelievable a score of 4 out of 100 really is,” said senior kinesiology major Melanie Massey. “On one hand, I am baffled, but at the same time, I am not in the least surprised. I do believe Hattiesburg to be a more progressive area than others that I have encountered in Mississippi. It is ridiculous that even these places that are more open-minded can be so very far behind. I think the score is totally accurate, which hurts [for] me to say.”
Massey said out of these five categories being LGBTQ non- discriminatory laws, employee rights, city services and programs, law enforcement and leadership relations, the four points that Hattiesburg earned were under leadership relations.
“Which means four out of five of our leaders have a positive position towards LGBTQ rights, which I believe to be accurate,” Massey said.
Massey said State Representative of House District 102 Toby Barker has played a positive role in LGBTQ rights in Hattiesburg.
“Our leaders need to act on their so-called positive positions in regards to LGBTQ+ rights, rather than claiming them and not having any legislature be a result of it,” Massey said. “Progress cannot just be made from positive thinking, but affirmative actions throughout our community.”
The city of Oxford scored 4 out of 100, and Starkville scored 2 out of 100. The highest score in Mississippi came from Jackson with 71 out of 100.
Not all students agree with the score. Masters of Business Administration graduate student Melanie Santiago said she was surprised Hattiesburg scored low.
“I think that being in the Bible Belt would cause me to guess something like 30 out of 100, but with events like Pride and the general open- mindedness of the college population, I wouldn’t rate Hattiesburg quite that low,” Santiago said. “However, tolerating and embracing are definitely different sentiments, and Hattiesburg certainly leans toward the former currently. I say that because I feel comfortable expressing my sexuality but only because I have accepted the potential stigma that comes with my openness.”
The 2016 report can be found on the hrc.org website.