Rehoboth Is 110% Committed to Raising MEI Score
When the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) released the 2020 Municipal Equality Index (MEI) in January, the findings may have struck many local residents as surprising. Rehoboth Beach, an LGBTQ haven for many of the mid-Atlantic area, ranked below the national average for how inclusive its laws, policies, and services are for LGBTQ folks who live and work here.
While the national average is 64, Rehoboth only earned 58 points on the scorecard.
Specifically, the MEI measures five different aspects of a city’s inclusivity of its LGBTQ community. These measurements include: non-discrimination laws, municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement, and the city’s leadership public position on equality. From the findings of the report, Rehoboth has ample room to improve in each area.
City Manager Sharon Lynn expressed the need to do better, noting that the score is “definitely unacceptable.”
“The City of Rehoboth Beach is a very welcoming place and has been for many years. A score like this is not acceptable to the Mayor’s Office or to me,” the City Manager said. “And we’re working with HRC to increase our score,” Lynn added.
Upon reviewing HRC’s scorecard, CAMP Rehoboth has identified several steps the city can take to raise our score in coming years. For example, in the non-discrimination laws section, Rehoboth can increase its score by implementing single-occupancy all-gender restrooms to be more inclusive to the trans community.
According to Lynn, restroom reform is a priority for the city, noting that, “Family restrooms for the Boardwalk at Delaware Avenue were in this fiscal year’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).” As with many plans within this past year, the pandemic halted this step.
“Due to COVID, and reduced revenues, certain items in the CIP had to be delayed,” she explained. “These restrooms were delayed and are on the radar again for next fiscal year’s budget, which begins April 1, 2021.”
Looking further into the report, Rehoboth scored lowest in the municipal services, municipality as an employer, and leadership on LGBTQ equality sections of the index. In terms of municipal services, implementing a youth bullying prevention policy for city services is a surefire way to earn points.
Rehoboth’s score for municipality as an employer could also improve once the city provides transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits to its employees. The HRC notes that procedures, hormone therapy, mental health services, and any other form of gender-affirming care are “routinely not covered” under the average healthcare plan.
Yet, such a plan is a requirement under Delaware Domestic/Foreign Insurers Bulletin No. 86, a law which stipulates that “it is an unlawful practice for any insurance company licensed to do work in Delaware to discriminate in any way based on an individual’s gender identity.” Further assistance with this matter is available through CAMP Rehoboth.
Earning more than half the allotted points in the law enforcement section, Rehoboth can bump up this score by establishing an LGBTQ liaison with the police department. Though CAMP Rehoboth enjoys a healthy relationship with law enforcement, it could only be strengthened by this act.
Rehoboth’s leadership on LGBTQ equality registered at zero, according to HRC. This section charges Rehoboth’s leaders to publicly express support for specific LGBTQ policies and laws needed in Rehoboth, or express support for state-level laws under consideration.
“We are 110% committed to raising that score,” Lynn promised. “When the next scorecard comes out, we will be higher.”
If the steps outlined above are implemented, Rehoboth’s score will match that of Wilmington, which at 88 was the highest-scoring city in Delaware. All considered, Lynn vowed to be even better than second best: “We need to be the highest in the state, and quite frankly, we need to be one of the highest in the country, so we’re committed to doing that.”
Now, the MEI’s findings do not totally reflect Rehoboth’s LGBTQ inclusivity.
“(The MEI) is an evaluation of the city’s law and policies, and an examination of how inclusive city services are of LGBTQ people. Some high-scoring cities may not feel truly welcoming for all LGBTQ people, and some low-scoring cities may feel more welcoming than their policies might reflect,” the report said.
Thirty years of CAMP Rehoboth, plus a history of LGBTQ-owned businesses, demonstrate our city as a sanctuary for the community. But now it’s time our laws and services reflect that inclusivity, as Rehoboth strives to create a more positive city.
Rehoboth’s scorecard and the full Municipal Equality Index can be found on HRC’s website: hrc.org.
Matty Brown is a journalist, recent graduate of Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, and social media volunteer for CAMP Rehoboth.