Salem ranked highest among Oregon cities with the most LGBTQ-friendly policies and inclusiveness, scoring higher than Eugene and Portland.
The city scored 90 out of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's Municipal Equality Index. According to the campaign's report released Thursday, Salem scored higher than Portland, at 88, Eugene at 86 and much higher than Gresham at 36.
As a whole, Oregon cities scored higher than the national average of 57.
"90 is certainly a score for Salem to be proud of," said Amy Herzfeld-Copple, co-executive director of Basic Rights Oregon.
Basic Rights Oregon, a Portland-based nonprofit, advocates for LGBTQ equality across the state.
The Municipal Equality Index takes into account a city's non-discrimination laws for housing and employment, law enforcement's relationship with the LGBTQ community, whether a human rights commission is in place, how the city treats municipal employees and how city leaders interact with the LGBTQ community.
Salem scored perfectly on its non-discrimination laws, law enforcement and municipal services. The city lost points for not having transgender-inclusive health benefits and city leadership's lack of pro-equality legislative and policy efforts.
Gretchen Bennett, the city's human rights and relations and federal compliance manager, said Salem's high score is the result of years of diversity and inclusiveness initiatives.
"We've been working proactively and reactively on the topic," she said.
In 1967, Salem created a Human Rights and Relations Advisory Commission and has long had anti-discrimination laws written into the city code.
The 15-member commission includes community members with a wide-range of backgrounds and perspectives and meets every month to address tensions, injustice and disparities in the city.
A Salem Police Department liaison attends every meeting. Bennett said their presence is important because they can work directly on ongoing issues and determine whether actions are illegal or considered hate crimes.
Salem scored 22 out of 22 points on the index's law enforcement section for having an LGBTQ police liaison and for reporting hate crime statistics to the FBI. Portland lost points for not reporting these statistics and for not having a liaison in the city's executive office.
The index allows bonus points for things like having an openly LGBTQ elected leader and providing services for people living with HIV and AIDS.
Salem received bonus points for pairing its human rights commission with actual enforcement.
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said the index serves a "vital tool" for business leaders to see how welcoming — or unwelcoming — communities are and what can be done to attract and retain the best employees.
“This year’s (index) paints a vivid picture: Cities big and small, in red and blue states alike, are continuing our progress toward full equality, regardless of the political drama unfolding in Washington, D.C., and in state legislatures across the country," Griffin said.
Oregon just celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Oregon Equality Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations. Since then, the state has made considerable progress for LGBTQ protections, Herzfeld-Copple said.
In 2015, the Movement Advancement Project — a Colorado-based think tank — ranked Oregon as being the second most LGBTQ-friendly state in the nation, behind California.
Herzfeld-Copple said she would expect cities like Eugene, Salem and Portland to have high equality scores. But those living outside of major metropolitan areas continue to experience hardships.
She said Salem and other Oregon cities can increase their equality levels by increasing training opportunities for employers, creating a culture of inclusion for transgender individuals and doubling down on bullying awareness and safety in schools.
“We want every community in our state to feel welcoming and affirming no matter who you love or how you identify," she said.
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