Birmingham is a shining example of a city leading the way on LGBTQ inclusion in a difficult state according to a new report from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.
Many states including Alabama have failed to pass LGBTQ-inclusive laws and policies, however cities are stepping in to ensure that all citizens are treated equally, according to a report issued Thursday by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, the educational arm of the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) civil rights organization.
Birmingham earned over 85 points on the 2019 Municipal Equality Index despite sitting in the middle of a state without LGBTQ-inclusive statewide non-discrimination laws. Across the country, 59 cities like Birmingham are setting a standard of LGBTQ inclusiveness with exemplary, best-practice policies such as local non-discrimination laws, providing transgender-inclusive health benefits for city employees and offering LGBTQ-inclusive city services.
Birmingham earned one of HRC’s 59 MEI “All Star” designations. MEI All Stars are cities nationwide that are excelling by advancing LGBTQ equality without relying on state law.
The average score for cities in Alabama is 28 out of 100 points, which falls below the national average of 60.
“These inclusive and welcoming cities are standing up to the unrelenting attacks on the LGBTQ community by the Trump-Pence administration, and sending a clear message that the fair and equal treatment of our community, our families and our neighbors is a true American value,” said HRC President Alphonso David. “This year’s Municipal Equality Index shows that across the country, city leaders are working tirelessly to ensure that their constituents can secure housing, make a living and participate in community life without being discriminated against because of who they are. And the people overwhelmingly agree with these leaders: support for non-discrimination protections to protect LGBTQ people topped 70 percent, which includes a majority of Democrats, Republicans and Independents. These policies are not only the right thing to do, but they are also critical in driving economic success by attracting residents, visitors and businesses that place a high value on inclusivity.”
“This report on LGBTQ equality at the local level couldn’t be more timely. There are critical decisions being made about our lives at the Supreme Court, in the federal administration and state and local legislative bodies. If they listen to the millions of Americans represented in this report the answer should be simple: we need protections for LGBTQ people now,” said Rebecca Isaacs, Executive Director of Equality Federation Institute. “We are proud to partner with HRC on the Municipal Equality Index. It is a powerful tool for elected officials and community leaders to use as they advocate for equality. This marks the third year in a row that the national city score average increased, and we will work tirelessly to ensure that number continues to grow. It’s time for leaders at every level to take a stand and demand that no one be treated differently because of who they are, where they live or who they love.”
This year’s report also includes two new issue briefs for policymakers: Achieving a Healthier, Stronger Workforce through Inclusive Paid Leave and Expanding PrEP Access to Help End the HIV Epidemic.
Since the MEI’s debut in 2012, the number of cities earning the highest score has increased by more than eightfold, and today at least 25 million people live in cities that have more comprehensive, transgender-inclusive non-discrimination laws than their state.
Progress on transgender equality has been particularly noteworthy in cities across the U.S. this year, continuing a positive trend that the MEI has tracked — and encouraged — since 2012. Transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits are offered to employees of 164 municipalities this year — up from 147 in 2018, 111 in 2017 and just five in 2012. The MEI’s Issue Brief on Transgender-Inclusive Health Benefits is available here.
Other key findings from the 2019 Municipal Equality Index include:
Norman, Oklahoma, and Overland Park, Kansas, enacted LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances covering private employment, housing and public accommodations;
As of this report, 28 MEI-rated cities have local anti-conversion therapy protections in states with no state-level protections;
For the third year in a row, every 100-point city had LGBTQ police liaisons. In keeping with findings from previous years, cities with LGBTQ liaisons scored nearly twice as high as cities without LGBTQ liaisons;
MEI-rated cities in every region of the country experienced mean score increases.
Despite the fact that local leaders continue to pioneer the way forward on LGBTQ equality, there remains an unacceptable patchwork of laws for LGBTQ people across the country, according to HRC. The latest report reinforces the need for the federal Equality Act, bipartisan legislation passed by the U.S. House that would provide consistent and explicit non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people across key areas of life, including employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs and jury service.
The MEI rated 506 cities including the 50 state capitals, the 200 largest cities in the U.S., the five largest cities or municipalities in each state, the cities home to the state’s two largest public universities, 75 municipalities that have high proportions of same-sex couples and 98 cities selected by HRC and Equality Federation state group members and supporters. It assesses each city on 49 criteria covering citywide non-discrimination protections, policies for municipal employees, city services, law enforcement and the city’s leadership on LGBTQ equality.
The full report, including detailed scorecards for every city, as well as a searchable database, is available online at www.hrc.org/mei.
Alabama Medicaid expansion advocates applaud Missouri voters
In Missouri on Tuesday, 53 percent of voters approved a plan to expand Medicaid to cover more than 23,000 low-income residents, according to the St. Louis-Post Dispatch.
A coalition of groups in Alabama urging the state to expand Medicaid applauded voters in Missouri for doing just that in their state on Tuesday.
“Last night, Missouri voters approved a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid. We’ve trounced Missouri on the football field, but they’ve beaten us at getting Medicaid expansion across the goal line,” said Jane Adams, campaign director of the Cover Alabama Coalition, a group of 90 separate entities calling for an expansion of the federal program in Alabama. “Alabama is now one of just 12 states that do not provide health care coverage for working-age adults with low incomes. We call on the Alabama Legislature and Governor Ivey to follow Missouri’s lead and expand Medicaid.”
In Missouri on Tuesday, 53 percent of voters approved a plan to expand Medicaid to cover more than 23,000 low-income residents, according to the St. Louis-Post Dispatch. The GOP-controlled state Legislature there had fought an expansion of the program, made possible by the Affordable Care ACt.
Approximately 64 percent of Alabamians polled said they support expanding Medicaid in Alabama, including 52 percent of Republicans asked, according to a recent Auburn University at Montgomery poll.
“But Alabama’s elected leaders are still leaving more than 300,000 Alabamians uninsured by refusing to expand health coverage,” Cover Alabama Coalition said in a press release. “Medicaid expansion would benefit working families, primarily adults between the ages of 19 and 64 whose income is at or below 138% of the federal poverty level. In 2020, that amounts to $17,608 for an individual and $36,156 for a household of four.”
“The COVID-19 crisis has created financial uncertainty for our economy, employers and workers,” said Jim Carnes, Alabama Arise policy director and a Cover Alabama steering committee member, in a statement. “Alabama needs economic stimulus, and Medicaid expansion would generate nearly $3 billion a year in new economic activity throughout the state.”
“Medicaid expansion would reduce health disparities and work toward racial equity in health outcomes for all Alabamians,” said Jada Shaffer, Alabama government relations director of the American Heart Association and a Cover Alabama steering committee member. “Communities of color experience higher infant mortality rates, lower life expectancy and higher rates of preventable and chronic conditions like heart disease. We urge lawmakers and Governor Ivey to include Medicaid expansion in their policy solutions to address racial and economic inequality.”
Missouri became the second state this month to decide to expand Medicaid. Voters in Oklahoma chose to do so on July 1, passing the measure by just more than 6,000 votes, according to NPR, which will provide coverage for approximately 200,000 more.
Alabama children’s advocates: Early end to Census count will hurt state’s most vulnerable
Stephen Woerner and the staff at his Montgomery nonprofit have spent more than two years preparing to ensure that marginalized people, especially children, get counted in the 2020 census, and all the planning and work blew up when the U.S. Census Bureau announced Monday that all counting efforts would end a month early.
Woerner, executive director of Voices for Alabama’s Children, an Alabama child-advocacy group, told APR on Wednesday that in the 2010 census, the largest undercounted population was birth to five-year-olds, and the second largest was six to 10-year-olds. The nonprofit received its first funding in July 2018, to work on ensuring a good count in this year’s census. The nonprofit puts out a detailed report on children in the state annually, called the Alabama Kids Count Data Book.
The COVID-19 pandemic had already interrupted the nonprofit’s plans, Woerner said, but added that the “real challenge of this announcement from D.C. is that they keep moving the finish line.”
The U.S. Census Bureau’s announcement Monday of a plan to stop counting a month earlier could cost Alabama one Congressional seat, and threatens to undercount population numbers which are used to determine the apportionment of federal funding. Minorities and immigrants are also among the most likely to be undercounted in any census. Advocates say the early end to the 2020 census will only further marginalize those communities.
Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham in a statement late Monday said that the bureau was to hire more staff and offer monetary incentives “to accelerate the completion of data collection and apportionment counts by our statutory deadline of December 31, 2020, as required by law and directed by the Secretary of Commerce.”
The 2020 census was delayed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, restarted in June and workers are set to stop all attempts to count on Sept. 30, a month ahead of the previous end date.
President Donald Trump in July issued an executive order to exclude undocumented immigrants from the 2020 census count, a move that is likely unconstitutional and unable to be carried out, opponents of the order have said. The decision this week to end the count early would likely lead to more of an undercount of minorities, which would favor Republicans in future elections and impact those communities’ access to critical federal funding, Democrats have said.
Woerner said he and staff recalculated after the coronavirus crisis hit, and began planning to shift their outreach efforts online, and then the announcement came Monday that they’d have a month less time to do so.
“I just got funding from Facebook doing another $20,000 worth of ad buys from August, September and October,” Woerner said. “And so now I’m having to cut a month out of that. It is incredibly problematic for everybody in Alabama, because it keeps moving the finish line.”
Woerner said the ambiguity and the fog makes trying to reach those historically-undercounted communities “so incredibly difficult. These are already communities that are really hard to get to.”
Woerner said whether it’s Hispanic or Black communities that may not trust the federal government, or parents of young children who don’t think their voice matters, those are communities that are hard to reach in a normal year.
The Montgomery nonprofit has worked closely with the Census Bureau for the last two years, and the news Monday was also a blow to the Bureau workers and their ability to accomplish their own goals, Woerner said.
“It just means that with the ambiguity and the fog, we’re gonna have a worst count. We’re gonna have a less accurate count,” Woerner said. “That’s going to impact Alabama because we’re going to lose a Congressional seat. We’re also gonna lose out in the dollars that we’re dependent on for so many issues.”
Gov. Kay Ivey in a statement to APR on Wednesday again urged everyone in Alabama to fill out the census form.
“Alabama, if you still need to fill out your 2020 Census, do not put it off any longer. The absolute last day to be counted has been moved up to the end of September, but despite what our national deadline is, today is the day to complete your 2020 Census in Alabama,” Ivey said in the statement. “I filled out my own census on my2020census.gov and would encourage you to do the same. You can also easily do it by phone by dialing 844-330-2020. Let’s not wait any longer Alabama. The stakes are high for us, and we have much more work to be done.”
For more information, visit census.alabama.gov.
Attorneys ask court to intervene over numerous Alabama inmate suicides
Charles Braggs died by suicide in an Alabama prison after being kept in solitary confinement for more than two years. His suicide and a rash of others in Alabama prisons prompted attorneys for the plaintiffs in a case against the Alabama Department of Corrections to ask the court Wednesday to intervene.
Braggs, 28, died at St. Clair Correctional Facility on July 17 after having been housed in segregation for 796 days, according to the court filing by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program and attorneys with Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz.
“Mr. Braggs was the seventh person — and the sixth Black person — to die by suicide in ADOC custody since this Court issued its Remedial Opinion and Judgment on Immediate Relief for Suicide Prevention (the ‘Suicide Prevention Opinion’) in May 2019, in which the Court found ‘substantial and pervasive deficiencies’ in ADOC’s suicide prevention program,” attorneys wrote to the court.
Bragg’s suicide was the fifth in Alabama prisons in the last four months, the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote in the fling, in which they call for “swift implementation and robust monitoring of the Parties’ various remedial agreements” and for the state to address the use of segregation and “segregation-like” cells, which disproportionately hold Black people.
Alabama prisons kept 1,001 people locked alone in segregation on July 28, according to the court filing.
“Of those 1,001, ADOC’s public database lists 705 people as Black and 273 white—that is, approximately 70 percent of the people in segregation are Black,” the filing states, going on to note that Black people make up approximately 52 percent of Alabama’s inmate population and about 27 percent of the population of the state.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson in his May 4, 2019 opinion wrote that ADOC argues the department cannot prevent all suicides in prisons.
“It is true that, as in the free world, not all suicides can be prevented. But this reality in no way excuses ADOC’s substantial and pervasive suicide-prevention inadequacies. Unless and until ADOC lives up to its Eighth Amendment obligations, avoidable tragedies will continue,” the judge wrote.
That 2019 opinion came after the plaintiffs’ attorneys asked the court for immediate suicide-prevention relief following 15 inmate suicides over 15 months. Thompson agreed in his opinion to make permanent most of the provisions of a previous agreement between the plaintiffs and ADOC.
Thompson’s separate judgment, filed the same day as his opinion, establishes minimum guidelines for how the state assesses and treats incarcerated people who may be at risk of suicide.
Among the prison suicides noted in the court filing was Marco Tolbert, 32, who was diagnosed with Schizophrenia and prescribed anti-psychotic and anti-depressant medication, but on June 20, 2019, three months before his death, his mental health code — used by ADOC to determine care — was reduced, some of his medication was discontinued and he was moved out of Donaldson prison’s residential treatment unit and into the general population and “was not provided any follow-up mental health care,” according to the filing.
He died by suicide on Sept. 26, 2019, according to court records.
Marquell Underwood, 22, was placed into segregation at Easterling Correctional Facility on Feb. 23 and died by suicide that same day, according to court records.
“Mr. Underwood previously reported a history of Bipolar Disorder, was referred to mental health nine times in relation to segregation placements, self-referred once to mental health, and was placed on acute suicide watch twice during the six months before his death,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote to the court. “Despite all of this, he was never placed on the mental health caseload, never received a psychiatric evaluation, and never received any mental health treatment.”
Laramie Avery, 32, died by suicide in his segregation cell at Bullock prison on April 14 and was placed in segregation for “disciplinary” reasons after being stabbed at least eight times in the head and chest, according to the filing.
“Mr. Avery was referred for a mental health evaluation three days before his suicide, but there is no evidence that the evaluation ever occurred. He was not on the mental health caseload,” the court filing states.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys also note the death of Darnell McMillian on June 22 at Donaldson prison. McMillian died while on suicide watch and after having been placed into a cell with another inmate also on suicide watch.
“After an altercation between Mr. McMillian and his cellmate, correctional officers allegedly deployed pepper spray, which caused Mr. McMillian to become unconscious and may have led to his death. It is unclear what policies ADOC has instituted, if any, to ensure the safety of those on suicide watch who are double-celled,” attorneys wrote to the court.
An ADOC worker told APR in July that correctional officers used an excessive amount of pepper spray in the cell where McMillian and another inmate were housed. The cause of his death is pending an autopsy.
Jones campaign director blasts Tuberville for saying $600 “too much” for out-of-work Alabamians
The communications director for U.S. Sen. Doug Jones’s re-election campaign on Wednesday called out Tommy Tuberville for saying that $600 in emergency unemployment aid was too much for Alabamians.
“Tommy Tuberville once again proves he’s out of touch with Alabama. When he ‘resigned’ from his job as a football coach he took a $5.1 million payout for himself. To this day, he receives $800 a week in State Retirement funds for a coaching job he ‘quit’ in 2008,” said Owen Kilmer, communications Director for Jones’s Senate campaign, in a statement Wednesday.
“But he says $600 in emergency benefits is ‘way too much’ for people in Alabama who lost their jobs in this crisis through no fault of their own. Tuberville says $600 is ‘way too much’ to help people put food on the table and pay utilities,” Kilmer continued. “No wonder, when asked about how to handle this crisis, he said ‘I wouldn’t have a clue.’ It’s true. He doesn’t.”
Tuberville, the Republican Senate nominee, is trying to unseat Jones in the November general election. Jones has called the former Auburn football coach and first-time political candidate an “unprepared hyper-partisan.”