By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
For the third year in a row, the City of Milwaukee received a perfect score of 100% on the Municipal Equality Index report. The nationwide report is commissioned by the Human Rights Campaign, a national civil rights organization that focuses on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights. The assessment measures LGBTQ+ inclusivity in municipal law and policy.
To celebrate, city leaders, including Mayor Tom Barrett, along with the Equal Rights Commission held a press conference on Wednesday, Dec. 9.
“This is one of my favorite events of the year,” Barrett said. “It allows us to celebrate the diversity in our community, the openness of our community, the humanity of our community and the love of our community.”
Milwaukee’s score demonstrates that the city values everyone who lives, works and visits here, Barrett said. Milwaukee is an inclusive and welcoming city for all, he said.
The score is a reflection of Milwaukee’s actions to champion LGBTQ+ rights, Barrett explained. In its efforts, the City of Milwaukee has banned conversion therapy, appointed liaisons to the mayor’s office and Milwaukee Police Department, provided trans inclusive health care benefits and more.
These efforts were made possible by the Equal Rights Commission and its constant work to provide racial, social and economic equity for all, Barrett said. Currently, the commission is working to bring gender inclusive bathrooms to city buildings.
Barrett noted that 94 additional municipalities across the country received a perfect score. He gave a friendly challenge to other state municipalities including Appleton, Green Bay, Oshkosh, Racine and Kenosha to aim for a 100% mark.
“Let’s show everyone not only how inclusive Milwaukee is but how inclusive and fair and open the entire state of Wisconsin is,” Barrett said.
Tony Snell, the chair of the Equal Rights Commission, first brought Barrett’s attention to Milwaukee’s score in past years. At the time it wasn’t 100% and Snell challenged Barrett to do better.
For reference, in 2016, Milwaukee scored 71%.
It was a team effort to get 100%, Snell said, who remarked that Barrett not only accepted the challenge but challenged him back. The Equal Rights Commission is incredibly proud of Milwaukee’s score, Snell said, but it’s not something it takes for granted.
“There’s no doubt that we have a lot more work to do,” said Snell. “And there’s no doubt that we are rolling up our sleeves and getting to work on the tough challenges and centering equity and inclusion in our city programs and projects.”
Ald. JoCasta Zamarripa, who is the city’s first openly bisexual alderperson, remarked on how welcoming the Common Council and mayor’s office has been. Prior to her role as alderwoman of District 8, Zamarripa worked in the State Assembly. She explained that it took nearly 10 years for the State Legislature to pass a symbolic resolution recognizing June as Pride Month.
“Mayor Barrett’s priority around his LGBTQ+ constituents is real,” she said.
Wendy Strout, the Wisconsin State director of the Human Rights Campaign, Megin McDonell, the executive director of Fair Wisconsin, Amy Orta, executive director of the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center and Shelley Gregory, the strategic project coordinator of FORGE, also spoke during the press conference.
“The continued protections of LGBTQ+ rights is a testament to the leadership of Mayor Barrett, the City Council and the Equal Rights Commission,” Strout said.
“We are so honored to be a part of making the LGBTQ community in Milwaukee feel safer and empowered and also celebrated,” Orta said.
Gregory, a transgender person, expressed their thanks to the City of Milwaukee for its efforts to support LGBTQ+ lives and civil rights.
“As a city and community committed to its LGBTQ+ residents, I’d be remised if I didn’t say and affirm that we have no choice but to continue to act and each every day to make this city not only livable but truly equitable,” Gregory said.
They continued, “It is my hope that the broader Milwaukee community and our city government will continue to work to achieve the kind of ideal that is represented by the Municipal Equality Index.”
No one’s work is done until everyone is respected, safe and fundamentally free to be, Gregory said.
To view the report in full, go to hrc.org/mei.