Report: Tampa leads Florida cities for 'pro equality' policies

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Tampa leads the state in a new report on how well cities promote equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents.

St. Petersburg ranks eighth among 15 Florida cities rated Wednesday by the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C.

"It's a message that Tampa is open for business and welcoming of talent," said Nadine Smith, the chief executive officer of Equality Florida, which helped produce the report.

"A big win for the city," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said, and one that shows "who we are and where we're going."

"It's not only important that we're a diverse community," but that "we celebrate the intrinsic value of everyone regardless of the god they worship or who they love," said Buckhorn, who this year became the highest ranking official ever to take part in St. Pete Pride's Carnivale parade.

In 2012, Tampa was the first bay area city to create a domestic partnership registry, with St. Petersburg, Gulfport, Clearwater and Pinellas County following suit. Since then, Tampa has had 500 couples register at City Hall.

The Human Rights Campaign ranks cities on whether they:

• Have non-discrimination laws for employment, housing and public accommodations.

• Recognize same-sex relationships through domestic partnership registries, civil unions or other measures.

• Have LGBT-sensitive employment and contracting policies.

• Provide services such as a liaison in the mayor's office or police department.

• Report hate crime statistics to the FBI.

• Have a good relationship with the LGBT community.

Tampa's best scores were for having non-discrimination laws, recognizing same-sex relationships, its law enforcement policies and its relationship with the LGBT community.

St. Petersburg's scored best in relationship recognition and its relationship with the LGBT community. The score, however, doesn't reflect the full scope of protections St. Petersburg residents have, City Council member Steve Kornell said.

St. Petersburg has had its own human rights ordinance, but Pinellas County took over the enforcement of those protections. So the city's residents are still covered, he said.

Kornell also said conversations are under way with the Pinellas County School District about improving its bullying policy.

Also, as a result of the Nov. 5 city election, St. Petersburg will have three gay City Council members: Kornell, Amy Foster and Darden Rice. The Human Rights Campaign gives bonus points for cities with openly gay elected or appointed leaders, but this year's deadline for submitting that information was midnight on election day, he said.

"Next year, our score's going to be much higher," Kornell said.

Rounding out the top five Florida cities are Oakland Park in Broward County, Tallahassee, Wilton Manors, also in Broward, and Orlando.

No other Tampa Bay area city was ranked. The study looked at 293 cities nationwide, including every state capital, the 150 largest cities in the United States, 75 cities with high percentages of same-sex couples and the city with each state's largest public university. In Florida, that's the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

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