You know all the self-congratulatory backslapping that goes on among some elected officials when it comes to how progressive Augusta is? How forward thinking? Well, in spite of the fact that we’re about to host our second TEDx program and have coaxed some big companies to come our way, a national organization is crying BS.
A new report by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, ranks Augusta at the bottom of the state again in its annual Municipal Equality Index, which looks at things like non-discrimination laws, relationship recognition and municipal services.
That’s lower than Atlanta, Savannah, DeKalb County, Columbus, Decatur and Athens.
It’s not just low, it’s really low. Augusta earned just 10 points out of 100 possible points, which puts it in the bottom five percent of cities nationwide. The bottom five percent.
If you’ve ever driven around the country you know just how backward some of it can be.
The dismal showing can be seen in all the zeros on the Municipal Quality Index scorecard. In fact, the only place the city scored any points at all came from receiving four out of four points for having a human rights commission, three out of three for Non Discrimination Ordinance enforcement by a commission or executive and three out of five for the leadership’s public position on LGBT equality.
The last marks are kind of ironic, given Augusta’s tentative start to the Pride Parade.
In 2010, Mayor Deke Copenhaver received a lot of heat from LGBT supporters for what appeared to be a lack of solidarity with the community when instead of wholeheartedly embracing the idea, he sought a legal opinion from the city attorney before okaying the parade request from Augusta Pride.
Of course, the list is even more damning coming as it is on the heels of Apple CEO Tim Cook’s public coming out in October, which ratcheted up the exposure to LGBT issues. The fact that Cook is leading a technology and culture powerhouse like Apple advanced the idea that the tech industry and other creative business sectors are setting a high priority on an accepting, progressive climate for the areas they choose to locate.
The tech industry and these other creative business sectors are exactly who Augusta is anxious to recruit, which sets up an interesting challenge for local leaders.
Can Augusta reverse its practices and improve its perception as a progressive, inclusive community before it loses what momentum it has? Or is it doomed to lumber on as it has been, letting whatever good buzz it manages to generate fade away?