ORLANDO — Seven years after Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer took part in a groundbreaking ceremony at City Hall where he performed a mass wedding ceremony for 44 gay couples, the City Beautiful has once again received a perfect score for its record on behalf of the LGBTQ community.
Just six years after Florida voters had approved a referendum to ban same-sex marriage, scores of gay and lesbian couples from around the state lined up in front of City Hall to tie the knot following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage across the United States. Dyer told the crowd that day in 2015, “You’re part of history today.”
The Human Rights Campaign just released its annual Municipal Equality Index, and the City of Orlando got the highest score of 100 for the 9th-consecutive year.
Dyer, who had convinced the Orlando City Commission to approve an anti-discrimination measure for the LGBTQ community during his first term in office, welcomed the high rating from the nation’s largest civil rights organization for the gay and lesbian community.
“I am proud that the City of Orlando has again been recognized with the top score on the Municipal Equality Index, but our work to create a more inclusive community for LGBTQ+ residents and every person in our city must and will continue,” the mayor noted.
What is the Human Rights Campaign’s Equality Index?
HRC’s report evaluates 506 cities on 49 different criteria. Orlando was cited for establishing programs and ordinances that benefit the LGBTQ+ community, including:
- Providing funding to the Center Orlando to continue delivering services to individuals impacted by the Pulse shooting tragedy.
- Requiring contractors to have policies against discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation if they receive city contracts.
- Updating the Orlando Police Department’s Transgender Persons Policy to include protections for nonbinary individuals during police encounters.
- Working to increase the visibility of issues impacting the transgender community by flying the Transgender Pride flag at City Hall
- Collaborating with the Zebra Coalition to host the 9th Orlando Youth Empowerment Summit to break the isolation of LGBTQ+ youth and their families.
City Commissioner Patty Sheehan said the recognition Orlando has received from HRC is well deserved.
“With the divisive nature of politics in our country, it is more important than ever to treat every resident in our community with respect,” she said. “Obtaining a perfect score on the Municipality Equality Index solidifies Orlando’s commitment to fairness, equality and dignity for all.”
Why Did Orlando get Such a High Equality Ranking?
Since 2002, Orlando has banned discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Several other Central Florida cities do as well, including Leesburg, Mascotte, Mount Dora, and Tampa. The City of Orlando has been considered a leader in the Sunshine State in establishing local programs, ordinances, and laws that benefit the LGBTQ+ community.
That included installing the first all-user multi-stall restroom in a public building in Florida for transgender individuals at City Hall, passing a resolution to support LGBTQ owned-businesses, and creating a database of certified LGBTQ+ businesses.
Why Do Gay People Love Living in Orlando?
A 2015 report by Gallup found that Orlando has the 20th highest percentage of the adult population who identify as gay, lesbian or transgender. That put Orlando in the same company as other cities across the U.S. with a high LGBTQ population, including San Francisco; Portland, Oregon; Austin; New Orleans; and Seattle. In Florida, Jacksonville had the highest-ranking of the state’s metro areas, coming in at No. 16, while Miami ranked at No. 17 and Tampa at No. 21.
The Orlando area is also popular with gay visitors. The City Beautiful is home to Hamburger Mary’s, the restaurant popularly billed as ‘an open-air bar for open-minded people’; Gay Days at Walt Disney World, a week-long celebration that continues to grow in size each year; and Barcodes Orlando, a gay bar located in the popular College Park neighborhood.
Orlando’s gay community has also known great tragedy. On June 12, 2016, the city of Orlando experienced a devastating trauma when 49 people were murdered by a lone gunman at Pulse, a gay nightclub, and 68 others were seriously injured. Those innocent lives were taken by domestic terrorist Omar Mateen, who was himself killed by Orlando police.
But in the days after the massacre, city residents came together in remarkable ways, holding rallies to show their support for the victims, their families, and the survivors. Memorials were created to pay tribute to them, and placed around in the city.
The outpouring of support was so strong that it created an enduring legacy that’s now an exhibit, the One Orlando Collection, being hosted at the Orange County Regional History Center, a museum housed in a historic courthouse in downtown Orlando.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book A Christmas Eve Story. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.