Ashland recently got low grades on a nationwide survey of LGBTQ inclusion in municipal law and policy, conducted by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer organization — but locals quickly disputed the survey results, saying they were not contacted.

Portland got a perfect 100 score. Eugene got 98, while Salem, Bend, Corvallis and Hillsboro were ahead of Ashland, which got a lowly 44.

The survey scored cities on non-discrimination laws in housing, employment and public accommodations, benefits and protections, awarding contracts to “fair-minded businesses,” inclusion of LGBTQ citizens in municipal services and programs, fair enforcement of laws and hate crime reporting to the FBI, and inclusion of the LGBTQ community in full equality.

Ashland’s low rating seems to have been the result of not responding to certified letters, said Xavier Presad, HRC legislative counsel, in an interview from the group’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. “We sent out three mailings by certified mail and also email over four weeks, asking for documentation … and got no responses. We provide plenty of notice and opportunity for them to tell us anything we don’t know.”

Ashland City Administrator Dave Kanner said he didn’t get contacted by HRC. “I have no idea who this organization is. No one ever contacted me about the city’s policies and practices. About bullying in schools, the city doesn’t run that, the schools do. Any objective evaluation would say we’re doing a pretty good job in this whole area and we definitely have non-discrimination policies.”

HRC’s Municipal Evaluation Index, at www.hrc.org/mei, says it “represents a force of more than 1.5 million members and supporters nationwide. As the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights organization, HRC envisions a world where LGBTQ people are ensured of their basic equal rights, and can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.” 

Disputing the evaluation, Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara, who is one of two or three police chiefs in a same-sex marriage in the U.S., says, “I’d give Ashland an A all-around. I’m absolutely dumbfounded that one of the most liberal, inclusive cities ends up at the bottom of the list … I feel absolutely included and respected in this city and its government structure. There’s very little incidence of homophobia here.” 

In addition to its gay police chief, O’Meara said the department is looking at hiring a transgendered person to the force. “There’s one in the pipeline,” he said.

Presad said he got no responses from HRC’s mailings, so they utilized all the public resources available online, such as city codes, website and equal opportunity statements. The city of Ashland, he noted, has a policy of inclusive employment protection for anyone doing business with the city — and they’re looking for at least one health care plan that expressly covers “transition related services,” including “hormone therapy and gender-affirming surgeries and gender affirming care.”

This, he said, has to be posted online and doesn’t have to include an employee who has that as a sole role, in the mayor’s office, but a liaison has to be posted online, for credit, with contact information. 

“We communicate directly with the city manager or mayor’s office,” he said. “We hope for and encourage feedback and want the most accurate information. We simply didn’t hear from the city.”

Of the rating, Gina DuQuenne, president and founder of Southern Oregon Pride, said, “I’m very shocked. This is the third year in a row Southern Oregon University has been in the top 10 on the West Coast for acceptance of diversity and the queer community is in the top 10. I don’t know where they got their ratings. I’m a lesbian who has been here 10 years and we are a very accepting community.”

DuQuenne said her main issue with acceptance here and in the world is lack of acceptance for the trans-gender community — and the murders of 25 trans women of color in the U.S. this year, “but that’s not in Ashland … We’ve come a long way (with the trans community) but we have a long way to go.”

Portland is very accepting, she said, and Ashland “is right up there with Portland … but where do they get these numbers … Don’t judge from afar. If you’re going to pass judgment, you need to come and be here in the community and talk to the community … Are you kidding me? I work in the hospitality industry (at Ashland Springs Hotel) … There is no discrimination.”

Julian Spalding of the Rogue Rainbow Elders is in a same-sex marriage and said “Ashland’s relationship with LGBT is excellent in my estimation. Law enforcement stands out with a gay police chief. I have heard of no equality problems with the police. The city now sponsors and promotes the annual Pride Parade. Ashland feels very safe for out LGBT individuals.” 

In a news release on the municipal report card, HRC said, "For LGBTQ Americans, legal protections and benefits vary widely depending on location — states and cities have markedly different laws governing discrimination. 20 states have non-discrimination laws that include protections for LGBTQ people in employment, and 19 states have laws that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in places of public accommodation. But cities are leading the way: more than 24 million people live in cities that have more comprehensive laws for transgender people than the states do. And that’s an important part of how 135 million Americans — 42 percent of the population — are covered under LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination laws.”

It said Ashland fell 11 points below average in the U.S., adding: 

• 87 cities from states without nondiscrimination laws protecting LGBTQ people scored above the overall nationwide mean of 55 points. These cities averaged 80-point scores; 22 scored a perfect 100. 

• Cities continue to excel even in the absence of state laws: 37 “All Star” cities in states lacking comprehensive non-discrimination laws scored above 85 points, up from 31 last year, 15 in 2014, eight in 2013, and just two in 2012. 

• The average city score was 55 points. Sixty cities, or 12 percent of those rated, scored 100 points; 25 percent scored over 75 points; 25 percent scored under 33 points; and 8 cities scored zero points.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.