Maui scores 50 out of 100 on LGBTQ equality

County officials say score in study could have been higher

Maui County is doing more for the lesbian, gay and bisexual community than is reflected in a recent equality study, advocates say.

Maui County received a score of 50 points out of a possible 100, based on a nationwide rating system on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community inclusion in municipal law and policies.

The Municipal Equality Index assessed LGBTQ equality in 506 cities and counties across the nation, including five in Hawaii. The Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the educational arm of the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, in partnership with the Equality Federation Institute, released the seventh annual study earlier this month.

In Hawaii, Maui County received the second highest score behind Hawaii County with 51. Third was Honolulu with 48 followed by Kauai, 32, and Kalawao County on Molokai, 30.

Criteria surveyed encompassed the inclusion of the LGBTQ community in city services and programs, nondiscrimination in city employment, nondiscrimination laws and city domestic partner benefits.

Top performing municipalities that received a score off 100 were Las Vegas, New York City, Los Angeles and Boston. Those on the lower end of the scale were Ocean Springs, Miss., with a score of 4; Wasilla, Alaska, 12; and Bowling Green, Ky., 17.

The MEI website said that the scores are not a ranking of a city’s atmosphere or quality of life, but an evaluation of a city’s laws and policies, along with an examination of how inclusive city services are of LGBTQ people.

Brian Nagami, the LGBTQ liaison for Maui County, who works out of the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, said the index serves as an incentive for municipalities to focus on issues related to the LGBTQ community.

“It helps provide a road map for those who wish to improve, and it gives an incentive in the form of public acknowledgment for those who do,” said Nagami, who is also the executive director for the Maui County Workforce Development Board.

Maui County receiving zeros in some areas does not necessarily denote problems, Nagami added.

He said those involved with the index were simply unable to identify the needed information on their own and in some cases specific information needed by the organizers could not be found by the county.

For example, Maui County did not receive all the points it could have in the category, “Leadership’s Public Position on LGBTQ Equality.” Nagami said Mayor Alan Arakawa has initiated resolutions to recognize events, such as Maui Pride and World AIDS Day, and has spoken at events in support of the LGBTQ community.

Nagami said he only was able to turn up drafts of speeches and resolutions. But organizers needed recent news articles, social media posts and other documents.

Maui County also could have earned more points because of the appointment of Nagami to the LGBTQ liaison position several months ago. However, the notification was not provided to surveyors in time.

“But the points situation was the least important part of it. Hopefully, future administrations follow Mayor Arakawa’s lead and appoint an LGBTQ liaison of their own,” he said.

Paul Tonnesen, executive director of the Friends of the Children’s Justice Center of Maui, pointed to areas the survey does not examine, such as the equality training the organization conducts for government employees. In the past year at least three training sessions have taken place for county and state employees regarding equality for the LGBTQ community.

Tonnesen, who also heads Maui Pride, an LGBTQ nonprofit organization, said county departments have been concerned about the especially fragile portions of the LGBTQ community.

The Maui County Prosecutor’s Office and Maui police “were ahead of the times,” he said. They conducted a training a couple years ago after a case involving a transgender person both departments were handling.

And recently, the Maui Sexual Assault Response Team, made up of staff from the prosecutor’s office and Maui police, got together with social service organizations to connect LGBTQ teens with law enforcement. Tonnesen said the event encouraged trust between the teens and law enforcement.

“That’s an A-plus,” Tonnesen said of the event. “It was to put a face of compassion (on law enforcement) rather than just saying ‘call 911.’ ”

Overall, Nagami said that the county and state lean toward being welcoming and inclusive. “It seems like our islands are faster to embrace those who are deemed outsiders, and as a whole, I believe our community sees diversity as something that makes us stronger,” he said.

But Nagami said it doesn’t mean that things are perfect. For example, the term LGBTQ is often used synonymously with the word “gay.” They aren’t the same.

“All of these individuals are deserving of not only tolerance and acceptance, but of being embraced as an integral part of our community,” Nagami said.

To view the scores, go towww.hrc.org/resources/mei-2018-see-your-citys-score.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.