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HRC Isn’t Giving Houston Credit for Adding Transgender Health Benefits

City receives score of 70 on 2018 Municipal Equality Index.

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Back in May, we reported that the city of Houston had started offering transgender-inclusive health benefits to municipal employees.

However, the city did not receive credit for offering trans-inclusive health benefits in the 2018 Municipal Equality Index (MEI), released Monday, Oct. 8 by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

Houston received a score of 70 out of 100 points on the 2018 MEI, which HRC bills as the only nationwide rating system of LGBTQ inclusion in municipal law and policy.

Houston’s score includes a six-point deduction for allegedly failing to offer trans-inclusive health benefits. Here’s an explanation of the deduction I received from an HRC representative:

“The MEI standards are crafted around best practices and require that the qualifying city healthcare policies expressly cover transgender-inclusive health care services. A lack of exclusion of these services is not enough because these services are often denied if not expressly covered. In order to obtain these points, we require a copy of the city employee plan benefits booklet/schedule of benefits showing that transition-related coverage are expressly covered. These standards are available online here. We did not receive qualifying documentation from the City by the feedback deadline of July 27, 2018. Any changes or documentation submitted by the city hereafter will be reviewed for inclusion in next year’s MEI.”

Alan Bernstein, a spokesman for Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office, reiterated Monday that the city offers trans-inclusive health benefits. Bernstein added that he is unsure which city department HRC contacted for info about the benefits.

“The problem I have with figuring that out is, they could have called a lot of different people,” Bernstein said. “I know they didn’t call here.”

The HRC representative said the organization does not share specifics about whom the organization contacts in compiling the MEI. But the representative contradicted Bernstein’s statement, and claimed that HRC communicated with someone from the mayor’s office.

Meanwhile, Bernstein said he would look into whether the city’s schedule of benefits expressly mentions trans health benefits. We found no such mention in a summary of benefits posted online.

Houston also missed out on 30 points again this year for not having an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance. The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) was repealed by voters in November 2015 based on a fear-mongering lie.

The city lost an additional seven points in 2018 for not having a Human Rights Commission that enforces an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance. However, Houston picked up 13 bonus points for having openly LGBTQ elected or appointed municipal leaders, as well as for “test[ing] the limits of restrictive state law.”

Houston’s 2018 MEI rating is above the average scores of 40 points among 25 Texas cities and 58 points among 506 cities nationwide.

Houston received MEI scores of 75 in 2017, 71 in 2016, 48 in 2015, 54 in 2014, 63 in 2013, and 52 in 2012.

View Houston’s full 2018 scorecard here. Below is a a look at how Texas cities fared on the 2018 MEI.

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John Wright

John Wright is the editor of OutSmart magazine. He has spent two decades in the mainstream and LGBTQ media. Most recently, he served as senior editor of Dallas Voice, and covered LGBTQ issues in the state Legislature for The Texas Observer. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Wright earned his bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Florida. He resides in the EaDo area of Houston, where he is currently remodeling a 1930s row house.
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