Yonkers, White Plains Recognized for Gay-Rights Advocacy
Two Westchester cities are lauded for their non-discrimination policies and city leadership
It can often feel as if Westchester isn't as socially progressive as neighboring New York, but two forward-looking county cities have caught the eye of Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which awarded Yonkers a perfect score of 100 and White Plains an 86 for their non-discrimination policies.
The HRC scores 506 cities across the nation, encouraging their leadership to establish stronger anti-discrimination laws by rating them on the Municipal Equality Index (MEI). The MEI measures the inclusivity of a city’s laws and policies, from the treatment of city employees and the benefits they receive to how law enforcement is trained to behave when dealing with diverse communities. Yonkers, alongside Albany, New York City, and Rochester, was one of four NY cities to receive a perfect score, and one of 60 nationally.
“We want to make sure they are engaging on matters of equality where other communities can grow complacent," Cathryn Oakley, author of the MEI and HRC Senior Legislative Counsel, tells Westchester, before adding that the scores hopefully illuminate “city leadership that really cares about treating people right.”
While this is the first year White Plains has appeared on HRC’s list, this is Yonkers’ second year in a row receiving a perfect score, after getting an 87 in 2014. According to the HRC’s evaluation, Yonkers scored highly because of elected gay officials like Yonkers’ city councilman Michael Sabatino, transgender-inclusive insurance coverage for city employees, and effective non-discrimination laws, among other criteria met. Comparatively, White Plains failed to meet the HRC's standards on services such as transgender insurance coverage.
Despite falling short of perfection, White Plains is home to some of Westchester's most prominent LGBTQ advocacy groups, including Center Lane, which is the county’s only community-education center serving LGBTQ youth, and the LOFT, which offers educational, health, social service, and recreational programs, and a safe gathering space. All of which gives every indication that, much as Yonkers did, White Plains is poised to make even greater strides by this time next year. As Oakley reminds, “It’s safe to say that a city that scores a 100 has not gotten there by accident, but dedication."