By Ellen Wulfhorst
NEW YORK - A record number of U.S. cities earned perfect scores this year for LGBT+ legal protections, extending their laws and policies to include more gay and transgender people, a leading rights group said on Tuesday.
This year 88 cities scored 100 points on the Municipal Equality Index, up from 78 cities last year and 11 cities when the index began in 2012, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest U.S. advocacy group for the LGBT+ community said.
Nationwide, the average score of the 506 cities in the index rose to a record 60 points, up from 58 last year.
Cities were graded on legal protections and policies for LGBT+ residents such as non-discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, inclusion in public services and enforcement of laws against hate crimes.
"This year, our community and our country have realized historic progress, even as the health, rights and welfare of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people face relentless attacks from the highest levels of government," said Alphonso David, HRC president in an introduction to the index.
LGBT+ supporters have criticized the U.S. Justice Department for arguing before the Supreme Court recently on behalf of President Donald Trump's administration that a federal law that bars sex discrimination in the workplace does not cover sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Trump administration has also supported the right of businesses to refuse to serve gay people on the basis of religious objections to gay marriage, restricted transgender service members in the military and rescinded protections on bathroom access for transgender students in public schools.
"There remains so much more work to be done to protect and empower LGBTQ Americans," David said. "Fortunately, many local officials in cities and towns across America are leading that work forward."
The index found a record 164 cities offered transgender-inclusive health benefits to city employees this year.
The number of cities acting against so-called conversion therapy grew by 11 to 28 this year.
The U.S. physicians' group the American Medical Association announced on Tuesday it would support a ban on the widely discredited practice, rooted in the belief that LGBT+ people have a curable mental illness.
The index also found more than 400 cities have equal employment policies that expressly include sexual orientation and/or gender identity, while nearly 200 required contractors to have LGBT+-inclusive employment policies.
Home to more than 94 million people, the index's cities included state capitals, the 200 largest U.S. cities, the five largest cities in each state, those that host each state's two largest public universities and those with high proportions of same-sex couples.
The cities were rated on a scale of zero to 100 based on their laws, policies, benefits and services. The index noted the findings did not rank a city's atmosphere or quality of life.
(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Chris Michaud ((Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)