Brookings remains one of the most sensible towns in South Dakota. Along with providing South Dakota with a model of rational pandemic response, Brookings continues to lead South Dakota in fair and economically sound policies and a welcoming attitude toward LGBTQ residents by scoring another 100 out of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index.
Brookings doesn’t get this score just by thinking happy thoughts. The people of Brookings do real work, including standing up to a state that resists such inclusivity:
Brookings City Mayor Keith Corbett said he was impressed that Brookings once again was able to maintain a score of 100.
“The Human Rights Commission has worked so hard on this, I have to give them the credit they deserve – the Human Rights Commission, and also the community for their continued dedication to make Brookings inclusive and welcoming for everyone,” Corbett said.
Brookings’ 100 was tallied on a scorecard that rated non-discrimination laws, municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement, and leadership in LGBTQ equality. The city also received bonus points for having openly LGBTQ elected or appointed municipal leaders, and for testing limits of restrictive state law.
Brookings also earned one of HRC’s 61 MEI “All Star” designations. MEI All Stars are cities nationwide that are excelling by advancing LGBTQ equality without relying on state law [City of Brookings, press release, 2020.12.03].
Brookings has taken to heart the Human Rights Commission’s point that LGBTQ inclusivity isn’t just warm fuzzy political correctness; it’s good economic development policy:
Cities are in constant competition for residents, visitors, employees, and businesses. A demonstrated commitment to equality through laws and policies that protect everyone, including LGBTQ people, sends a clear message that all residents, visitors, workers, and businesses are welcome and valued. Inclusive non-discrimination laws give cities a competitive edge.
A growing body of research shows that openness to diversity and inclusiveness is not a byproduct of communities that achieve economic prosperity, but rather a key element in the formula that leads to economic growth.
The Fortune 500 has long utilized inclusive workplace policies as proven recruitment and retention tools. Diversity and inclusion enhance an employer’s reputation, increase job satisfaction, and boost employee morale. Municipalities and their employees similarly benefit from LGBTQ-inclusive workplace policies and practices.
What’s more, businesses actively take into account local laws and policies when making decisions about cities in which to headquarter, relocate, or expand. In fact, the nation’s top businesses are becoming increasingly vocal in their support for laws and policies that protect all of their employees and their families at home, in the workplace, and in their communities [Human Rights Commission, Municipal Equality Index 2020: A Nationwide Evaluation of Municipal Law, p. 6, retrieved 2020.12.16].
Brookings is the only South Dakota city to make HRC’s “All-Star” list, 61 cities nationwide that score high on equality efforts despite the absence of non-discrimination laws in their states:
Alas, the rest of South Dakota’s major metros continue to lag in following Brookings’s good example. Sioux Falls is the next best South Dakota scorer on the MEI 2020, with a 62. The other seven South Dakota burgs surveyed are below 50, most of them dreadfully below 50:
Brookings scored a pathetic 12 out of 100 on the first MEI in 2012. Brookings went to work and raised its score to 100 in 2018, then repeated that high score in 2019. So Brookings proves that the rest of South Dakota can improve, if we all can just overcome our old habits and prejudices and recognize that welcoming everyone to our communities is a path to better character and better business.