Rick Kriseman: St. Pete’s LGBTQ atmosphere has got it goin’ on

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St. Petersburg is officially gay-friendly. Based on the annual nationwide Municipal Equality Index rating, St. Pete earned a perfect score on its level of LGBT equality.

“I’m proud to say our score is the best in the Tampa ay region,” mayor Rick Kriseman said during a press conference on the steps of City Hall.

The city received a score of 100, up from just 66 last year.

“This dramatic increase in our score is not an accident. Here in St. Petersuburg we have a vision for our city,” Kriseman said. “We will be a city of opportunity where the sunshines on all who come to live, work and play and that means all of us.”

The Municipal Equality Index Rating is based on laws, policies and available services for residents who identify as LGBTQ in cities. The index looked at more than 350 cities nationwide this year with 15 of those in Florida. St. Petersburg is the highest rated city in the Tampa Bay region. Only Orlando and Wilton Manors received perfect scores. Tampa isn’t far behind with a score of 97.

The scores look at things like whether or not cities provides a domestic partnership registry, domestic partner health benefits and family leave equivalencies for domestic partners. The only ways St. Petersburg can improve are by providing non-discrimination and equal benefit ordinances for city contractors and transgender healthcare benefits. The city managed to still receive a perfect score by getting bonus points for things like LBGT services for youth, elderly and homeless individuals.

“These numbers represent more than just accolades, they stand for hard won protections that are making a real and immediate difference in the lives of people who live and work here,” said Xavier Persad, legislative council for the Human Rights Campaign in Washington D.C.

St. Pete is a model compared to both the national and state averages. The national average is just 59 while Florida’s average score is 65.

Kriseman has been a vocal proponent of LGBT rights since long before becoming St. Pete’s mayor. But for others, supporting equality is more than just a civil rights issue.

“Good communities understand that the communities that are going to win are those that attract talent, that attract innovation, that attract creativity and in order to do that you have to make sure the welcome mat is out for everybody,” St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce president Chris Steinocher said.

Supporting marriage equality and non-discrimination is quickly shifting to an economic development issue. That argument is even being embraced by the LGBT community.

“Community support for diversity is absolutely a driving force in where people choose to live, work and play,” Equality Florida managing director Brian Winfiled said. “When a city celebrates its people, its people celebrate it.”

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.