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Looking Out: LGBT improvements seen in Maryland laws, global perceptions

Municipalities in Maryland have improved local laws protecting and acknowledging LGBT citizens, according to a new Human Rights Campaign report.
Municipalities in Maryland have improved local laws protecting and acknowledging LGBT citizens, according to a new Human Rights Campaign report. (Photo by Kenneth K. Lam)

In cities and municipalities in Maryland and across the U.S., the legal rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens are improving. Across the globe, perceptions of gay and lesbian people are getting better, too.

Both improvements, outlined in two separate studies released this week, are indicative of a larger shift toward equality and acceptance, the studies' authors found -- even if data is limited in some areas and LGBT people, including children, are still discriminated against in local schools and many other corners of the world.

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The two studies were the Human Rights Campaign's 2014 Municipal Equality Index, which assessed laws in 353 cities across the U.S., and the Williams Institute's report titled "Public Attitudes toward Homosexuality and Gay Rights across Time and Countries," based on surveys released in more than 50 countries since 1981.

"This study shows a clear trend toward increasing acceptance across the globe," Andrew Park, director of international programs at the Williams Institute, said in a statement about the global study.

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"From Mississippi to Idaho, mid-size cities and small towns have become the single greatest engine of progress for LGBT equality -- changing countless lives for the better," said HRC President Chad Griffin in a statement about the municipal report.

"In just three years, the number of municipalities earning top marks for their treatment of LGBT citizens has more than tripled. Simply put, in this country there is an ongoing race to the top to treat all people, including LGBT people, fairly under the law, and it's time our state and federal laws caught up."

In Maryland, six cities -- Annapolis, Baltimore, College Park, Frederick, Gaithersburg and Rockville -- were judged in the HRC report.

The state's average score out of 100 possible points increased from 68 in 2013 to 75 this year, well above the national state average of 59.

Baltimore repeated its top performance in the state last year, falling among an elite group of 38 cities nationwide to achieve a perfect score. Last year, Baltimore had a little less company on the top tier, as one of 25 cities with a perfect score.

Every other city counted in Maryland in both years improved, though added bonus criteria this year helped. Annapolis went from 70 points to 73; College Park from 62 points to 86; Frederick from 52 points to 61; and Rockville from 58 points to 63. Gaithersburg, appearing for the first time, scored a 64.

The scoring accounts for everything from non-discrimination laws to relationship recognitions and local political leaders' relationships with the LGBT community.

Local LGBT advocates cheered the improvements, but noted room for continued growth.

"We're proud of the progress Maryland localities have made in advancing LGBT equality and contributing to the momentum to pass state-wide policies," said Keith Thirion of Equality Maryland in a statement. "Local action on issues such as transgender health care and services to help the most vulnerable LGBT Marylanders like our communities of color and youth remain critical in ensuring that everyone is free to live their full lives without fear of discrimination."

Globally, perceptions of gay and lesbian people are improving as well, in part because of more acceptance among young people, according to the Williams Institute, which released its study in partnership with NORC at the University of Chicago.

Their study showed residents in 90 percent of all surveyed countries had become more accepting of homosexuality over the past 20 years.

In 98 percent of the countries, the study found, people under 30 were more likely "to say same-gender sex is not wrong at all" than people 65 and older, by about 23 percentage points.

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Women were more than one and a half times more likely than men to be accepting of lesbian and gay people.

Still, levels of acceptance ranged widely. In Latin America, acceptance of homosexuality ranged from a high of 34 percent in Uruguay to a low of 2 percent in Ecuador. In Africa, acceptance ranged from a high of 38 percent in South Africa to a low of 2 percent in Ghana.

European and other western countries generally had higher levels of acceptance, the study found.

"Countries in Northwestern Europe are the most accepting, followed by the following clusters of countries: Australia/Canada/New Zealand/United States, Southern European countries, Latin American countries, former Soviet Union/Eastern & Central Europe, Asian countries, African countries, and majority Muslim countries," the study found.

Overall, the surveys the study examined "show a consistent shift toward greater acceptance of homosexuality and gay rights, but the magnitude of the shifts and how widespread they are varies considerably," the report found.

Elsewhere in LGBT-related news:

- A key U.S. Food and Drug Administration panel has begun considering whether to lift a long-standing ban against accepting blood donations from gay men.

- Members of the United Nations Committee Against Torture questioned U.S. State Department officials this week on why 48 U.S. states still allow medical treatment aimed at turning gay youth straight. This is an issue familiar in Maryland, where some local legislators have been seeking ways to ban such therapies against the protests of at least one local practitioner.

- U.S. Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, one of the conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, provided some criticism of how the nation's top court has handled the same-sex marriage issue.

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