In an effort to boost equality in Miami Shores, a city recognized for its high percentage of same-sex couples, the village has appointed gay Councilman Jesse Walters as LGBT liaison.
“It sends another message to our community, particularly to the gay and lesbian community, that they are valued and that we are listening to them,” Walters said. “I also think its the right thing to do.”
The new designation was unanimously approved at the village’s July 21 council meeting to help improve the its Municipal Equality Index, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) rating of municipalities’ inclusivity of LGBT people in its laws, policies and services.
A similar resolution came to the council in January, but was voted down. The second time around, Councilwoman Herta Holly, who initially voted against the resolution months ago, switched her vote to a yes. The item passed unanimously.
“To me it was a new resolution we had before us,” Holly said in an interview with the Miami Herald. “I’m all for supporting our community to be recognized.”
The village’s 61 out of a 100 municipal index score score will bump up a few points as a result.
Compared to other South Florida cities, Miami Shores ranked in the middle of the pack for how inclusive it was in 2014. Eight cities including Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Wilton Manors received higher — Wilton Manors scoring 100 and Miami Beach 118, the highest in the nation.
Miami Shores failed to accrue points in the categories of municipality as an employer and non-discrimination laws. It scored well for recognizing marriage equality; having a domestic partner registry and reporting hate crime statistics to the FBI in 2012, according to the 2014 HRC report.
To fix its less successful areas, Miami Shores will have to establish transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits and initiate city contractor equal benefits and non-discrimination ordinances, among other things.
Walters, however, said the scoring has changed. According to a recent discussion he’s had with HRC, the village’s 2015 score will perhaps be in the mid 80s. HRC did not confirm his statement.
“We could still raise it before they close out that cycle, but that’s a number I’m pretty happy with,” he said, adding that the 2014 index score was “personally embarrassing to me when we have such a large gay and lesbian community.”
Miami Shores resident Giselle Kovac called the village’s new appointment “an important resource should we ever need a liaison.”
Of the score, Kovac said: “It’s significant to raise our HRC rating as well.”
While the new job is a permanent addition for the village, Walters will only hold he position temporarily. It is likely to change in September when Village Manager Tom Benton can suggest a long-term staff person to fill the position.
“I’m sure Mr. Benton will give great thought to picking an appropriate individual,” Walters said. “But it would have to be someone gay or straight who really wants to make this work if there’s ever an issue brought before them.”
The council additionally approved bringing sensitivity training by the YES Institute for all employees into the village. Mayor Alice Burch brought the item forward after the council approved appointing Walters.
The training, Burch noted, would be underwritten by a grant from Unite Miami Shores, a community group formed in 2012 after the village council split over support for same-sex marriage.
“The intention of sensitivity training is to make people aware of how to communicate and deal with the LGBT community,” said Shores resident Dennis Leyva, who is grant committee member of Unite Miami Shores. “It’s a great way to open dialogue between city staff, residents and within the city itself for diverse community that we live in.”
The $5,000 grant, which was issued earlier this year, will cover training for all staff, including the police department and the village council.
“With this stuff behind us, we can focus on big picture stuff, like nice restaurants,” Walters said.