Signal Hill fights its bad grade from major gay-rights organization

<strong>At the May 22, 2012 dedication ceremony for Long Beach’s Harvey Milk Park, 1st District Councilmember Robert Garcia (third from left) honors Signal Hill Councilmember Michael Noll (fifth from left) as a pioneer in the local LGBT community. Noll was Signal Hill’s first openly gay councilmember. Garcia also saluted Signal Hill Councilmember Ellen Ward that day for her work as executive director of the local AIDS Walk. Noll, Ward and Larry Forester are all openly gay Signal Hill councilmembers who are upset by the Human Rights Campaign’s recent low score of their city for addressing LGBT issues.</strong>
CJ Dablo
Staff Writer

Signal Hill leaders Tuesday stood united in their conviction that a national gay-rights organization has it all wrong about Signal Hill’s reputation with the gay community.
The Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights organization, offered a very low grade to Signal Hill for its municipal leadership in LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) issues. The organization released a report late November that ranked 137 cities throughout the U.S. Human Rights Campaign’s so-called Municipal Equality Index ranked cities on various categories that include municipal policies on non-discrimination, city services and employment practices.
Signal Hill scored 58 out of a possible 100. The score upset City officials, especially since three out of the five sitting members of the Signal Hill Council are openly gay and have championed LGBT issues for many years.
By stark contrast, Long Beach scored a perfect score of 100. Signal Hill, a 2.2-square mile city with a population of more than 11,000 people, is entirely surrounded by Long Beach. That larger city, by contrast, boasts a population of about 465,000 and spans over 50 square miles, according to the latest estimated U. S. Census Bureau figures.
“I was very disappointed in our score because I think we are closer to Long Beach,” Vice Mayor Michael Noll said in an interview Tuesday.
Noll said that for many years he had served on the board of directors for The Center in Long Beach, which offers a broad range of programs to the community including health services, HIV testing, legal clinics, and support services. Councilmember Ellen Ward served as the executive director for AIDS Walk Long Beach for several years.
“They have been absolute leaders. I have followed their model,” Councilmember Larry Forester said of his peers, Noll and Ward, in an interview Tuesday night. He was quick to recognize his fellow council members for their advocacy on behalf of the LGBT community, but Forester himself has also been an active supporter of causes and programs for people living with HIV and AIDS.
Forester shared Noll’s disappointment.
“It means all of the hard effort that we have done was not for naught– because our citizens know it– but the [general] public doesn’t. We have created a wonderful, diverse city here where all people are welcome,” Forester said, adding that the low score on Signal Hill was sent to the entire country.
The councilmember explained that it was important to address the issue with the Human Rights Campaign because it is a national organization for the LGBT community.
The Human Rights Campaign says that it has 1.5 million members and supporters throughout the nation and claims on its website to be the largest civil-rights organization working for equal rights for the LGBT community.
The city staff had been directed to respond to the Human Rights Campaign’s assessment. Deputy City Manager Charlie Honeycutt said the Human Rights Campaign did not contact city staff to gather their information before they released their assessment. He said to the Council on Tuesday that the Human Rights Campaign recognized that large cities had an “advantage” over small cities.
“The index gave points if a city offered services to vulnerable populations of the LGBT community, but because of our size, you know, we don’t have resources on our own to provide services such as health services, HIV and AIDS testing, and medical care,” Honeycutt said in his Tuesday report to the Council. “However, the City does provide these services to the community through our partnership with the Los Angeles County Department of Health. However…we have received no credit for providing those types of programs.”
Honeycutt also talked about how the City offers medical, vision and dental benefits to dependents of LGBT employees because it is a member of CalPERS (California Public Employees’ Retirement System). He clarified in a follow-up interview that these benefits are also extended to spouses and domestic partners of LGBT employees. The deputy city manager said that the City sent a letter signed by all the members of the Council to the Human Rights Campaign. The letter outlined a detailed response to the organization’s rating. Honeycutt said that the organization acknowledged receipt of the letter and is considering the additional information.
See how the Human Rights Campaign scored Signal Hill and other cities on its Municipal Equality Index on .

Other City Council highlights
Counting the homeless Signal Hill will be participating in the 2013 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count on Jan. 30. Volunteers for the project, in collaboration with the city’s police department, will count the homeless population.
Police department Police Chief Michael Langston offered a presentation on the new cameras for the police cars. Later in the meeting, he discussed the police department’s plans to move into the new headquarters.
Successor Agency The due-diligence review for the former redevelopment agency’s cash and property holdings was presented to the Successor Agency. According to City Manager Ken Farfsing, approximately $8,704 is due back to LA County for disbursement to the various tax entities. The due-diligence report that detailed the former redevelopment agency’s housing assets was also discussed. The Successor Agency has already remitted $2.6 million to the County for disbursement.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 5 at 7pm in the Council Chamber.


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