Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

How Does Wisconsin Rank in LGBT Friendliness?

Our two biggest cities and many top companies rank high in studies, but state schools rank low, as does Kohl’s Corp.

By - Nov 20th, 2014 11:42 am
Kohl's. Photo by Mike Mozart.

Kohl’s. Photo by Mike Mozart.

The quickest revolution of my lifetime has been the change in attitudes regarding gay rights. In just a decade or so, America has basically gone from no same sex marriage allowed to 33 states where it’s now legal. I’ve always thought of Wisconsin as a socially conservative (and economically liberal) state, but three new studies suggest the state is more friendly to gay and alternative lifestyles than you might think.

The 2014 Municipal Equality Index, which bills itself as the only nationwide rating system of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) inclusion in municipal law and policy, recently released a study which shows “cities across the country… continue to take the lead in supporting LGBT people and workers, even when states and the federal government have not.”

The study ranked 353 cities, including the 50 state capitals, the 200 most populous cities in the country and the four largest cities in every state, ranking them on a 100-point scale. The average score nationally was 59 while it was 70 for the Midwest, but the average for the four cities studied in Wisconsin was 76. Madison got a 100, Milwaukee 91, Kenosha 58 and Green Bay 54.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, which partnered with the Equality Federation Institute on the study, noted the leadership of Wisconsin’s two biggest cities: “Cities like Madison, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and New Hope had already been providing inclusive non-discrimination protections for decades by the time marriage equality reached Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.”

The study rated cities based on 47 criteria in six broad categories, including whether there are non-discrimination laws, LGBT-friendly municipal employment policies, inclusive city services and municipal leadership on matters of equality.

Change is happening pretty quickly in cities, Griffin noted: “In just three years, the number of municipalities earning top marks for their treatment of LGBT citizens has more than tripled.”

These changes are occurring across the country, the study stressed, but its regional averages for city rankings told a somewhat different story. The scores for cities averaged 71 in the West and 70 in Midwest, but just 43 in Great Plains states, 35 in the southeast and 31 in the southeast.

Progress seems to be coming much more slowly in the nation’s schools, judging by a new study by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network: its biennial National School Climate Survey has been done since 1999 and the latest offers four major findings: “schools nationwide are hostile environments for a distressing number of LGBT students; a hostile school climate affects students’ academic success and mental health; students with LGBT-related resources and supports report better school experiences and academic success; and school climate for LGBT students has improved somewhat over the years, but remains quite hostile for many.”

Its analysis of Wisconsin schools suggest they are probably somewhat worse than the average nationally:

-The majority of LGBT students experienced verbal harassment: eight in 10 based on their sexual orientation (compared to 74 percent nationally) and nearly six in 10 based on the way they expressed their gender (55 percent nationally)

-Nearly four in 10 were physically harassed based on their sexual orientation (compared to 36 percent nationally), and more than one in 10 were physically assaulted (compared to 17 percent nationally) based on the way they expressed their gender.

-Only 19 percent were taught positive representations of LGBT people, history and events (19 percent nationally) and less than half could access information about LGBT communities on the school’s Internet.

Not a pretty story. “Our research tells us that policymakers and education leaders in Wisconsin must do more to create safer and more affirming schools for LGBT students,” said Dr. Joseph G. Kosciw, GLSEN’s Chief Research & Strategy Officer. “Training and empowering educators to create supportive environments, supporting Gay-Straight Alliances and increasing access to accurate and positive information about LGBT people, history and events and inclusive policies all can improve school climate for all students in Wisconsin.”

The payoff from changing policies would make life less tough for LGBT students, but would also hike student achievement. LGBT students who experience victimization have grade point averages that were between nine and 15 percent lower than for other students, the study found.

2015 Corporate Equality Index

Employer Name

2015 CEI Rating

Foley & Lardner LLP


Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance


Quarles & Brady LLP


Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated


Rockwell Automation Inc.


S.C. Johnson & Son Inc.


Alliant Energy Corp.


American Family Insurance Group




Michael Best & Friedrich LLP


CUNA Mutual Insurance Group


Johnson Controls Inc.


Wisconsin Energy Corp.


Kohl’s Corp.




In contrast to what’s happening in the schools, American corporations are leading the way in changing LGBT policies, to judge by a new report, the 2015 Corporate Equality Index, done by the HRC, which partnered in doing the Municipal Equality Index.

“When it comes to LGBT equality, Corporate America is a leader, not a follower,” said HRC President Griffin. “At every turn, from advocating for marriage equality to providing vital support for transgender employees, this country’s leading companies have asked, ‘what more can we do?,’ and they’ve worked tirelessly to achieve new progress. That kind of leadership changes countless lives around this country, and sets an important example to other companies around the globe.”

The HRC has been doing this study for 13 years and it has documented massive change in the corporate sector. The report, which ranks corporations on a 0 to 100 percent score, this year gave a 100 percent score to 366 of 781 companies ranked. That compares to just 189 companies getting a 100 percent score two years ago, and just 13 companies getting a 100 percent score on its first report in 2002.

Each year, the report has found continued progress: This year’s report found 89 percent of companies studied now cover gender identity in their non-discrimination policies, up from 86 percent last year; and 66 percent of all Fortune 500 companies have gender identity protections, up from 61 percent last year.

Wisconsin companies have been part of that progress. Those receiving a 100 percent score included the city’s two top law firms, Foley and Lardner and Quarles & Brady, along with Northwestern Mutual Life, Robert W. Baird & Co. and Rockwell Automation. By far the lowest score, 15 percent, was received by Kohl’s Corp., which never responded to my requests for comment.

How low did Kohl’s rank?: lower than the vast majority of 781 companies ranked and third lowest of 80 retail companies ranked. (24 of those retail companies got a 100 percent rating.) Considering how the company has been transitioning to one offering more stylish and cool clothes by name-brand designers like Jennifer Lopez, Vera Wang and Peter Som, it seems a strange contradiction to have LGBT policies that are so un-hip.

Indeed, it’s pretty clear that companies like Kohl’s are being quickly left behind by corporate America. These rankings by LGBT advocacy organizations are likely to help push companies, local governments and schools to continue changing. It’s quite a revolution for America and for Wisconsin.

Categories: Business, Murphy's Law

9 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: How Does Wisconsin Rank in LGBT Friendliness?”

  1. PMD says:

    Just yesterday I was reading that the National Organization for Marriage has a huge debt and donations are way down. Hardly surprising.

    On a local level, what’s really sad is how many LGBT teens are homeless on any given night. Hundreds. And many are kicked out of shelters (after being kicked out of their home), which openly discriminate despite not being allowed to by federal law (if they accept federal dollars, which many do).

  2. Gary Rebholz says:

    “… said HRC President Griffin. “At every turn, from advocating for marriage equality to providing vital support for transgender employees, this country’s leading companies have asked, ‘what more can we do? …”

    It all comes down to employees of the corporation, doesn’t it?
    Monitoring for LBGT discrimination should be implemented as for any other. But things have certainly changed: in the early 1990s I volunteered to participate in a diversity workshop as a gay man only to find that the facilitators weren’t informed as such: “Gay” wasn’t part of the syllabus they had prepared, but they covered by asking me to “bring your own materials”. I’m sure that would not occur today – and likely not even at a Catholic institution. Other religious corporations would be another matter.

    Corporations also have to consider who they are associated with: the Milwaukee Public Library hosts the Milwaukee County Genealogical Society who conduct classes on family research there. In a class focused on local newspaper research, an instructor described me to her class in an anti-gay, slanderous and defamatory manner. (But she has an axe to grind, so was likely just being personally vindictive in an anti-gay manner. Does that matter?)

  3. Jeff says:

    It’s no surprise that a company which flirted with moving downtown but opted to stay in an overwhelmingly white, traditional family-oriented suburb is averse to diversity.

  4. Gary Rebholz says:

    Did you know …?

    While anti-gay legislation passed in Arizona until business owners took a stance which helped to bring about a veto, Milwaukee library and research collections were canvassed by conservative patrons who requested access during staff hours when the institutions were closed to the public. They wanted to conduct their research in a segregated setting.

  5. Kyle says:

    Gary, the link you provided only addresses the legislation in Arizona. Do you have any evidence to back up your claim that conservatives in Milwaukee want special library hours?

  6. Gary Rebholz says:

    Kyle, the intention of linking that horrific Arizona story was to connect my post with the corporation/business topic of this thread.
    My references were made in the past tense, but the activity that I am personally aware of took place this past summer 2014 while I was at a local library just minding my own business. I brought up the subject with a library professional in the week that the Arizona legislation hit the news and that person confirmed that they new of that activity at their own institution. I’ve observed similar strange occurrences at another library based at a religious institution – practices to accommodate patrons outside of their community without precedence or logic.

    PMD’s post about local shelters, many probably open with Wisconsin Corporate funding, refusing to house LGTB teens has the odeur of conservative religious segregation, but PMD left out the “R” word in their post. (Should we ask for citations?)

    I have a vague but nagging memory … sometime early in Walker’s first year or so … a Wisconsin Republican Senate or Assembly member floating the idea of repealing … or maybe changing? … Wisconsin’s anti-discrimination code to benefit the “hiring community”? That definitely has a connection to this thread.

  7. PMD says:

    I worked for Equality Wisconsin (which later merged with Fair Wisconsin) last year. One of the major projects another employee was working on was a homeless LGBT teen initiative. He had identified a significant number of local homeless shelters that received federal funding and violated the law by refusing to allow LGBT teens into the shelter specifically because of their sexual orientation. He never shared a list with me so I can’t provide shelter names. Sorry.

  8. PMD says:

    I’m sorry I meant LGTB.

  9. Roni sanchez says:

    I’m thinking of moving with my sister who lives there naw Wisconsin and my partner are wondering is it a safe place to live for a LGBT family ..raise are two sons…if u can give me Info. Please thank you…God bless u..

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