Numbers, ratings, and data are important. They influence our decisions of where to eat, what movie to see, and even where to live. That’s why I was disappointed to learn that Hagerstown had the lowest rating of ten Maryland cities included in the Human Rights Campaign’s 2018 Municipal Equality Index. HRC rates cities on a scale of 0-100, and Hagerstown received a 32. In comparison, nearby Frederick had a perfect score of 100. What’s more, we dropped six points from last year. Ouch.
If you’re thinking, “Well, it’s Hagerstown, you can’t be that surprised,” you’ve already demonstrated why this is a huge problem. A few months ago, Baltimore magazine published an article about Hagerstown, questioning if we would be able to sustain ourselves as the heroin and opioid epidemic sweeps the nation and our city. It correctly pointed out that our local economy is struggling, and we have the appearance of a backwards town that hasn’t been able to keep up with the times. As such, it’s that much more difficult to attract outside businesses and investors, both of which bring badly needed jobs to the area.
What Hagerstown has is an image problem. City officials are well aware of this and have been working tirelessly for years to address it. We’re making efforts to revitalize downtown, to build and strengthen our arts community, to support and promote diversity on every level, and we’re finally seeing progress. We’re not doing the work just to change our image, but because it’s what’s necessary for us to sustain ourselves and the people who call Washington County home: people who deserve a safe, diverse, thriving community that will give them the best quality of life possible.
I’m disappointed by our low Municipal Equality rating not just because it sends the wrong message about the safety and welfare of our local LGBTQ community, but because it sends the wrong message about Hagerstown and Washington County as a whole. This rating (which we know is not accurate – see my other article for details) is a setback for everyone. It threatens to undo all the progress we’ve made and halt further advancements.
In my mind, this rating reinforces the negative image we’ve been slowly changing for years and creates another hurdle for Hagerstown to overcome. It is now going to be much more difficult to bring new life to Hagerstown. When businesses, investors, and homebuyers look at the data to assess the diversity, safety, and overall wellness of Hagerstown, they will see that we’re ranked dead last in LGBTQ inclusivity and that we dropped six points from last year. What will they think? I imagine they’ll see us as a backwards town that is losing, not gaining, progress. I can’t blame them if they want to take their money elsewhere.
I also believe that the LGBTQ community has a unique opportunity to help Hagerstown. The very fact that we have Hagerstown Hopes, an LGBTQ nonprofit with our own community center, is a win for the city. It shows that Hagerstown is embracing progress and catching up with the rest of the world. I only wish our rating reflected the progress we and the city have made to be as inclusive and welcoming as possible.
Hagerstown Hopes has already taken action to address our HRC Municipal Equality Rating next year because we care about our community and we care about Hagerstown. When we raise our score, we will change Hagerstown’s image. We will give the city what it needs to survive.
We’ve been blessed with such support from the Hagerstown community and, though I wish the circumstances were different, I’m glad that we have the opportunity to return the favor. Hang in there, Hagerstown. We’ve got this.
- Brian George Hose has been an advocate for LGBTQ persons and issues all his adult life. He holds a Bachelor of Social Work from Shepherd University and looks forward to pursuing a Master's of Social Work with a focus in mental health. A former musician, Brian served as minister of music for New Light MCC for several years and incorporates music into social work practice. He lives in rural Western Maryland where he has amassed a sinful number of books, yarn, and books about yarn. He has been writing for Baltimore Out Loud since February 2016.