Evanston names LGBT liaison, receives high ranking for LGBT services

Paige Leskin, City Editor

Evanston named a city official as LGBT liaison, a new position created to help the city better provide for its LGBT community, the city announced Friday.

Mark Muenzer, Evanston’s director of community development, will be the liaison. The city’s announcement of the new position came at the same time that Evanston received the highest possible score in a ranking of city support of LGBT residents.

City manager Wally Bobkiewicz said he learned about the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Municipal Equality Index system about two years ago and asked officials to look into how the city fared in the rating.

After evaluating city services, staff found that the city’s lack of a person dedicated to serving the LGBT community was holding Evanston back from receiving a score of 100, Bobkiewicz said. With the naming of Muenzer as the point person, the city was able to reach 100 after self-submitting its numbers to the HRC.

“I think it shows in a measurable way that we’re very concerned about those issues and we want to be open and transparent in providing assistance to everyone, especially LGBT members,” Bobkiewicz said. “I think this is just one more step in an ongoing, never-ending process to make sure the city of Evanston services are accessible to everyone.”

Muenzer, who joined the city government in August 2013, will now serve as the official contact between city officials and the LGBT community. He said his added position will put him in charge of “everything LGBT-related.”

The position will involve partnership and cooperation with many different city departments, Muenzer said. He will deal with providing general guidance, as well as solving problems related to discrimination in housing and employment, he said.

“The goal here is to help gay populations from high school through the elderly,” he said. “We want to talk about the appropriateness of the role with (Evanston Township High School), with Northwestern, and then progressing from there to older adult populations.”

Ald. Mark Tendam (6th), who is gay, lauded Evanston for the support it has for the LGBT community. He called it a “destination” city, with its proximity to Chicago, which is also a strong provider for LGBT residents.

In addition to praising Muenzer for the government experience he brings to position, Tendam also named other aspects of Evanston that have shown it supports LGBT residents, including Evanston police.

The Evanston Police Department appointed its own LGBT liaison in December 2013. Sgt. Melissa Sacluti, EPD’s liaison, told The Daily in January she wanted to ensure the LGBT community was given a voice and that EPD could meet any needs that could come up.

“If there are any issues that come up, if people need help or need resources and they aren’t comfortable going certain places, they can use me as a resource and I’ll find them the resources that they need,” Sacluti said in January. “To me, it’s important that people are heard and if it means that somebody is marked as a permanent liaison, that’s important for the people that feel like they’re not being heard.”

The appointment of an LGBT police liaison is one of the many things the city can gain points for on the HRC’s MEI scorecard. For 2014, the HRC evaluated 353 cities nationwide, including seven in Illinois. Evanston was one of four cities to go through the self-submission process and receive a ranking.

Although Evanston did not go through the same assessment as other cities, the city’s data and score is just as accurate as any of the cities evaluated by the HRC, said Cathryn Oakley, who is responsible for publishing the MEI.

“Instead of us going and finding the data ourselves, we’re asking those cities to give us all of the data, so essentially to do the research for us,” Oakley said. “They’re just giving us the data so we don’t have to go and find it.”

Evanston’s score benefits from Illinois’ statewide policies on marriage equality and nondiscrimination laws. Individually, Evanston was ranked especially well in its inclusive services for city programming and law enforcement, Oakley said. 

Muenzer said his liaison position is still relatively new and is logistically still being worked out. He said he plans to reach out to LGBT liaisons in other communities and see what practices have successfully worked for them.

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