Stuck in the middle with you

By SHAY STEWART-BOULEY  |  February 2, 2011

The middle isn't such a bad place to be much of the time — perhaps it's even the best place to be most of the time. The middle child gets the benefit of not being burdened with anxious second-guessing and overcompensation by parents new to their roles, while not getting such a hands-off approach from the folks that he or she feels slighted. The vast majority of us aspire to remain in, or enter, the middle class. And if you're being hunted by a ravenous alien beast or some zombies, the folks at the front or back of the group are most likely to be picked off first, giving you a chance to run.

Maine, my friends, is stuck right in the middle of a ranking of the most diversity-tolerant states.

I'm proud of you, my adopted homeland.

Honest. No snark. No sarcasm. No teasing.

Sure, I've poked fun at Maine many a time in this column, and usually out of love (though sometimes frustration, too), but I'm serious.

In honor of the recent celebration of Martin Luther King Day, the irreverent news and commentary website the Daily Beast decided to rank all 50 states in terms of their tolerance to various groups that aren't the "norm" to which most Americans are accustomed.

Using a point system designed to measure each state's residents based on actions and opinions, and the scope of state laws guaranteeing equal rights and protections (which reflects the broader political will, as the Daily Beast notes), the determination is that Maine comes in at number 27. Not surprisingly, Hawaii and California ranked high for diversity tolerance, though I was surprised that Wisconsin, Maryland, and Pennsylvania beat them — and Illinois was also in the top four. So I'm proud of that last state, too, since I was born, raised, and forged in Chicago.

A little surprised, too, since I still think Chicago is one of the most segregated places around, whether by subconscious choices or by design, and I know many downstate Illinois locales are less than friendly to people of difference.

But I digress, as I so often do.

For each state, the folks at the Daily Beast considered the number of hate crimes recorded by the FBI, extent of hate-crime statutes, complaints of discrimination filed through the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, extent of fair-housing and fair-workplace laws, percentage of residents that support same-sex marriage, scope of legal rights for same-sex couples, and percentage of residents who are accepting of various religions. They also used resources from the Anti-Defamation League to measure the scope of hate-crime statutes.

Each state was given a score out of 100 points, with top-dog Wisconsin getting 77 points (OK, I know that would be a C-grade in standard academic rankings, but hey, the United States has a lot of excess baggage, so I'm still impressed at that; bottom-spot resident Wyoming only scored 32). Ties were broken based on hate-crime statistics, so that if the total points matched, the state with fewer hate crimes in the previous year ranked higher.

Maine was almost precisely between Wisconsin and Wyoming with a score of 55, and that makes me feel pretty good about people here, whom I've often said I find pretty tolerant once they get to talking to you.

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