The Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) and Memphis city councilwoman Janis Fullilove have just pulled a proposed, inclusive non-discrimination ordinance, scheduled for a second reading today, from consideration. The process began smoothly, but quickly devolved on the first reading into a textbook example of why nondiscrimination ordinances are necessary in the first place. From TEP’s Jonathan Cole:
At the request of the Tennessee Equality Project Councilwoman Janis Fullilove withdrew the Employment Non-Discrimination Ordinance that would provide inclusive workplace protections for City of Memphis employees based on religion, race, national origin, ethnicity, age, sex, political affiliation, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression. The withdrawal is designed to save Memphis City Government and the larger community from becoming a national disgrace in the movement to create an inclusive community that welcomes people from diverse backgrounds.
On the first of three readings of the Employment Non-Discrimination Ordinance (ENDO) on Aug. 10, the Mayor of Memphis and the Memphis City Council made it clear that proposed legislation would not receive a fair hearing. City Attorney Herman Morris announced that Mayor AC Wharton reversed his position supporting LGBT-inclusive workplace protections. Mayor Wharton pledged his support for LGBT-inclusive workplace protections during his campaign and again when working with the Tennessee Equality Project through the City Attorney’s office to write the proposed ordinance.
Also on August 10, the Memphis City Council displayed an unexpected bias against the proposed legislation that is rarely demonstrated on other matters brought before the Council.
Cole then goes on to detail the petulant behavior of Memphis City Council members Barbara Swearengen Ware and Bill Morrison at the first reading, as well as the betrayal of Memphis mayor A. C. Wharton, who had previously supported the ordinance. Connecting the dots, Cole concludes:
Some Council members and critics claim there is no bias or discrimination in City Government against LGBT people. But the first reading of the ENDO demonstrates that anti-LGBT bias starts at the top. The LGBT community and City employees were not given the respect and consideration by the City Council normally afforded to others in our community. These preemptive measures were deployed to silence public debate and prevent a fair hearing of the legislation.
Since LGBT citizens and City employees were treated like second-class citizens by the Memphis Mayor and City Council, TEP does not believe that Memphis City Government is serious about making Memphis a real City of Choice for all job seekers, entrepreneurs and business leaders. Memphis will be considered a City of Exclusion as long as its citizens are treated with disrespect and fear. TEP looks forward to returning to the Mayor and the City Council with legislation protecting all employees from unfair discrimination when a fair hearing is possible.
The anti-gay forces in Memphis are, of course, trying to spin this as a victory for their side. Leading the opposition to the ordinance was Bellevue Baptist Church pastor Steve Gaines, who is best known for protecting a pedophile in his congregation, and who readily admits that he does not actually live in the city of Memphis. Michelle Bliss, vice chairwoman of the local chapter of the Tennessee Equality Project had this to say about the opposition’s “victory,” in an exclusive statement to Truth Wins Out:
“As some of the opposition to the Ordinance left, they were celebrating. They act like it is a victory that discrimination won out over fairness today, and they act like it is a victory that a group of hardworking, taxpaying citizens is treated like second class citizens and marginalized by the city leadership that is elected to represent all Memphians. Only in a sick, twisted mind could this be considered a victory.”
Indeed. I would also add that, for this to be happening in a city that used to be trailblazing, the city that nurtured the most pivotal elements of the Civil Rights Movement, is shameful.
Every few years, Memphis’s political leaders start trumpeting some new plan to make Memphis a “world-class city,” with pipe dreams of becoming an “aerotropolis,” or whatever buzzword is currently sending a thrill up their legs. But then, consistently, when they’re asked to perform the most rudimentary tasks they’re elected to do, such as working to ensure that Memphis not only protects all its citizens, but also has the laws and institutions in place to attract people and investment, they fail. In this case, they failed while looking like hateful, undereducated little children.
Some people just aren’t ready to be grown-ups.
The ordinance will be reintroduced at a later date.