Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Truly Real? Questions about discrimination and the force of the Shelby resolution

The critics of the Shelby County non-discrimination resolution continue to moan and quibble. First, some are saying that Shelby County doesn't have a discrimination problem, according to the Commercial Appeal. Here's a typical example of the sentiment:

Constance Houston, 54, one of dozens of citizens who spoke at the County Commission meeting on Monday, said she's against homosexuality on religious grounds but doubted gays are discriminated against.

"There's no discrimination here in Memphis. None, whatsoever," said Houston. She added that workers should keep their sexuality to themselves on the job. "Keep whatever you do in your bedroom," she said.

Darn those exhibitionist gays, always getting it on at work! People who say there is no need for workplace protections always end up making the case for them with their wild fantasies. The article goes on to cite a study from the Williams Institute at UCLA and the work of a University of Memphis psychologist on discrimination confirming workplace discrimination against the GLBT community.

And then there's the question of whether the resolution can really do anything about discrimination. I've had some questions about whether a resolution has force, so I'll just cite the Commercial Appeal again on this point:

The resolution that passed on Monday doesn't include the words "gay" or "lesbian," but the records of the legislation make it clear that this was the context, and the measure could help county workers fired on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity to win back their jobs in civil service hearings or appeals to Chancery Court, county attorney Brian Kuhn said.

Let me add some background on that question. When it became clear in the Commission's General Government Committee meeting that we might not be able to get the votes for the full ordinance, we discussed the option of the resolution in the course of the lobbying effort. During that process, we also discussed the option of commissioners reading into the record some of the non-merit factors to be included so that we could establish that the legislative intent of the resolution was to cover sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. If there were no possibility of enforcement, we would not have supported the resolution. But the resolution gave the opportunity for enhanced protection with a clear majority of the votes. It does what we need it to do, even though it's the minimal method for doing so. If it were a nonbinding resolution, it would have been described as such at the Commission meeting and in the press and there would have been very little cheering in the Shelby County GLBT community. But it has the force of policy.

Update: If you still have lingering doubts about the force of the resolution, please, read yesterday's discussion in the Memphis Flyer. Whether you buy it or not, it was this understanding that provided the basis for our approach and it's the reason we agreed to it.

No comments: