Last night, Memphis City Councilwoman Janis Fullilove informed me that she had received four phone calls from unknown numbers threating her life. Each death threat referenced Fullilove's sponsorship of the LGBT-inclusive employment non-discrimination legislation supported by Tennessee Equality Project. Following these calls, someone threw a dead cat in Fullilove's front yard. Memphis Police have responded with added presence at her home. Fullilove and her family are safe for the moment.
The news is troubling and proves an important point. When I spoke to the City Council's Personnel, Intergovernmental and Annexation Committee on July 20 about two city workers who had experienced discrimination in the workplace, I mentioned that these individuals could not come forward because of fear of retaliation. These stories were met with skepticism because these individuals would not publicly share their experience. One employee was fired, so why would he continue to fear retaliation?
If an elected Memphis City Council member can be threatened and intimidated with violence for having the courage to advocate as a straight ally for LGBT inclusive workplace protections, imagine what a city employee working in sanitation services, the Police Department, or the Fire Department might experience. Gender and sexual orientation bias in the community and in the workplace is real.
Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are not the only ones who suffer from homophobia and transphobia in our society. Yesterday's threats prove that such irrational sickness and ugliness affects the whole community.
This incident serves to highlight why the workplace reforms sponsored by Fullilove and supported by the vast majority of Memphians is needed. Failure to enact these reforms would send a message that violence and intimidation driven by homophobia and transphobia is acceptable in the City of Memphis.