At the first reading of the Memphis Employment Non-Discrimination Ordinance (ENDO) 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.
City ordinances on first and second reading are routinely bundled into a consent agenda that appears at the end of the regular agenda during City Council meetings. The Council reviews each item in the consent agenda and then votes to approve or disapprove all of the items in bulk. The Council waits for the third reading to debate ordinances and opens the floor for public comment from citizens for input.
But that didn't happen at the first reading. Councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware objected to the inclusion of the ENDO and threatened to vote against the entire consent agenda if it was not voted on separately.
After the ENDO was knocked out of the consent agenda, Councilman Bill Morrison took advantage of the situation to introduce a substitute ordinance that gutted the inclusive ENDO. His substitute ordinance contained no provisions protecting employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. His substitute proposed protections based on non-merit factors that are already explicitly defined in current municipal, state, and federal law.
Before the moment that Morrison introduced his substitute ordinance, no one on the Council or the public had been given an opportunity to review the ordinance. He acted in secret and broke a campaign pledge he made when he ran for office to support lgbt-inclusive workplace protections.
We were lucky that a large majority on the Council defeated the substitute ordinance and subsequently adopted the ENDO on it's first reading with seven out of thirteen votes.
Some Council members and public citizens have claimed there is no bias or discrimination in City Government against lgbt people. But the first reading of the ENDO demonstrates that the 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 debate and throw lgbt people under the bus.
The second reading of the ENDO by the City Council will take place at 3:30 pm on Tuesday, August 24 at 125 North Main Street. Memphians must hold their City Council accountable for its behavior and bias. The Council need only to look for proof of discrimination and bias of lgbt citizens on the dais they share together every other Tuesday to realize the need for LGBT-inclusive workplace protections. For the sake of our city and the high hopes of Mayor Wharton in marketing Memphis as a City of Choice for big business, job seekers and entrepreneurs, let's hope the Council will learn from its mistakes and vote to define our city as an inclusive and welcoming community.
Make plans today to attend the second reading.