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, November 24, 2010

Memphis City Council fails to provide LGBT-inclusive workplace protections for city employees

The Memphis City Council welcomes visitors to its home page with these words: 
Our Fellow Memphians: This is an exciting time to be a Memphian. Our city is on the move. Building on our heritage, working together, we've made great strides in recent years. From Downtown to Midtown to East Memphis, from Frayser to Whitehaven, Memphians share a pride in our past and a faith in our future.
The above words ring hollow after last night’s second reading of the Employment Non-Discrimination Ordinance (See Item #7 in this video). The ENDO fell one vote short of the seven needed due to the withdrawal of support from Chairman Harold Collins.

The ENDO appeared as the only item in the Council’s Consent Agenda for second reading. The vote occurred as follows:

Yes: Halbert, Strickland, Ford, Lowery, Fullilove, and Flinn.
No: Boyd, Conrad, Hedgepeth
Abstained: None
No vote recorded: Brown, Collins, Morrison
Suspended: Swearengen Ware

Chairman Harold Collins
 Collins’ reversal ensured that the ENDO cannot return to the council’s agenda for six months. Council Chairman Collins and Councilors Boyd, Conrad, Hedgepeth, Brown, Collins, and Morrison have essentially voted that discrimination against City employees based on SOGIE should remain legal in Memphis. They reached this conclusion before a Council-authorized study of discrimination in city employment based on SOGIE had even begun.

The media and other organizations often saddle Memphis with poor ratings for quality of life and business friendly environment indices. Forbes Magazine ranked Memphis #3 on its “America’s Most Miserable Cities” index. Just hours before the ENDO vote, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research ranked Memphis last among the state's 50 largest communities in a list of business-friendly cities. Rather than stem the tide of bad news, the Memphis City Council added yet another heavy yoke to the shoulders of Memphis.

Our City Government has made it official: inequality in the workplace is acceptable and legal. This message will resonate outside City Hall. The decision will affect employee recruitment and retention in City Hall and private businesses in Memphis. Who wants to live in a community that does not value diversity in its workforce and community?

Despite yesterday’s vote, the City of Memphis Department of Human Resources will complete a study of discrimination in employment in every division of the city to include mistreatment based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression (SOGIE). If the study is fairly designed and implemented, the results will shed light on the problem that many of our City Council members have chosen to ignore. How will they respond to internal employee data that demonstrates LGBT discrimination? We’ll have to wait at least 6 months to find out.

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, I am particularly grateful to everyone who wrote letters and emails, made phone calls, attended hearings, marched for equality, donated to the cause, and recruited more advocates in support of the ENDO.

I also encourage everyone to take a moment to give thanks for the equality advocates on the Memphis City Council who supported equality without fail: Janis Fullilove, Shea Flinn, Wanda Halbert, Jim Strickland, Edmund Ford, Jr., and Myron Lowery. Send them a message at this link.

It’s also appropriate to tell the remaining members of the Memphis City Council that you will remember their failure to support equality in Memphis.

The next six months will not be a vacation from equality activism in Memphis. In addition to ensuring that the city's discrimination study is conducted fairly, TEP (and TEP PAC) will be laying the groundwork to ensure that the Memphis City Council represents the mainstream values of equality that most cities our size already demonstrate. As we prepare, be ready to contribute your time, talent and treasure to advance equality in the political and electoral process. We must support equality advocates in our government and in next year's city government elections.

-Jonathan Cole, TEP Board Chair

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