Many of you have heard about the termination of Lisa Howe, Belmont University's women's soccer coach. Some reports say she resigned, others that she was fired after she revealed to university officials that she and her partner are going to have a child. Students at Belmont, including members of the women's soccer team, have stated publicly that Coach Howe was asked to resign or fired. Adding to the confusion, Belmont's own statements on the matter have changed in light of the public outcry.
As the law stands, Belmont has the right to take any of these actions. But having the legal right to do something doesn't make it right or prudent. Belmont's actions are embarrassing for Tennessee. They do not express a true commitment to diversity and they fall short of the marks of an institution of higher learning. Discrimination shows a reckless disregard for the lives of those it affects. It is particularly cruel and repugnant to terminate a talented, winning coach who has earned the loyalty of her players when she is about to start a family at a time when jobs are scarce.
Therefore, we call on the Belmont University board of trustees to reconsider these actions and to amend their policies to protect staff, faculty, and students from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
This incident is also a painful reminder that the Tennessee Human Rights Act lacks protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons. The people of our state need to begin a serious dialogue about amending the Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Many leading employers in Tennessee have already added these protections to their policies including the following: the University of Tennessee, Vanderbilt University, the Tennessee Board of Regents schools, Metro Nashville Public Schools, the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Volkswagen, AT&T, Bank of America, SunTrust, Dell, OfficeMax, FedEx, Caterpillar, UPS, etc.
Tennessee can only move forward when we truly value the merit and talent of our workforce. That won't happen until employees can work without fearing discrimination and that includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.