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.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The unfinished business of equality in the Bluff City - Part 2

Members of the Memphis City Council in 2011
In Part 1 of this blog series, I briefly reviewed the workplace equality legislation on the Memphis City Council's agenda in 2010 and the restrictions imposed by the Tennessee General Assembly on local governments in the form of the Special Access to Discriminate Act. In Part 2 we'll explore who on the Memphis City Council and in the Mayor's office stayed true to their pledge to support LGBT-inclusive workplace protections in the City of Memphis and where we can find votes for equality on the Memphis City Council in the next term. Let's remember where we've been before moving forward with this year's election.

In his 2007 TEP PAC Survey, District 1 Councilman Bill Morrison expressed support for an LGBT-inclusive employment non-discrimination ordinance.  But in 2010, Morrison failed to follow through on his pledge. When the Memphis City Council first attempted to enact the ENDO in the summer of 2010, Morrison tried to substitute weaker legislation that provided no specific protections for LGBT employees. In the fall of 2010, Morrison abstained on the first reading and voted against the ENDO on second reading. Morrison's 2007 campaign for City Council benefited from the support of many LGBT advocates who believed in him. He will likely gain little traction among LGBT voters and their allies in 2011.

Councilman Bill Boyd of District 2 has never sought the endorsement of TEP PAC. Boyd was one of the most vocal opponents of the ENDO in 2010 - voting no on first and second reading in the fall of that year. He spoke disparagingly about LGBT people and their families when interviewed by the Commercial Appeal last summer saying "I'm opposed to anything that would advance the notion of people with that lifestyle."

Councilman Harold Collins of District 3 did not seek the endorsement of TEP PAC in 2007. Collins served as Chairman of the Memphis City Council when the ENDO was introduced in the summer and fall of 2010. In the fall, Collins voted in favor of the ENDO on first reading. However, he withdrew his support on second reading. Collins has no opponent in 2011. His constituents will play a key part in persuading him to vote for equality in his second term. No surveys from TEP PAC were sent to candidates running for re-election without opposition in 2011.

Councilwoman Wanda Halbert of District 4 won the endorsement of TEP PAC in 2007. When the ENDO was introduced in the summer and fall of 2010, she voted in favor of the legislation at every opportunity. Her pledge and her votes are consistent.

Councilman Jim Strickland of District 5 won the endorsement of TEP PAC in 2007. Strickland served as Chair of the Personnel and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee when the ENDO was introduced in the summer and fall of 2010. He voted in favor of the legislation at every opportunity. Strickland faces no opposition to re-election in 2011.

Councilman Edmund Ford, Jr. of District 6 did not seek the endorsement of TEP PAC in 2007, but Ford consistently voted in favor of the ENDO at every opportunity in 2010.

Former Councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware of District 7 did not seek any support from the LGBT community in her 2007 campaign for Memphis City Council. Ware was a vocal opponent of the ENDO in the summer of 2010. She took the extraordinary step of requesting that the Memphis City Council vote on the ENDO separately from the Consent Agenda on first reading in an attempt to defeat the legislation. Ware was indicted and suspended before the ENDO was introduced in October of 2010. Ware resigned her seat in the Spring of 2011 and the Council appointed Berlin Boyd to finish the current term in District 7. LGBT advocates who want to see an equality advocate elected in District 7 will pay close attention to the candidate's positions in this race.

Councilman Joe Brown of Superdistrict 8, Position 1 has never sought support from TEP PAC or the LGBT community in previous City Council elections. Brown did not say much about the ENDO when proposed in the summer and fall of 2010, but he voted against it at every opportunity.

Councilwoman Janis Fullilove of Superdistrict 8, Position 2 won TEP PAC's endorsement for City Council in 2007. Fullilove has passionately fought for LGBT-inclusive workplace protections as a sponsor of the employment non-discrimination ordinance in the summer of 2007. Fullilove endured death threats and vandals leaving a dead cat on the doorstep of her home when the legislation was introduced - proving that straight allies can become victims of hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Fullilove talks the talk and walks the walk on LGBT equality.

Councilman Myron Lowery of Superdistrict 8, Position 3 won TEP PAC's endorsement for City Council in 2007. At every opportunity in 2010, Lowery voted in favor of the ENDO while serving on the Memphis City Council. Lowery faces no opposition in the 2011 election.

Councilman Kemp Conrad of Superdistrict 9, Position 1 did not ask for TEP PAC's endorsement in his 2008 special election. When the ENDO was introduced in the summer of 2010, Conrad worked with Councilman Morrison to substitute a weaker ordinance with no protections for LGBT employees. Conrad consistently voted against the ENDO in the summer and fall of 2010. He was the only council member to vote against a resolution to study discrimination against LGBT employees in City government.

Councilman Shea Flinn of Superdistrict 9, Position 2 won TEP PAC's endorsement when he was elected to the Memphis City Council in 2007. While Flinn did not support an employment non-discrimination resolution affecting private employers, he has consistently voted in favor of protecting employees of the City of Memphis from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Flinn sponsored the second version of the ENDO introduced in the fall of 2010.

Councilman Reid Hedgepeth of Superdistrict 9, Position 3 did not seek TEP PAC support in his 2007 election to the Memphis City Council. Hedgepeth was absent on the first reading of the ENDO in the fall of 2010, but voted against the legislation on second reading. Hedgepeth faces no opponent in his re-election to the council in 2011.

This post would not be complete without some discussion of Memphis Mayor AC Wharton. When he served as Mayor of Shelby County, Wharton pledged support for Commissioner Steve Mulroy's employment non-discrimination ordinance. When he ran for Mayor of Memphis, Wharton stated in a debate that he would support similar protections for Memphis. When the legislation was first introduced to the Memphis City Council in the summer of 2010, Wharton's administration suddenly adopted a neutral stance on the issue. After TEP worked for weeks with Wharton's City Attorney office on legislation he could support, the Mayor abandoned his position. He issued a statement that read:
I have stated that I believe governments should focus on merit and merit alone in their hiring and purchasing policies. My beliefs or views on the subject have been clear and consistent throughout my entire life. I will not permit them to be mischaracterized by any group, individual or elected body who seek a convenient excuse to avoid the issue now that it is at hand.
Wharton also told the Council that he would support any version of the legislation the body was willing to enact. Translated, he would support legislation that did not contain any explicit protections for LGBT employees. While Wharton is not an entrenched opponent of equality, his neutrality disappointed LGBT advocates in the Bluff City. Since that time, Mayor Wharton responded attentively to the recent incident involving allegations of  harassment of Kiare Newsom by Memphis Police. Wharton attended a meeting with members of Tennessee Equality Project, Police Director Toney Armstrong and his staff and offered approaches to ensure the safety of transgender members of the community. For its size, Memphis falls behind many other cities in the United States that already protect LGBT citizens from discrimination and harassment. Mayor Wharton could do more to bring Memphis into the 21st Century.

- Jonathan Cole

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