Momentum for an employment non-discrimination ordinance which includes age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression is building in Memphis but with a gripe or two. In today's WMCTV5 coverage of the campaign to add LGBT-inclusive workplace protections to the non-discrimination ordinance sponsored by Councilman Lee Harris, Councilman Harold Collins objected to the addition of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression:
"At the last minute to try to add something new and different in the ordinance is unfair," said Collins. The last time the vote failed, equality groups marched to City Hall. Collins explained why he voted against adding sexual orientation back then. "The City of Memphis already has a non-discrimination policy," he said. Cole reiterates the ordinance is not whole without adding the extra language. If Cole's amendment is introduced, Collins said it should go through three new readings because it changes the scope of the ordinance.Collins' statement that "the City of Memphis already has a non-discrimination policy" glosses over the fact that the city's non-discrimination policy does not include sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. The City of Memphis employment policy and non-discrimination ordinance offer no legal protections for LGBT employees or job applicants.
Councilman's Collins' call for three new readings on an LGBT-inclusive ordinance may be rooted in a concern for his peers having sufficient time to consider all possible non-merit factors. But in November of 2010, Collins withdrew his support for an LGBT-inclusive ordinance when it appeared for second reading on the council's consent agenda. The Memphis City Council rarely votes an ordinance to defeat when it appears in a consent agenda. The consent agenda contains multiple ordinances on first and second reading and are typically advanced to the next reading without debate. Substantive debate on ordinances is usually delayed until the third reading when the public offers input and Council members vote their conscience. Collins withdrew his support on second reading in 2010 when few members of the public were present to offer input and the inclusive ordinance was the only item in the consent agenda.
Based on Collins' previous vote, it appears he has no interest in supporting an LGBT-inclusive ordinance. Memphis has waited long enough to resolve the equality gap that exists in municipal law and policy. In the two years since the council voted on an LGBT-inclusive ordinance, there has been ample time to reflect. We commend Councilman Collins on his concern for fairness - a primary concern for LGBT people too.
LGBT people and their heterosexual coworkers consistently report experiencing or witnessing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace nationally and in Tennessee. Discrimination based on these factors must be addressed by the City of Memphis. The City of Memphis lags behind most Fortune 500 companies which already offer LGBT-inclusive workplace protections. Representatives of the NAACP, AFSME, the Memphis Police Association, the Memphis Fire Department, IBEW, ADAPT, Midsouth Peace and Justice Center, the Shelby County Democratic Party, Planned Parenthood of the Greater Memphis Region, Tennessee Equality Project, and the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center support an inclusive non-discrimination ordinance for Memphis.
The Memphis City Council should adopt an LGBT-inclusive employment non-discrimination ordinance on Sep. 18 without further delay.
- Jonathan Cole