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.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Anti-gay group pays top dollar to be heard, but is anyone listening?

Today's Commercial Appeal features a column written by Councilman Lee Harris about the Memphis Employment Non-Discrimination Ordinance (ENDO) he sponsored which added workplace protections for age, disability, national origin, ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

"The ordinance forces the City of Memphis to focus on talent, ability and merit. This idea is hardly controversial" writes Harris.

The councilman goes on to explain the mainstream support for the LGBT-inclusive protections in the ordinance:
But, the ordinance also generated support from all corners of our community, from the clergy to congregants, from firefighters to police officers, from gay to straight.

The NAACP supports the ordinance. Its local head nicely crystallized the issue, saying, "Every American must be allowed to contribute to society without facing unfair discrimination on account of race, sex, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. Our fight for social justice will continue until all can be protected in the work place."

Mid-South Peace and Justice Center supports the ordinance. The Shelby County Democratic Party supports the ordinance.

The ordinance received support from many city employees. AFSCME, one of the largest public unions in town, supports the ordinance. The Memphis Police Association supports the ordinance. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers supports the ordinance. This isn't the radical element of our community. The city employees, our city unions that support the ordinance are not controversial.
Memphis is in good company in adopting LGBT-inclusive workplace protections when compared to other local employers:
According to the Human Rights Campaign, many Memphians work for employers who have workplace policies in place similar to this one, including First Tennessee; State Farm; SunTrust Banks; AT&T; University of Memphis; Memphis Urban League; Federal Express; Service Master; Hilton Hotels; Harrah's Entertainment; Baker, Donelson law firm; International Paper; Medtronic; Nike; Smith & Nephew and Pinnacle Airlines.  
These companies are hardly a redoubt for fringe liberalism. These companies are not the controversial type.
Despite the broad support for Councilman Harris's ordinance, anti-LGBT opponents of the ordinance are still grumbling that all City of Memphis workers will be treated with fairness and dignity. They are not going away quietly. They continue to believe that workers who want to earn a living, provide for their families and contribute to their community is a radical notion that contradicts G_d and nature. They will say anything to get that point across, and they are willing to pay any price to say it.

An anonymous organization named "Memphis City Churches" placed a full-page advertisement on page A10 in same edition of today's Commercial Appeal. Click here to see the full ad

Memphis City Churches must have paid around $4000* to place this ad in Sunday's newspaper. In fact, I recall them placing anti-gay ads in the Commercial Appeal several times over the years - usually during election season. I remember seeing them in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010.  That's at least $20,000 over 8 years. What a waste!

While the content of today's ad is deeply offensive to most people, I am a firm believer in the First Amendment right to free speech. I used to worry such speech might persuade those who didn't know any better. Not anymore. Most of the ads contain the same content each year. The group regurgitates Scripture onto the page to justify bias and prejudice and cites "prominent authors" without names or recognizable authority of public policy. This brand of patriarchy, misogyny, homophobia and heterosexism is losing its appeal. The 9 to 4 vote of the Memphis City Council approving the LGBT-inclusive workplace ordinance is the latest demonstration of where the mainstream is on this issue.

I don't worry about these ads anymore because they offend the common mainstream values that most people share: inclusion, fairness, decency, equality and diversity. The more vociferous they become, the more willing the mainstream is to accept and include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families in society.

This anonymous group is so desperate to be heard they are willing to spend thousands of dollars to reach an audience - an audience who has stopped listening to them. I predict that in coming years, the governing boards of churches and other religious organizations will re-examine the wasteful spending of tithes and church offerings on hateful advertising and actually seek to benefit their church members or those living in poverty in our city. Let's hope they become better stewards of their resources.

- Jonathan Cole

UPDATE (10/30/2012): The same full-page advertisement from Memphis City Churches appeared again in the Oct. 30, 2012 edition of the Commercial Appeal. That's $8000 spent on anti-gay ads in less than a week. Imagine what could be done with the tithes and church offerings used to pay for both ads. How would you use $8000 in Memphis?

*Previous estimates of the ad ranged from $5000 to $15,000, but a better estimate from a knowledgeable source confirmed on 10/29/12 that $3800-4000 was the actual cost range for the ad.


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Oliver said...

"Memphis City Churches" refer to the "churches of Christ" in the Memphis area. This denomination does not capitalize the "c" in "churches" in their denomination's name. They also don't like being called a denomination, but I don't care. I call them a hate group.