Pro-equality advocates outnumbered opponents at the Oct. 16 meeting of the Memphis City Council when council members voted 9 to 4 in favor of an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance for city employees. One month ago, the council approved an amendment adding sexual orientation but omitted gender identity. Amid questions over a potential charter conflict, the council voted to delay action on the amended ordinance for 30 days.
The extra 30 days gave Tennessee Equality Project time to ensure that gender identity was added to the ordinance. We organized our allies and recruited a panel of transgender members of the community to talk with key swing voters on the council. We wanted to make sure that the council understood why TEP and our allies could not leave anyone behind in enacting this ordinance. I am so proud of our efforts and the nine members of the Memphis City Council for hearing our case for full inclusion.
Last Tuesday's hearing on the ordinance was an historic day for Memphis. If you missed the meeting or simply want to hear the debate for a fully inclusive ordinance again, you can watch the following videos.
The non-discrimination ordinance was #12 on the council agenda. Council Chairman Bill Morrison invited public comment on the ordinance. The opposition spoke first. I should warn you that this video contains disturbing distortions and false claims about LGBT people from Family Action Council of Tennessee and others:
Council members on both sides of the debate praised all of the speakers organized by Tennessee Equality Project for the Sep. 18 and Oct. 16 hearings on the NDO. I think you'll see a vast difference in the tone and tenor of pro-equality advocates when compared to opponents of equality:
After public input, Councilwoman Janis Fullilove made a motion to add gender identity to the ordinance (Fullilove will be remembered as the first sponsor of the NDO in 2010 and the person who ensured that transgender workers would be protected in the 2012 ordinance). Councilman Lee Harris asked Political Science Professor of Rhodes College Steve Wirls to clarify for the council that the charter allowed them to pass an non-discrimination ordinance that includes non-merit factors like sexual orientation and gender identity. Council members then offered their comments on the proposal. I was particularly moved by Councilman Harold Collins's change of heart on the NDO. When he began reading from Dr. Martin Luther King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail, I knew that the ordinance would pass. Councilman Ford adeptly offered a friendly amendment to Fullilove's motion to define sexual orientation and gender identity to confront the distorted definitions presented by Family Action Council of Tennessee. And Councilman Reid Hedgepeth confronted the hateful ignorance of opponents of equality who threatened him and his family. He even promised to request an FCC investigation of Family Action Council of Tennessee for illegal robocalls which targeted his cell phone. Hedgepeth stands as a shining example of why equality is not partisan issue. Equality is not a value that belongs to Republicans, Democrats, conservatives or liberals. Equality is value cherished by all Americans. Watch these moving developments on the council and the vote to add gender identity to the ordinance:
After the successful vote to add gender identity, Councilman Lee Harris made a moving speech about how the protections covered in the ordinance were supported by various organizations in the community and shared with many of the largest employers in the Memphis area. The council voted 9 to 4 in favor of the motion. The fully inclusive ordinance gained two new votes: Wanda Halbert and Harold Collins. Councilman Shea Flinn then offered a resolution requesting that the Director of Personnel write policy which reflects the scope of the ordinance to ensure airtight protections. Flinn's resolution passed. Councilman Lee Harris made a for same night minutes to expedite the effectiveness of the ordinance and resolution, but that measure failed.