Yesterday, the University of Memphis Faculty Senate voted on two motions. The first was to request that the Tennessee Board of Regents investigate the impact on our ability to compete for faculty in a hiring market where most other public universities offer same sex partner benefits. That motion passed 33-0. The second motion was to draft our own motion in support of offering same sex partner benefits to University of Memphis employees as University of Tennessee has done. The second motion passed 30-3.
As a University of Memphis faculty member, I was thrilled. It was wonderful to see thirty- three faculty representatives, who had discussed this with their various departments, vote on equality and equality won.
As a LGBT rights activist, I was completely flummoxed. I came to the meeting as an observer, but I was carrying a notepad of talking points from our long fight here in Tennessee to promote workplace non-discrimination. I had facts, statistics, and logical arguments ready to counter the opposition. I even had a few select Bible verses on hand to use if needed.
I was flummoxed because, for the first time in Tennessee, I didn’t need any of it.
I cannot begin to tell you how disconcerting the whole thing was to me. There is no comparison to listening to a room full of PhDs quibble on, not the basic premise that same sex benefits should be extended, but on Robert’s Rules of Order and committee procedure for drafting the motion, as opposed to listening to the often hateful and vile rhetoric spewed in front of the City Council or the County Commission. This was a gathering of educated, thoughtful people who may or may not personally support the LGBT community for religious or philosophical reasons, but who categorically rejected the idea that discrimination in the workplace is acceptable.
It was the most anti-climactic discussion of LGBT rights I have ever been a part of, and that in itself was wonderful. Thoughtful, educated, rational people quietly agreeing that discrimination is wrong, and wanted to make a very public statement that discrimination is wrong.
The motions will not change state law. The Tennessee Board of Regents is subject to the whims of the Legislature, and that is a fight that will not stop until we vote out the majority of the social conservatives in elected office.
Yesterday was nice. It was really nice. Yesterday I realized what it would be like to go before a Tennessee Legislature full of thoughtful, educated, rational people. Yesterday made it clear that we have to work even harder to make the 2014 elections a referendum, not on LGBT rights, but on educated, rational representation and statesmanship. We need to work to elect representatives in this state that, regardless of their personal beliefs about gay people, understand that discrimination under the law against any group is not acceptable in a rational, law-based, civil society.
So gird your loins, LGBT activists. It is time to get busy for 2014. It is time to find thoughtful, educated, rational people to send to Nashville, and to work to send them there.