The Tennessee Equality Project has urged its membership to contact Nashville’s Metro Council members to lobby for a non-discrimination policy that protects Metro Nashville government employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.
The group has been preparing and organizing for more than a year for the battle. It has mobilized several social networking tools and also recruited district captains to help organize voters in all of the Metro Council districts.
No firm date has been set for the proposed ordinance but TEP supporters say they hope it’s filed as soon as July.
This will mark the second time a non-discrimination ordinance has been proposed in Nashville – the first proposal failed on its second reading in front of the 2003 Metro Council, when then Vice Mayor Howard Gentry cast a tie-breaking vote against the ordinance. It was a move he later apologized for to the GLBT community in his run for mayor, saying at a 2007 Nashville GLBT Chamber of Commerce Mayoral Forum that he had come to the realization that he should have voted differently in 2003.
"I’ve been hurt by the response that I’ve gotten from you and I ask for your forgiveness for the pain I may have caused," Gentry told the crowd of more than 130 people. "I’ve had hundreds of discussions on this topic. I ask that you not make that one decision my defining moment."
The politics behind the move this time comes on the heels of a similar ordinance that was proposed in Shelby County, also backed by TEP. Last month, the Shelby County Commission passed a non-discrimination resolution that will prohibit discrimination based on “non-merit” factors. Commissioners voted nine to four in favor of the resolution. Though not an ordinance, organizers say the resolution would carry the same legal weight as a county policy.
It is anticipated that Councilwoman Megan Barry will introduce the bill. Barry told the Nashville City Paper in 2008 that she hoped to get such an ordinance passed within her next term.
“At some point over the next term, we will look to file a resolution that will protect all our brothers and sisters in Metro,” Barry told the City Paper. “I want equal protection for all Metro employees because it’s the right thing to do.”
Christopher Sanders, chair of TEP, said the organization has sent out an e-mail blast to all of its members, asking them to contact their council members to “let them know where we stand on this issue.”
Sanders said the email and other events planned would “rally support in anticipation of a July filing.”
TEP has more than 600 members of its Facebook group on the topic, and while Sanders declined to identify the exact number of people on TEP’s email list, he said it was “substantial.”
“All Metro employees deserve the same non-discrimination policy that Nashville’s teachers have,” Sanders said. “Metro ought to be free of discrimination. Let’s put it in writing.”
In the email to supporters, Sanders said “we know from the experience of working on the Shelby County non-discrimination resolution that we are in for a fight. Our opponents brought out the most horrible lies about our community. We will have to out-email, out-call, and out-rally them. That’s why we’re organizing in as many council districts as we can. We have already recruited many district captains for the effort.”
TEP has said passage of such an ordinance would make Metro a more competitive employer and would send a message that Nashville is a welcoming city. He noted that it would cost nothing to make the policy change.
“I think maybe most straight people, even those who we would recognize as allies, don't realize it, but we don't have any employment protections in Tennessee unless an employer chooses to put sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in its policy,” Sanders said. “We hope Metro government will add these categories to its non-discrimination policy.”
If enacted, Metro Nashville would join Atlanta, Louisville, New Orleans, and Chapel Hill as cities that already have similar policies. Locally, many businesses already provide a non-discrimination policy for their employees, including the area’s largest employer, Vanderbilt University and Medical Center, which has more than 21,000 employees.