City Discrimination Study Proposed at Council

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The proposed non-discrimination ordinance protecting city workers on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression is back on the Memphis City Council agenda. But this time, council person Shea Flinn, a supporter of the ordinance, wants some data to show if there's problem with discrimination in city government.

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This morning, the council's personnel committee passed a resolution requesting the administration conduct a study of discrimination in city employment. The survey will include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, but it won't be limited to those issues. The city's human resources department will conduct the survey.

The committee also passed the non-discrimination ordinance, and it will go to full council for a first reading on Tuesday, November 9th. A similar ordinance was withdrawn by its sponsor/council person Janice Fullilove in August at the request the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP). At the time, TEP cited a lack of support from Mayor A C Wharton and bias on the council.

People on both sides of the issue crowded the committee meeting room this morning, but there seemed to be more ordinance supporters wearing TEP stickers than opposition sporting "one man, one woman" stickers. TEP's Jonathan Cole spoke on the need for workplace protections for LGBT city workers.

"Memphis is at a crossroads. Memphis cannot afford to send a mixed message to its residents or the rest of the world," Cole said. "Will Memphis be the city of choice that we've heard so much about? A city that welcomes people of diverse backgrounds? Or will Memphis choose to send a message of exclusion, a message that diversity, fairness, and equality are not valued here?"

Representing those against the ordinance was Josh Davis of the Family Action Council. Davis argued that "a workforce is more productive and manageable when a person's sexuality and sexual practices are left out of the workplace and confined to their personal, private lives."

But Flinn followed Davis' comments with a little clarification: "The sexual activity of consenting adults is not the issue here. This is about identity."

Davis demonstrated his misunderstanding of "transgender" when he expressed concerns about protections for gender identity or expression.

"It should be noted that there are those who are sometimes called 'weekend transgenders' or 'Tuesday transgenders' who prefer to dress as a woman or a man one day and then their birth gender the next day or the next week," Davis said. "To best serve members of the public who could be confused by such behavior or not want their children to be confused by such behavior, would a policy requiring a consistent expression of gender identity at work be discriminatory?"

Davis was likely referring to cross-dressers, who may not necessarily be transgender, rather than the issue of gender identity. His comments brought chuckles and a few confused expressions from ordinance supporters.

Flinn and Fullilove spoke in favor of the ordinance. No committee members present spoke against workplace protections.

"Intolerance doesn't work," Flinn said. "Our shameful history in race relations hurts us to this day, and we don't need to go down that road with this."

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