Memphis City Council Approves Nondiscrimination Ordinance



The Memphis City Council voted 9 to 4 on Tuesday afternoon to approve an amendment adding "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to a list of city workplace protections.

The language of the amendment had been previously approved to add "sexual orientation," but there was some confusion over whether or not such an amendment would violate the city's charter. At that time, city attorney Herman Morris said he believed the amendment would violate the charter, claiming a referendum may be required. But after further research, Morris changed his opinion. However, city council attorney Allan Wade stuck by his original opinion that passing the amendment violates the city charter.

But Wade's opinion did not dissaude the council members who originally voted to add "sexual orientation." It also didn't prevent councilmen Harold Collins from changing his votes to "yes" this time around. Collins said he'd consulted with faith leaders and decided not to let his religious beliefs affect the way he voted on legislation.

Councilman Reid Hedgepeth, a conservative who voted in favor of the ordinance last time, told the audience that harassment and robo-calls from the amendment's opposition had only strengthened his resolve to vote in favor of the amendment again.

"One e-mail said 'I hope you and your family burn in hell together.' How is that for Christianity?" Hedgepeth asked.

Additionally, councilwoman Janis Fullilove proposed an amendment to the ordinance that added protections on the basis of "gender identity." That amendment passed 9 to 4, as well. The only "no" votes on the "gender identity" amendment and the main motion to amend the city's nondiscrimination ordinance came from council people Wanda Halbert, Bill Boyd, Kemp Conrad, and Joe Brown.

The council chambers were lively before the vote. Speaking for the opposition, a representative from the Family Action Council said the amendment's passage would lead to protections for "grown men attracted to 12-year-old boys." That elicited boos and gasps from the audience. Pastor Larry Hunter, who wore a Taekwondo uniform, said he didn't "want to walk nowhere and see two mens [sic] kissing or two mens [sic] hugging."

After Hunter's statements, which did not seem to pertain at all to the ordinance in question, an impassioned advocate for the ordinance stormed the podium and began screaming at Hunter. Members of the Tennessee Equality Project were forced to drag the man away from the podium.

Speaking for advocates of the ordinance, Rev. Valentine Handwerker from Immaculate Conception said the Catholic church's teachings are clear on why we shouldn't discriminate. A transgender retired Episcopal priest told the council that passage of the amendment would protect the city against liability. But Jake Brown with the Shelby County Democratic Party elicited the most applause when he said, "We are not here to debate morality or immorality. We are not here to debate religious beliefs. We are here to talk about city policy and whether or not the city endorses discrimination."


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