At a Tennessee Equality Project press conference Friday afternoon at the AFSCME headquarters on Beale, Memphis Police officer Virginia Awkward, a 9-year veteran and former cast member of TLC's Police Women of Memphis, made a plea for the Memphis City Council to include "gender identity and expression" to the amended non-discrimination ordinance. The ordinance was amended to include "sexual orientation" last month, but "gender identity and expression" were left out of the discussion.
"I believe my city is a city of love and compassion, and I believe my city is a pioneer for equality," said Awkward, who invited TLC viewers into her same-sex relationship when the reality show aired in 2010.
TEP's Shelby County Committee chair Jonathan Cole said the gay-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance, which passed last month but remains on hold while the council sorts out whether its passage is legal under the city's charter, is incomplete until all employees, including those who are transgender, are protected.
When asked why he didn't include "gender identity" when he made the amendment to add "sexual orientation," city councilman Lee Harris said "the political will just wasn't there." But he supports the addition this next time around. The ordinance comes back up for a vote on October 16th.
"We've already done one miracle. Don't discount us just yet," Harris said. "Hopefully, the same seven votes will be around again."
Chad Johnson, the director of AFSCME, said there should be more than seven votes. He said the council should approve the changes unanimously.
Jake Brown, political/operations director of the Shelby County Democratic Party, said the party endorses passage of the amendment and the addition of gender identity.
"This is not a question of whether you endorse homosexuality or not. It's about whether you endorse discrimination," Brown said.
Ellyanna Hall, a transgender woman, spoke at the conference about the discrimination she has faced trying to find work in the city.
"When someone is denied work, you deny them housing. You deny them food," Hall said. "I've experienced discrimination for many, many years. It's dehumanizing. It's isolating. It's wrong."
As for the religious influence that seemed to hold some council members back during the discussion about adding "sexual orientation," Davin Clemons, a 10-year city employee and a minister at Cathedral of Praise, had a few words for pastor Steve Gaines of Bellevue Baptist Church. Gaines spoke at the council meeting against the addition of "sexual orientation" to the city's non-discrimination protections.
"Steve Gaines' job is not to tell the city council how to vote. His job is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, the correct version of the gospel. That's the gospel that says we should love everyone," Clemons said.