Job security for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) city employees won't be coming any time soon.
On Tuesday morning, the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) asked members of the Memphis City Council to withdraw the proposed non-discrimination ordinance protecting city workers and a resolution protecting employees of companies that contract with the city based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Both the ordinance and the resolution were sponsored by councilperson Janis Fullilove, and she withdrew the motion.
"It's become painfully apparent that this resolution and this ordinance are being treated differently based on the content of the ordinance itself and the bias on the council's part," said TEP Shelby County Committee vice-chair Michelle Bliss during the council's personnel committee meeting on Tuesday.
Bliss said TEP feared neither the ordinance nor the resolution would get a "fair hearing," based on the actions of several council members at the August 10th meeting.
The non-discrimination ordinance, up for its first reading at that City Council meeting, was included in the consent agenda with several other items. Consent agenda items are typically approved in bulk, but councilperson Barbara Swearengen Ware stated that she would not vote to approve the consent agenda unless the non-discrimination ordinance was removed.
That allowed councilperson Bill Morrison to propose a substitute ordinance that prohibited employment discrimination based on religion, race, sex, creed, political affiliation, national origin, ethnicity, disability, age, or other non-merit factors. Sexual orientation and gender identity or expression were omitted.
"What happened at that meeting almost proves the need for this ordinance on a city level," said councilperson Shea Flinn, who supported the original ordinance but not Morrison's substitute. "We are treating the non-discrimination ordinance differently than we treat 99 percent of the ordinances that go through. We're discriminating against the non-discrimination ordinance."
The ordinance passed on its first reading and was scheduled for a second reading this week prior to being withdrawn. The resolution had been tabled on August 10th for further discussion.
If the ordinance and resolution had failed to pass on its third reading, TEP would have had to wait at least six months to try again. Withdrawing the ordinance and resolution means they can reintroduce them whenever they're ready.
"We're waiting until the council is ready to have an honest conversation," Cole said. "Until then, Memphis will not be known as a city of choice but a city of exclusion."