In a decisive victory for the Nashville LGBT community and its allies, the Metro Council on June 17 voted to extend benefits, including health insurance and pension, to domestic partners of government employees. Councilman Peter Westerholm, the bill’s original sponsor, cited Nashville’s “history of expanding freedoms, liberties, and civil rights” in his opening remarks, urging his fellow council members to follow Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Collegedale, a city of 8,000 on the Tennessee-Georgia line, in adopting legislation extending benefits.

“While the outcome of tonight’s proceedings may not be as monumental as those that have come before, nor will they be as far-reaching as those that are likely to come soon, nevertheless, we have before us the opportunity to lend our city's voice once again to the steadily expanding arc of justice,” said Westerholm in a prepared statement before the final vote.

The thirty-seven year old Texas native came to Nashville in 1995 to attend Lipscomb University. He returned after completing his master’s degree in Public Policy at Pepperdine University, and in 2011 was elected to represent District 6 in the city council. He currently chairs the Personnel/Public Information/Human Relations/Housing subcommittee.

Westerholm told O&AN via e-mail that the bill’s LGBT connotations affected its journey through city council from the beginning. “Some members of council openly stated that was their reason for opposition. Other members of council who supported the bill received some pushback from constituents. Thankfully, they had the courage to do the right thing.”

“As someone who has been involved with LGBT issues for a number of years now,” he added, “I knew there was growing support among the general population, as well as within the Metro Council. From when the idea (of introducing a bill) began, however, the landscape changed. We saw Windsor and Hollingsworth, and now 19 states plus DC have marriage equality. The national momentum was clear, even though Tennessee and much of the South has been lagging behind.”

“In the fall of 2013,” Westerholm said, “supporters of the legislation made a formal request of the Mayor to appoint a Study and Formulating committee for the purpose of studying Partner Benefits. This letter was signed by 26 members of the Metro Council. The Committee’s recommendations to move forward were made in the spring of 2014 and then legislation was drafted to track with the budget, which contained the necessary funding for the benefits.”

“This was a great bill to be a part of because there was a great team leading the charge. In addition to the primary sponsors, myself, Megan Barry, Lonnell Matthews, and Brady Banks, we had a number of other strong allies on council lending their support when necessary, such as Scott Davis and Fabian Bedne.”

“The Tennessee Equality Project was an invaluable ally in finding and sharing information, and most importantly, identifying those who could provide a personal testimonial. A personal story is the most powerful argument, and knowing the individuals and families whose lives you're impacting, it’s a compelling and moving perspective.”

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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