Memphis, Tenn. — Tennessee Equality Project joins a chorus of voices calling for equal opportunity in employment for City of Memphis job applicants and workers. Memphis City Councilman Lee Harris is sponsoring an employment non-discrimination ordinance which would expand current workplace protections to include age and disability.


A coalition of City of Memphis employees, employee associations, unions and community advocates supports expansion of the current ordinance to include age and disability as well as sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to ensure unbiased decisions for these non-merit factors in city employment. Coalition leaders believe that the ordinance must be amended at the third reading of the ordinance to include the above non-merit factors as prohibited forms of bias in the workplace. The Memphis City Council will vote on this ordinance on Tuesday, Sept. 18.


Here’s what coalition leaders are saying:


"The American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) has led the way among unions demanding equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender workers," said Chad Johnson, Executive Director of AFSCME Local 1733. "AFSCME has long believed that employment decisions should be made on the basis of an individual's ability to perform a job. Workers should not live in fear of losing their jobs or being denied promotions because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age or disability. AFSCME Local 1733 supports adding age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to the non-discrimination ordinance for the City of Memphis."


Memphis Police officers work in a department that reflects the diverse characteristics of race, ethnicity, religious belief, political affiliation, age, ability, and sexual orientation in the community they serve. According to Officer Michael Williams, “the Memphis Police Association supports an employment non-discrimination ordinance which reflects this diversity and protects city employees. We believe that officers who are protected from unfair employment discrimination on the job will do better at protecting the safety of all people in the community they serve.”


As a Lieutenant for the Memphis Fire Department with 18 years as firefighter, Gordon Ginsberg believes in treating the firefighters in his company fairly and equally on the job: "No one should have to fear losing their job or being passed over for advancement because of who they are. It's always about who can get the job done. Non-merits factors like race, religion, sex, ethnicity, national origin, political affiliation, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or veteran status should never play a part in employment decisions or workplace practices. I believe we Memphians need a clear specific ordinance for a few reasons. One, I believe it will help me execute my duties within the chain-of-command by underscoring the City of Memphis' commitment to our values. Another is to assure and reassure beyond any doubt that the rights of workers under my supervision will be protected. A third is to reinforce the seriousness among all employees of respecting workplace rights. I support an inclusive non-discrimination ordinance for City of Memphis employees."

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) supported previous efforts to expand the list of non-merit factors in the City of Memphis non-discrimination ordinance. IBEW Local 474 Business Manager Paul Shaffer recently confirmed IBEW’s continued support for a comprehensive ordinance that includes age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.


“Employment discrimination strips away the right of workers to be judged on their merits and abilities,” said Madeleine C. Taylor, Executive Director of the Memphis Branch of the NAACP. “Every American must be allowed to contribute to society without facing unfair discrimination on account of race, sex, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. Our fight for social justice will continue until all can be protected in the work place. The NAACP supports an inclusive employment non-discrimination ordinance for the city of Memphis that includes the above factors to protect city workers. Other Tennessee cities have assumed their responsibility in protecting the rights of city

workers and Memphis should do the same.”


ADAPT of Tennessee is a chapter of National ADAPT, a grass-roots community that organizes disability rights activists to engage in nonviolent direct action, including civil disobedience, to assure the civil and human rights of people with disabilities to live in freedom.  Americans with disabilities have not enjoyed equal access to transportation, housing, and employment. Josue Rodriguez of ADAPT of Tennessee recognizes other marginalized groups in our society who have not enjoyed equal opportunity in Memphis: "ADAPT fully supports an inclusive employment non-discrimination ordinance that expands current protections for City of Memphis workers to include age, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity."


The Shelby County Democratic Party has supported GLBT-inclusive initiatives for equality along with  President Barack Obama. Van Turner, Shelby County Democratic Party Chair, states that “the party wholeheartedly supports an inclusive employment non-discrimination ordinance for City of Memphis employees. Considering that Nashville, Knoxville and Oak Ridge have already enacted similar measures, Memphis must move swiftly to demonstrate our commitment to equality and inclusion for all.”


“The members of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center wholeheartedly support the passage of an inclusive non-discrimination ordinance for employees of the City of Memphis,” said Executive Director Jacob Flowers. “We know first-hand that workers suffer from discrimination in a variety of workplaces. It is important that our city show the way forward for other entities in our region by passing such an ordinance. Plus, it puts us on par with other municipalities in Tennessee that have passed similar laws to protect its workers. As elected representatives of the citizens of Memphis, it is our hope, that you would seek to lessen the chances of discrimination by any means, this is one simple step that can be taken.”


Work is an essential part of who we are as Americans, as Mid-Southerners, and as human beings,” said Will Batts, Executive Director of the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center (MGLCC). “It is no longer acceptable that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees must live in fear in their own workplace. Justice demands that each employee be judged simply by their ability to do the job. City government, especially, must lead the way in treating each of our citizens with the dignity, respect and fairness that we all deserve. MGLCC absolutely supports an inclusive employment non-discrimination ordinance that expands current protections for City of Memphis workers to include age, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity.”


The Tennessee Equality Project joins the coalition of support for equal opportunity in the workplace and an inclusive non-discrimination ordinance for City of Memphis employees. It’s time for Memphis to join other cities of comparable size and larger as well as Tennessee cities like Nashville and Knoxville which already prohibit employment discrimination based on age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

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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