Metro Councilmember elect for District 11 (Old Hickory) Larry Hagar has found himself in the middle of a controversy amongst his constituents, and LGBT Nashville. On Sunday morning, Old Hickory resident Niki was out at a neighborhood restaurant with her partner when some of Hagar’s political commentary caught her attention during what should have been a calm breakfast.

“In my time there,” she reported, “I had the distinct displeasure of hearing Councilman Hagar slam both immigrants and gays in one conversation. ‘I may not like that they're here, but I have to represent them, too.’ He suggested two things that really rubbed me the wrong way. First, he said he doesn't understand why teachers are not allowed to ask students whether or not they are ‘legal.’ Second, he believes Metro should never have had a vote on Partner benefits until the appeal for the Ban on Same Sex Marriage is complete and the courts have decided.”

The notion that school teachers should use little children as sources of information to support efforts to deport their families would be surprisingly “far right.” For Niki, the issue is clear: "if you don't understand why teachers are not ‘allowed’ to discriminate against children, then you have no business in office or in a position of power of any kind.” Likewise, she argued that his “position on same sex benefits belies [his] opinion that no rights should be granted until the courts decide and definitely not without a fight.”

Hagar spoke with Out and About Nashville first thing this morning to discuss the issue, which has heated up on Facebook. Hagar first wanted to address why he deleted Niki’s complaint from his page: “You don’t want to discuss that sort of thing on Facebook. It’s a serious issue, and things Facebook tend to turn into circuses.” He did, however, spend a lot of time private messaging people last evening. “I have a lot of supporters in the [LGBT] community and when I talked with them, they all expressed that they knew what they were hearing was only part of the story.”

According to Hagar, who does speak passionately, he was having a Sunday meal out and was having a conversation with his son. “The issue of the domestic partnership ordinance came up, and I was speaking with my son about some concerns I had as a lawyer. I did say that it would be better to wait for the courts than to have an ordinance specifically for LGBT partnerships. That would itself be legally problematic and would probably get overturned by the courts, unless it provided the same protections for straight couples in domestic partnerships.”

To clarify, Hagar wasn’t involved in Metro Council discussions of domestic partner benefits and was unaware of the fact that the ordinance was gender neutral until contacted by O&AN. Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, believes that this is a common misunderstanding of domestic partner benefits, which are often reported solely as an LGBT rights issue.

According to Hagar, his comments were based solely on the legal issue of a gender-specific ordinance, and he affirmed, “I believe as long as you’re fair about the criteria, it’s the right thing to do. Far fewer couples today, gay or straight, are getting married, and they’re together long term. They ALL deserve protections.” Hagar also affirmed that he believed that the Tennessee ban on recognizing gay marriages fundamentally violates the Constitution of the U.S. “And I took an oath to uphold the Constitution, and I always have and always will.”    

With regard to the teachers and immigrants issue, Hagar says he and his son were discussing a statement made by someone close to them who was a teacher. "She said she couldn't understand why we can't ask kids if they were legal. I was talking to my son about that comment and explaining why they can’t legally ask.” Hagar says his job is to represent everyone in his district. “I haven’t been assigned immigrant cases by the courts. They hire me directly, because I have a reputation for giving them the best, most professional representation I can offer! I honestly don’t know what I could have said that she would have heard ‘I might not like that they’re here, but I have to.’ My whole career, I’ve represented people of all races, religions, sexual orientations – all different people – to the best of my ability and without prejudice. Anyone who really knows me will tell you that.”

Indeed, State Rep. Darren Jernigan (Dem - District 60) said, “Before I endorsed [Hagar] we spoke on many issues and equal protection under the law was one of them. I think you will find discrimination is not in his vocabulary. I have known CM Elect Hagar for many years and he has conducted himself with integrity. I’m proud to call him friend and my Councilmember.”

Hagar says he understands that, out of context, parts of his conversation might have struck a raw cord, but “I’ve worked with gay attorneys, have friends in same sex partnerships, and I have represented several same sex partners in disputes to get issues resolved and still others in various other legal issues. I wouldn’t say hurtful sorts of things. I was talking as a lawyer in a conversation with my son.” Hagar did seem deeply troubled that his constituent felt belittled or bullied, however, and has extended an offer to meet with her to discuss the situation.

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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