Gentry apologizes at GLBT mayoral candidate forum

Five mayoral candidates vied for the city’s GLBT vote at the Nashville GLBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLBTCC) mayoral forum, with current Vice Mayor Howard Gentry opening the event by apologizing to the crowd for his tie-breaking "no" vote in April 2003 on a proposed non-discrimination ordinance for Metro employees.

At that vote and since then, Gentry has defended his vote by saying the ordinance lacked "teeth" and that he had not seen any proof of a need for an ordinance that would have protected the rights of GLBT Metro employees. At the forum, he was apologetic and told the crowd that he had come to the realization that he should have voted differently in 2003.

"I’ve been hurt by the response that I’ve gotten from you and I ask for your forgiveness for the pain I may have caused," Gentry told the crowd of more than 130 people. "I’ve had hundreds of discussions on this topic. I ask that you not make that one decision my defining moment."

Gentry later made an appeal to the crowd in his closing remarks, saying that circumstances "create wedges and divide people."

"I hope you see that I’m trying to make the first step," he said. "I know discrimination, and I want you to know that you will have a mayor in me who understands your plight. I want another opportunity."

A "straw poll" conducted at the end of the hour and half long session declared David Briley the winner 69 votes; Karl Dean came in a distant second with 20 votes; Howard Gentry garnered six votes and Kenneth Eaton had three votes. Candidate Buck Dozier did not receive any votes. More than 130 people were present for the first-ever event.

The candidates have similar results with an online poll conducted by Out & About Newspaper. That poll shows Briley receiving 60 percent of the GLBT vote; Dean with 22 percent; Bob Clement and Buck Dozier tied with six percent; Howard Gentry with four percent of the vote; Cheryl Tisdale with two percent and Kenneth Eaton with zero percent.

"It was not a surprise that David Briley won the straw poll by an overwhelming margin," said local attorney Sam Felker, who attended the event. "David stood up for the GLBT community in the metro council when the non-discrimination ordinance was debated, and he voted for us each time. That took political courage and shows that David truly believes in equality for all Nashvillians."

Five of the seven candidates for mayor were present. Noticeably absent was front-runner Bob Clement. Clement’s communication manager, Ben Hall, was there and said that the event conflicted with another event on Clement’s schedule. All candidates were invited. Also present were candidates for council-at-large including Megan Barry, Peter Westerholm, Ronnie Steine, Luvenia Harrison Butler, David Pelton and Saletta A. Holloway. District council candidates Keith Durbin and Shane Burkett were also present.

Moderator Chris Sanders asked the mayoral candidates a series of questions, ranging from the support of the arts community, to the attention the new mayor would show to HIV and AIDS funding.

Each candidate except for Dozier seemed generally supportive of the GLBT community, including enacting a non-discrimination ordinance or exploring the possibility of providing domestic partner benefits to metro employees.

Dozier, who is a former Church of Christ minister, said he welcomed all but that a family was "a husband and wife who have been blessed with children." He said he would treat all citizens with "great respect."

"I disagree on supporting the funding of same-sex marriages or domestic partnerships," Dozier said. "I could not support it."

Felker said that he felt like it took quite of bit of courage for Dozier and Gentry to speak to the group.

"Speaking of courage, it took a lot for Howard Gentry and Buck Dozier to even show up. Neither has been a friend to the GLBT community," Felker said. "Mr. Gentry's apology seemed sincere but it is ‘too little too late’ for this election. Only time will tell if Mr. Gentry truly had a change of heart. Also, Mr. Gentry, like Bob Clement, says that as Mayor he would not stand in the way of such equality initiatives. That falls way short of the kind of leadership the GLBT needs and deserves from the mayor's office."

Marisa Richmond, president of the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition, said she felt Gentry's apology was "heartfelt".

"I thought Gentry's apology was sincere and heartfelt," Richmond said. "I realize many in the LGB community will never forgive him. It is important to remember, however, that the transgender community actually applauded him in 2003 for standing against a bill which would have continued to sanction discrimination based on gender identity. He clearly knows he angered many in the LGB community and that means he has learned an important lesson."

Briley told the crowd that Nashville’s next mayor needed to lead by "changing the tone in the community about sexual orientation."

"We need to eliminate the fear," he said.

John Wade, president of NGLBTCC, said the large turnout of candidates and voters showed the increasing role the GLBT community is playing in politics.

"The Chamber was honored to have the participaton of each candidate for Mayor as well as at large council candidates who attended to seek our support," Wade said. "The attendance reflects what candidates who have sought support from the community know; that is that the glbt community is active and visible in Nashville politics.  No longer can candidates for county-wide office afford to ignore this important constituency."

Sanders, who is president of the Tennessee Equality Project and former president of the NGLBTCC, said the large crowd shows the community is ready for change.

"The turnout showed that our community is ready for some policy changes in Metro," Sanders said. "We won't be satisfied with symbolic inclusion any longer. That day has passed."

Both Sanders and Felker commented on how far the community had come in becoming an importance audience to the candidates.

"It was refreshing to hear Metro Council candidates tout the fact that they had received the endorsement of TEP PAC or Out & About Newspaper. Our support matters," Sanders said.

"It was great to see such a large crowd at the chamber forum because it shows how far we have come as a community in just a few years," Felker added. "The large number of candidates, for mayor and city council, who attended also, demonstrates the importance of the ‘GLBT vote’ in this close city-wide election."

Photo by Margo Amala on Unsplash

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