Memphis City Council begins work on nondiscrimination ordinance

On Aug. 10, the Memphis City Council will take up an ordinance to amend Chapter 9 of the City of Memphis Code of Ordinances to include nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.

The action follows a July 20 meeting of a council subcommittee that sent the ordinance, without comment, to the full council for consideration. It now will be up for readings on Aug. 10, Aug. 24 and Sept. 14, if it follows the normal legislative procedure.

A resolution that expands those protections beyond city employees to include contractors and facility users also was before the subcommittee, but did not advance.

“They sent the ordinance on without comment because they want to hear more from Mayor [A.C.] Wharton’s administration on how supportive he is on the issue regarding city employees,” said Jonathan Cole, board chair for the Tennessee Equality Project. “The resolution will probably come up again at the Aug. 10 meeting.”

Opponents of the ordinance and resolution are focusing on the latter due to its broader nature, Cole said, which could actually help the ordinance on its path to becoming law.

“There is concern that this would force people of faith to act counter to their theology, and we are flexible on that in the sense that we would be open to some sort of exception for organizations who want to use city facilities,” Cole said, adding “but we really don’t want the GLBT citizens of this city seeing their tax dollars going toward endorsing a discriminatory policy when it comes to how the city spends its monies.”

The TEP’s goal now is to contact council members and get the GLBT community to make itself heard. To that end, a campaign has been to call and write council members in advance of what’s expected to be a tough battle.

“We know from the experience of working with Shelby County government that we are in for a fight,” Cole said. “Our opponents spread the most horrible lies about our community. We will have to out-email, out-call, and out-rally them. That’s why we’re organizing to stay ahead of our opponents.”

TEP will be hosting a workshop at its regular monthly meeting on Monday, July 26, at the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center, 892 South Cooper St., to help those interested in crafting their message to local leaders. The group also is asking community members to host letter-writing parties in their homes; click here to send an email asking for more details.

“We’re gearing up to gather supporters at the next three council meetings,” Cole said. “The most important will be the third reading for the ordinance, which now is set for Sept. 14.”

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