Memphis last month passed a nondiscrimination ordinance that includes protections for “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”

The language of the original amendment only included “sexual orientation,” but confusion occurred because some thought an amendment like this would require voter referendum.

The final vote was delayed for 30 days for further research, and then the amendment was brought up again to also include “gender identity.” This passed 9-4.

"The TEP Shelby County Committee executed a total campaign to help the Memphis City Council pass the ordinance,” said Chris Sanders, chairman of the board and president of the Tennessee Equality Project. “Our political action committee endorsed and marshaled support for pro-equality candidates prior to the latest effort.”

Volunteers found allied labor, faith and community organizations to support the ordinance. Memphis leaders lobbied the Council and drove a high volume of citizen communication to elected officials. “They did it by the book and they sustained their effort over several months,” Sanders said.

Knoxville recently passed their nondiscrimination ordinance earlier this year and became the first city to do so after the State overturned Nashville Metro Council’s similar ordinance.

Commissioner Amy Broyles from District 2 in Knox County said, “Our new mayor is not only a woman, she’s progressive. She very, very smart. She had her law department craft it in such a way that the state cannot touch it.” She hopes this might help other cities draft similar legislation. And it did.

TEP is looking to continue this throughout the state. “Our first priority now is defending our community when the Legislature convenes in January,” Sanders said. “But what you'll see over the next few months is the TEP Foundation starting the conversation about workplace equality in order to lay the groundwork in more Tennessee cities.”

TEP will be placing political directors in many county committees to increase capacity to move the ordinances. They are also exploring whether it makes sense to engage professional lobbying assistance in some cases. “It takes a great deal of effort to pass one of these ordinances in Tennessee and we have to make sure the right people and resources are in place.”

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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