Shelby County ordinance faces tough fight

by Christopher Sanders
Tennessee Equality Project president

On Tuesday as the California Supreme Court decision was being debated around the country, pastors and citizens in Memphis, Tennessee gathered in front of the county government building to debate a non-discrimination ordinance.

Yesterday in the Shelby County Commission's General Government committee, 5 commissioners voted for an amended version of the ordinance, 5 voted against it, and 2 abstained.  The ordinance as amended will be heard by the full Commission on Monday.  Originally, the ordinance would have covered Shelby County government employees, employees of businesses that contract with the County, and private employers in unincorporated parts of the County. 

In the interest of making a beginning at addressing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, sponsor Steve Mulroy accepted the amendment to restrict the ordinance to County government employees. 

From California to Tennessee, whenever we attempt to address discrimination, we will encounter resistance.  The battle will never be easy.  It is infuriating to be told to wait for fairness, wait for justice, and wait for equality.  But we are more determined than ever to take every step forward we can--even if that means taking only one step while we figure out how to jump the latest obstacles that our opponents put up.
Many of the obstacles are the same old ones we've heard for years.  Watch this video of the confrontation in Shelby County on Tuesday.  I know that no matter where you live in Tennessee you can imagine people using the same discriminatory language about you or your friends.  But you know what?  These pastors were not preaching to the choir. 

They also met resistance and they're going to meet it in every corner of Tennessee because our community is organizing in West, Middle, and East.  Wherever people use the mantle of religion to promote discrimination we will let them know they don't have a spiritual monopoly.  There are other voices of faith and voices of no particular faith at all that will challenge them.

We urge you to become more involved in this fight.  Wherever you live in Tennessee, Shelby County's battle is your battle today.  Tomorrow it may be that your battle is everyone else's battle.  If you care about California, then we know you care about what happens within our own state.  After all, a win in Shelby County is the kind of victory that will make the fight for equality easier for all of us.

We ask you to recommit yourself to the fight for equality in Tennessee today.  The battles in other states are important, but let's win a victory in Tennessee.  Contact us at to find out how you can help.  We'd love to talk with you.

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