On Wednesday the City Paper ran this story on a bill signed by Mayor Karl Dean to develop a supplier diversity program for Metro contracting. The piece specifically focused on why the GLBT community was left out of the bill. Then a flood of other questions and comments began.  Let's look at some of them individually.

Why didn't Council members and the Mayor add our community?
  It is the obvious question that our community is raising.  I've seen two answers.  The first is that the law firm that did the study of the bill says that there is no precedent for it.  That is incorrect.  Other local governments have supplier diversity initiatives that include the GLBT community.  Even the U.S. Department of the Interior signed a memorandum of agreement with the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce on supplier diversity.  The second reason given is that GLBT community leaders didn't ask for an addition to the bill.  Strictly speaking, that is true, but I think it's also fair to ask whether any Metro officials thought to include our community and if not, then why not?

So why didn't we seek inclusion in this bill? 
It’s an issue of priorities and strategy.   Since the Metro elections last year, the Tennessee Equality Project has been public in focusing on building towards a nondiscrimination policy for Metro employees.  Those opposed to adding the GLBT community to the procurement law who are commenting on the online version of the City Paper story make points that illustrate precisely why it's important to pass the nondiscrimination employment policy first.  They say that sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected classes.  Under current Metro law, they really aren't, although they should be.  A nondiscrimination policy that includes both sexual orientation and gender identity for all Metro employees will help settle the question of protected classes in Metro.  That may set the stage for other legislation like supplier diversity.  Theoretically, our community could have started with this procurement bill.  But we might have risked the ire of other minority coalitions who would think that the addition of our community to the bill would have hurt the its chance of passing. 

The other issue is that right now our community throughout the state must be focused on issues in the Legislature such as the adoption and birth certificate bills. 

So why did TEP talk to the City Paper about this? 
We have an open door media relations policy.  We think it’s important to ensure that there is always a pro-GLBT side to stories about our community. Basically we were contacted and asked whether we think 'philosophically' we should have been included in the bill.  Of course, we would have been delighted if the GLBT community had been included.  

Is this bill a total loss for our community?
  Definitely not.  The media often make the mistake of dividing women and ethnic/racial minorities from the GLBT community.  They forget, rather strangely, that lesbians and any GLBT persons who are ethnic or racial minorities are covered by the new bill.  Although not covered by virtue of being part of the GLBT community, they are nonetheless covered because they are women or African American or Hispanic, etc.  Furthermore, the bill has generated a great deal of debate and discussion in our community that is important as we move forward on an employment non-discrimination ordinance.  These are positive developments.

To those of you who contacted us about this issue, we appreciate your frankness and your questions.  We're glad that you want us to be more engaged with Metro government.  We certainly plan to be and to keep you informed about it.

-Chris Sanders, TEP President

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