Knoxville City Council unanimously passes LGBT non-discrimination ordinance, Don’t Say Gay bill is dead
May 1, 2012
By Scottie Thomaston
Recently, the mayor of Knoxville, Tennessee introduced a non-discrimination ordinance that was up for two consecutive readings in the city council. The ordinance bans discrimination against city government employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The measure just passed its final vote unanimously. It’s the first city-wide non-discrimination ordinance since passage of HB600, the law that stripped Tennessee cities and localities of non-discrimination protections and effectively repealed a Nashville non-discrimination ordinance for government contractors.
The Knoxville NDO passed the City Council unanimously! Thanks to the Mayor, council, and all our supporters. You’re the best!
— TN Equality Project (@tnequality) May 1, 2012
I wrote this about the ordinance when it was introduced:
In Tennessee this week, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero announced that she is introducing a non-discrimination ordinance in the city to protect city government employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The ordinance is up for its first reading on April 17 and a second one later before its passage.
This is a huge win for equality in any conservative state, but it’s even more thrilling in Tennessee. People in the state who are LGBT have been dealing with a huge amount of terribly offensive legislation specifically designed to attack members of the community in a mean-spirited, nasty way. Tennessee’s General Assembly has proposed everything from a bill to restrict teaching about gays and lesbians (Don’t Say Gay) which is still on the calendar, while other bills like the anti-transgender “bathroom bill” was withdrawn quickly due to immediate national outrage. Just in the past few days, the state senate has approved a bill suggesting that hand holding is a gateway sexual activity.
And of course, while the ordinance appears to be fairly limited – it only affects city government employees – it’s only so limited because of the law passed last year stripping antidiscrimination protections from cities and localities – which applies to everyone except city government employees. That law, called HB600, got national attention when, after state LGBT organizations had fought hard to keep the bill from being passed, national LGBT bloggers noticed and launched campaigns to stop it and later to punish its supporters. It earned a recent repeal attempt by state senator Jim Kyle, but unfortunately that bill failed to make it out of committee. Still, the fact that cities in Tennessee are still making efforts to fight anti-LGBT discrimination and state legislators are fighting so hard to repeal HB600 is a testament to how hard organizations promoting LGBT equality in southern states are willing to work to protect our LGBT brothers and sisters.
Tennessee has seen an ever-increasing amount of right wing legislation, and the “Don’t Say Gay” bill – restricting discussions of gays and lesbians in schools – was under consideration until tonight. Tennessee Equality Project’s Facebook page noted today that the rules of the House were suspended, and therefore the bill could have still come up for a vote before the Assembly adjourned, contrary to widely reported claims today by various media outlets that the bill died earlier. The Assembly just took up the Adjournment Resolution. The bill has died.
With the addition of these non-discrimination protections, there are some definite signs of improvement. Recently Chris Sanders, Nashville Chair of Tennessee Equality Project, told me that while the General Assembly gets much of the attention because of their increasingly right wing bills, cities are making progress:
“Yesterday was a perfect example of what we’re facing in Tennessee–increasingly welcoming cities and a hostile Legislature. By a unanimous vote, the Knoxville City Council passed a non-discrimination ordinance for city government employees protecting them from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, and disability–a positive, unifying step for one of our largest cities. It’s quite a contrast to the politics of division coming from the majority in the Legislature.”
As progress in Tennessee’s cities continues to inch forward, we can hope the legislature puts a stop to regressive legislation.