Barry to push for update to nondiscrimination policy

Monday, September 29, 2008 at 2:14am
Megan Barry

Five years have passed since Metro Council’s failed attempt to add “sexual orientation” to the city’s employment and housing nondiscrimination policy.

Since then 13 states and dozens of cities have joined the list of municipalities where one can’t be harassed or fired because of their sexual orientation. According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 13 states protect workers based on sexual orientation and gender identity while seven offer just nondiscrimination protection based on orientation.

Tennessee has made efforts to include sexual orientation as a protected class as well. The Tennessee Board of Regents passed a nondiscrimination and harassment policy in April.

Despite progress elsewhere, Council has not taken another attempt at protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees, but that could change in the coming months.

At-large Councilwoman Megan Barry said she intends to put the issue back on the table.

“At some point over the next term, we will look to file a resolution that will protect all our brothers and sisters in Metro,” Barry said. “I want equal protection for all Metro employees because it’s the right thing to do.”

Council has shifted to the left

Barry cautioned that no resolution was being drafted and said the process was in the very early planning stages. But she added her belief that extending nondiscrimination protection was not a radical idea.

There’s reason to believe extending nondiscrimination protection to gay Metro employees has a better chance than it did in 2003. Whereas Council first watered down and eventually voted against the resolution five years ago, the landscape has changed since then.

Several key votes since the new Council was elected last year indicate Davidson County’s legislative body has shifted to the left. Councilman Jason Holleman’s bill to apply a historic zoning overlay to the Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ, which was in danger of being converted into a chain pharmacy by a developer, passed with a 22-15 vote.

At-large Councilman Ronnie Steine’s memorializing resolution condemning the English Only movement passed with a 25-8 vote.

In general, left-leaning Council members seem to have a voting advantage of at least four votes, which makes Barry’s path towards passing a resolution easier than previous efforts.

Fellow at-large Councilman Charlie Tygard was on the Council in 2003 when the issue exploded and received coverage nationally. Aware of the fact a nondiscrimination protection for gay Metro employees has been a hot button issue, Tygard said he’d have to see how comprehensive Barry’s resolution was before he formed an opinion.

“It was very controversial and divisive back in those days,” Tygard said. “It would be about the only thing I’d say on the record. I’d have to see what they’re proposing.”

When he was on the campaign trail in the summer of 2007, Mayor Karl Dean said he would be open to extending the nondiscrimination policy and would also consider partner benefits for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Metro employees.

Some Council members say privately they would like to see data about whether discrimination and harassment was a real problem. While Metro law does not recognize GLBT workers as a protected class, the Metro Human Relations Commission does track complaints filed by workers.

At this point, the Human Relations Commission can do little besides gather the data, according to Executive Director Kelvin Jones. He said there have been fewer than 20 registered complaints from GLBT workers in the last four years.

“We believe that discrimination in any form is wrong and are here to promote the protection of all civil and human rights,”

Jones acknowledged that some Metro employees might find it pointless to register a complaint if there’s nothing the commission can do about it.

Chris Sanders, president of the Tennessee Equality Project, said he knew of a Metro employee who recently endured regular harassment from a co-worker. Sanders said that employee never registered a complaint.

“He ended up taking it over with the supervisor and they valued his work so the problem was fixed,” Sanders said. “The point is, it shouldn’t be an arbitrary, ‘Well do I have a good supervisor or a supervisor who doesn’t understand?’ That should never be part of the calculation.”

GLBT community moving dialogue forward

Besides the pendulum swinging to the left on Council, Nashville’s GLBT community is more organized than it was five years ago as well, according to Sanders. In fact, he said the fate of nondiscrimination reform in Metro and how comprehensive it will be, hinges not on Council but on the GLBT community.

“I think it depends on how much our own community will support it,” Sanders said. “I think it’s up to as really. It has to come from us and we have to make the case to Council.”

Sanders said he expected it to take time and careful planning before a case would be ready to make before Council.

That same sentiment was expressed by District 18 Councilman Keith Durbin, the first openly gay elected official in the history of Tennessee. Durbin said supporting a nondiscrimination policy was an easy choice, but sounded a note of caution because of the initiative’s sensitive recent history.

“I certainly support that kind of initiative,” Durbin said. “I’m certainly against discrimination in any form, not just that one. I think the date and time will come.”

According to Sanders, the Tennessee Equality Project’s priorities extend beyond Metro issues. He pointed to the federal Employment Nondiscrimination Act and the Matthew Shepard Act, which would make hate crimes against gays a federal offense, as legislation the organization wants to move forward at a national level.

“There are ongoing conversations within the community to talk about our goals,” Sanders said. “A good bit of the community’s energy is involved in federal legislation.”

Nationally, the public support has grown on the issue. A 2007 poll conducted by Gallup found that 89 percent of Americans believe gays and lesbians should equal protection in the work place.

“The support is there, I don’t think anybody likes the idea of someone getting discriminated against,” Sanders said. “It’s encouraging to hear Council lady Barry talk about moving this forward."

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By: threezero6 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Why not include all other life choices and non choices and make them the basis upon which to apply a non-discriminatory law as well??? Shouldn’t it be that personal choices should be protected from discrimination, whether that means religion, consensual sexual behavior, political beliefs, reproductive choices, or anything else of that sort which we choose or is by what ever means associates us??? Smokers OR Non SmokersOverweight PeopleBrown Headed PeoplePeople who are Swingers

By: girliegirl on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Absolutely! If you're going to allow one group, you have to extend it to everyone....including obese, smokers, drug users, swingers, animal abusers, and every other life choice out there. Equal rights means just that....equal rights.

By: morpheus120 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Threezer, you're assuming that being gay is a "life choice". Typical right-wing talking point.Most credible evidence suggests that homosexuality is genetic. It is not a "choice".Though even if it was, then it should be protected from discrimination just like other chosen behaviors are - like religion, political belief, etc.

By: JeffF on 12/31/69 at 6:00

You are looking at the face of the citizen referendum process. The face that smiles in this picture is also the same one that says things like "this referendum is not necessary, there are already laws in place to stop this from happening." I am proud that the citizens of metro have proved to not be apathetic enough to let too many of these Berkeley type special rights laws on the books. The next time someone preaches to you that your vote is silly unnecessary remember back to this fluff piece and the smiling face of someone trying to work around your beliefs.

By: JohnGalt on 12/31/69 at 6:00

You're right, Jeff. That's one smug looking woman.

By: roger717 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

protections on the basis of gender orientation and gender identity are long overdue. I hope Councilwoman Barry & her colleagues do not wait too long to introduce the appropriate legislation as acts of discrimination against the LGBT community are a daily occurrence. Gender orientation & identity are not a choice but I agree with the comment that we do protect those who coose a particular religious belief against such discrimination.

By: ardillicphos on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Girliegirl- Are you still worried about "altercations" with Spanish-speakers in Walmarts in East Texas? And, are they all still talking about you? I was just wondering.I don't get the references to obese, smokers, drug users, swingers, animal abusers-- what does that have to do with ANYTHING? Please explain the link.She might look smug, you're right. Why did you vote her into office? She's the people's choice. Next time vote a more conservative candidate into office, if you don't like this one.

By: bsd on 12/31/69 at 6:00

It appears that most people have forgotten that all people are to be afforded the same rights as others. No one should ever endure discrimination or workplace harassment. I have only experienced workplace harassment once in my career but I was successful to encorage the Administrators and Board of Directors to add sexual orientation to the the agency. It has been nine years ago I did this in Montgomery, Alabama and I am no no longer there, but I was thanked many times for encouraging the passage of this policy. I certainly did not want any special priviliges but I needed protection if it occurred. Most people forget that to understand this concept you must live in that person's shoes. I doubt that most heterosexual people would want the name calling, etc in their lives.Think before you speak. It makes for a better world. For in our baptismal covenant we are to protect all human beings. Are we really doing this or is this just a Judeo-Christian concept that sounds nice at church but we do not live it?Those are thoughts to ponder with.

By: global_citizen on 12/31/69 at 6:00

First point, the tired old talking points recycled from right wing radio pundits is not persuasive in the least. Second, this article thankfully makes the salient point that the amount of discrimination based on sexual orientation isn't necessarily correlated with the number of complaints filed. It's likely that very few who are discriminated against will make an issue of it, especially if they are not openly gay.I suspect many people, when faced with discrimination on the job, simply go about looking for other employment and never make it known why they're really leaving their previous employer.

By: TharonChandler on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Look, just because I'm a 'man' named "Tharon" doesn't mean that I wan't to cry 'discrimination' against my 'sexual orientation' when business and government employees enforce 'political discrimination' against my gainful emoployment (because of a right-wing corrupt mafia that my sister married). Is that why they jambed me up in Grad School and knocked my down and called me a 'FAGGOTT' at a big party i was formally invited to? Was it because I was supposed to either become a cover for the big-time prostitution in the LB county commission (by taking the only peice of ass I could get thereafter) or was I supposed to go ahead and just 'turn gay'? I'm still strait and i still ain't gettin any (jobs nor lovin) and i still wouldn't label the discrimination as against my "sexual orientation". It is simply government incompetence against common sense and discrimination against common decency.

By: TharonChandler on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Look, just because I'm a 'man' named "Tharon" doesn't mean that I wan't to cry 'discrimination' against my 'sexual orientation' when business and government employees enforce 'political discrimination' against my gainful emoployment (because of a right-wing corrupt mafia that my sister married). Is that why they jambed me up in Grad School and knocked my down and called me a 'FAGGOTT' at a big party i was formally invited to? Was it because I was supposed to either become a cover for the big-time prostitution in the LB county commission (by taking the only peice of ass I could get thereafter) or was I supposed to go ahead and just 'turn gay'? I'm still strait and i still ain't gettin any (jobs nor lovin) and i still wouldn't label the discrimination as against my "sexual orientation". It is simply government incompetence against common sense and discrimination against common decency.

By: gofer on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Why is it when these type of controversial issues come up, all of a sudden they become our "brothers and sisters"? If people are born gay, how is the gene ever passed along? Are people born with OCD's, of which there are dozens?It always amazing me how people associate homophobia with right-wingers. I know many a dedicated lefty who also feels that way. It's only the far left that joins in the celebration.