As the Metro Council begins deliberation on a controversial nondiscrimination proposal, the woman whose job departure helped ignite the debate might be watching from the gallery.
Lisa Howe, former women’s soccer coach at Belmont University, told The City Paper she hopes to attend Tuesday’s council meeting to track the progress of a bill that would require companies contracting with Metro to adopt nondiscrimination policies that cover sexual orientation and gender identity. Howe said she supports the legislation.
“I had some things already scheduled, so I’m trying to rearrange my schedule so that I can go,” Howe said. “If I don’t make it [Tuesday], I’ll definitely be able to go in the future. Hopefully, it goes through to second reading.”
Howe, who is gay, left her Belmont position in December after revealing to her team that she and her same-sex partner are expecting a child. Her departure, which former players have said came under pressure from school officials, led council members Jamie Hollin and Mike Jameson to introduce a bill that would require companies that do business with the city to adopt the same non-discrimination policy already applied to the government, which includes sexual orientation and gender identity protections.
“I think it’s a natural extension of the non-discrimination policy that they put into place in 2009,” Howe said, referring to the measure the council approved last year and that addresses only Metro workers.
But critics have said the new bill would have a “chilling effect” on Davidson County businesses.
At least one Christian-right organization, several business leaders and two Republican lawmakers met last Wednesday to discuss their concerns. Among those in attendance was Republican Rep. Glen Casada of Williamson County, who said he plans to file a state bill that, if approved, would prevent local municipalities from forcing private businesses to adopt such nondiscrimination policies.
Also at the meeting was Jim Gotto, who currently serves a dual role as both Republican state representative and city councilman. Gotto said either he or another council colleague would likely pull the bill separately on Tuesday to allow for a rare first-reading vote on the ordinance. Typically, all council legislation clears the first of three votes unanimously to direct bills to the council’s committee system.
“The fact that it has been threatened to be singled out,” Howe said, alluding to Gotto’s warning, “that gives me more urgency to be there.”
Moving forward, Howe, who is still searching for a new job, said she hopes to have a larger presence in advocating for the approval of the pending legislation, along with other equality issues.
“Other than applying for jobs, I’ve been gradually getting back into being more active as far as pushing for equality, whether it’s raising awareness, or educating people, or getting involved in something like this in city council,” Howe said.
“I can put a face to equality right now, and I’m going to take advantage of that while I have it,” she said.
Belmont officials have not indicated whether they plan to change what amounts to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it comes to the sexual orientation of their employees.
“I think the public is still interested in what Belmont is going to do, as far as making a decision on if they’re going to change their policies or not,” Howe said. “The longer they wait to make a statement, the more involved I get again because media wants to know what’s going on, and they ask me.”
Over the weekend, Howe attended a baby shower where she got to see several members of Belmont’s women’s soccer team.
“It was good to see everybody,” Howe said. “Everyone’s so nice.”