If our last Metro Council was like a collective of home-schooled temperance union virgins, our current Council is like a liberal arts college’s randy hemp club on spring break.
So wildly divergent are their politics and outlook that whereas Nashville’s elected lawmakers six years ago viewed it as almost noble to leave Metro workers exposed to discrimination based on sexual orientation — in fact, God wanted it that way, many of them seemed to be saying — those now representing us appear ready to embrace long-overdue legislation that would protect gay and lesbian city employees from such bias.
While the current Council cast is hardly a pack of raging liberals, they seem it simply by comparison to the irrational and hapless culture warriors who preceded them.
Indeed, so much has changed between then and now, not the least of which is the elective absence of a few notable gay rights obstructionists. Chief among them is former Vice Mayor Howard Gentry, who in 2003 cast the tie-breaking vote against a proposed nondiscrimination bill [introduced, by the way, by The City Paper patriarch Chris Ferrell, then a Council member who’d not yet become involved in the publishing industry]. It may have been his most decisive action as vice mayor; it just happened to be wrong. Gentry, remember, lost the 2007 mayoral election, and now may be best known as school board member Sharon Gentry’s husband.
Also gone from the Council are religious fundamentalists, such as at-large Metro Council members Buck Dozier and Carolyn Baldwin Tucker, whose rhetoric — Tucker’s in particular — was more befitting a crazed alleyway patron than a lawmaker, unfair as that may be to crazed alleyway patrons. (Among other bizarre and offensive musings, Tucker wondered whether the 2003 nondiscrimination bill would protect public school employees with an affinity for bestiality.)
Fortunately for gay and lesbian Metro employees — and progress generally — these characters no longer have access to the green and red buttons that decide public policy impacting the lives of Nashvillians. That’s not to say the Council is entirely without wingnuts, but as this newspaper recently noted, several key votes since the body was elected in 2007 thankfully suggest the group has shifted to the left.
Councilman Jason Holleman’s bill to apply a historic zoning overlay to the Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ, which a developer wanted to convert into a chain pharmacy, passed 22-15. And at-large Councilman Ronnie Steine’s memorializing resolution condemning colleague Eric Crafton’s mean-spirited English Only movement passed 25-8. That’s to say nothing of the fact that Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors is decidedly more left-leaning socially than her predecessor.
So polarizing was the anti-bias issue in 2003 that District 12’s Jim Gotto even complained to Out & About Nashville, a gay newspaper, for supporting him over his even more conservative, cave-dwelling opponent: “I respectfully request that you withdraw your endorsement of my candidacy, and I will treat your failure to do so as untruthful, slanderous and an overt attempt on your part to misrepresent my position...”
The tone and tenor of the ugly debate — upon which candidacies rose and fell and money was raised and spent, mind you — hardly motivated then-Mayor Bill Purcell, who always preferred consensus building to bully pulpit politics, to wade into the messy fray.
That too has changed. Mayor Karl Dean this week said he supports the legislation, which has been resurrected by at-large Councilwoman Megan Barry, who manages to be both a principled advocate and a consummate diplomat, and co-sponsored by colleagues such as at-large members Tim Garrett, Ronnie Steine and Jerry Maynard.
“I am against discrimination,” Dean said. “Everyone should be treated fairly when it comes to employment with the Metropolitan Government. I support this ordinance.”
In other words, passage of this commonsense and humane legislation, the likes of which more than a dozen other cities have adopted, appears more than possible — likely even. Ready the flags.