Mid-South News
6:16 pm
Tue May 26, 2009

Non-discrimination ordinance proposal for Shelby County

Memphis, TN – Almost 45 percent of all hate crimes that occurred in the state in 2007 took place in west Tennessee. It is the reoccurring anti-gay assaults that have the Tennessee Equality Project and Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy looking for ways to make Memphis more tolerant towards diversity. Recently, Mulroy proposed the city's first non-discrimination ordinance, which if passed, would protect gay, lesbian and trans-gendered employees from discrimination in the workplace.

"Email in boxes of myself and other commissioners have been flooded with hundreds and hundreds of emails from supporters saying, please vote yes. We have gotten a few phone calls and a few emails in the other direction. We have also been pleased to receive the endorsement of the local democratic party, Mayor Wharton, the general concept of the ordinance and the local labor council."

Mulroy admits the fact that Memphis is a southern city doesn't make the passage of the ordinance any easier, but says it still has a chance.

"I'm not trying to propose that we as a county make any kind of moral statements condoning or not condoning any particular type of lifestyle we will leave that to the ministers and the philosophers, but as a matter of law, as a matter of civic governess we will adhere to a non discrimination principle."

"I represent a district that is overwhelmingly opposed to the homosexual lifestyle. And I represent a district that I believe, believes like I believe, and that is that homosexuality is a sin , making it a choice, and any laws that we pass will lend legitimacy to that lifestyle."

County Commission Wyatt Bunker represents district four. He says the ordinance will just cause more problems in the workplace.

"Say a business hires someone as a man and that man wants to begin dressing as a female, now they've got a man there that is clearly a man dressing as a female representing their business. Then all the sudden one day that man wants to come in and use the women's restroom and further complicates that and then if they fire that person because they don't want this person representing their company anymore, then they are subject to lawsuits and litigation."

Mulroy says the ordinance just bans discrimination against trans-gendered individuals. It would not require unisex bathrooms or a change in the dress code.

"If you have a male employee and he is a receptionist and he deals with the public and your employer says "don't wear a dress" there is nothing in the ordinance that would prevent that, and if it takes an explicit amendment to make that clear to satisfy anyones misgivings I am more than happy to do that too."

Johnathan Cole is the Shelby County Chair for the Tennessee Equality Project. He says the ordinance would not only be a step in the right direction for equality but also increasing the city's desirability.

"If you read any works by Richard Florida, he is an economist and sociologist who does a lot of research about the creative economy, and what he has shown is that economic prosperity is often tied to a community's ability to attract talented individuals, those talented individuals gravitate toward communities that have a high tolerance for diversity."

Cole says the research shows the index gaging a community's tolerance of gays is the most sensitive indicator for how accepting a community is for different cultures.

Several major companies within the city of Memphis have already adopted equal opportunity employment policies that cover sexual orientation and gender identity , for example FedEx, AT&T, Best Buy, Costco, Medtronic and International paper. The ordinance proposed by Steve Mulroy would simply amend county codes to protect people where the state of Tennessee and federal laws fall short. Mulroy says he needs 7 votes from the commission to pass the ordinance, he says it will definitely be close. The Commission's General Government Committee will review the ordinance fully for the first time May 27th.A vote to pass the ordinance will take place June 29th.