Memphis approves LGBT protections for city workers


Staff Reports

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis City Council has approved a non-discrimination ordinance including protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, in addition to disability, age, national origin, and ethnicity.

The measure applies only to City of Memphis employees, and not private individuals or groups that may contract with the city.

The bill passed Tuesday by a vote of 9-4 and effectively ends a debate that began in 2010, according to Councilman Shea Flinn, who co-sponsored the legislation along with Councilman Lee Harris

“City of Memphis employees will go to bed tonight and wake up in the morning to hear the news that their hard work will be respected and their ability to contribute to their community will be preserved,” said Jonathan Cole, vice president of the Tennessee Equality Project, one of the backers of the legislation.

“It’s a new day in Memphis, Tennessee,” said Cole.

Virginia Awkward, a gay city employee who said she has experienced discrimination and witnessed other colleagues discriminated against, said she was “elated” by the vote.

“I’m proud of the city of Memphis today,” she said.

Among those opposed to the measure is Paul Houghland, representing the Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT), said the legislation was the first item in a gay and lesbian political agenda that could erode the traditional family and lead to more legislation, such as city benefits for same-sex couples.

“What they’ve done is elevate a small segment of the population and given them special status. They were already covered,” he said. “We’re on a slippery slope.”

Memphis is now the third, and largest city in Tennessee to provide LGBT people with such workplace protections, following Nashville and Knoxville.

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