City Council Passes Non-Discrimination Ordinance

(Memphis)  With a 9-4 vote, the Memphis City Council has approved a nondiscrimination ordinance including protections for disability, age, national origin, gender identity, sexual orientation and ethnicity.

The legislation, backed by Shea Flinn and Lee Harris, was delayed 30 days to get a legal ruling about whether it violated the city’s charter.

News Channel 3 broke the story last week that City Attorney Herman Morris gave an opinion that the ordinance would not violate the charter, because it would strengthen an existing policy to prevent discrimination.

Still, the Memphis city council attorney, Allan Wade, told legislators at Tuesday’s meeting that he considers the ordinance unnecessary.

“The sexually-oriented people are already protected by our existing ordinance. I mean it says that you can’t discriminate for any reason,” Wade told News Channel 3.

Other legal arguments came over whether this type of protection is within the council’s capacity. Wade felt that it should be the city’s director of personnel who institutes such policies.

To cover all bases, Councilman Shea Flinn proposed a resolution to have the director of personnel institute a policy with explicit protections, mirroring the ordinance the council just passed.

The result was a strengthened anti-discrimination policy that included a definition of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community celebrated their victory, while opponents left the room and began praying in a circle.

Virginia Awkward, a gay city employee, said, “I’ve experienced myself and I’ve witnessed other colleagues of mine be discriminated against. And now that there’s something in place that can protect those people – exactly what I do on my job every day – I’m just elated, and I’m proud of the city of Memphis today.”

Paul Houghland, representing the Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT), said, “What they’ve done is elevate a small segment of the population and given them special status. They were already covered.”

Houghland and his organization may be at the center of even more controversy, after Councilman Reid Hedgepeth denounced robocalls he received from them.

“The personal attacks towards me from this very small group, claiming to be Christians, is unbelievable,” Hedgepeth said.

He continued to describe the messages he received from them: “And I quote – ‘I hope you and your family burn in hell together.’ Now how is that for Christian values?”

He said that robocalls to his personal cell phone and business phone violate Federal Communications Commission rules.

Allan Wade said that he would file complaints with the FCC. If a group is found guilty of such a violation, the fine can reach $16,000 per call.

Houghland, however, denied that FACT had anything to do with that.

“The Family Action Council of TN made no robocalls. We made person to person calls to voters. We never made any calls after 5 o’clock in the afternoon,” Houghland said.

Beyond that, he said citizens could have called council members on their own.

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