A proposed “Higher Education Equality Act,” designed to end most affirmative action programs at state colleges and universities, fell one vote short of passage in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.
The bill by Sen. Jim Summerville, R-Dickson, (SB8) had been debated at length over two previous weekly meetings of the panel with officials of the University of Tennessee and Board of Regents systems saying it could have unintended consequences hurting various college endeavors.
Before the final vote, the committee adopted an amendment proposed by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, that he described as addressing “every single objection” raised by higher education officials.
Still, only Campfield and three other senators voted for the bill on final vote. Two voted no and three abstained. A bill requires five yes votes to move out of the committee.
The Memphis City Council on Tuesday approved a nondiscrimination ordinance that includes workplace protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, ending a debate that began in 2010, according to the Commercial Appeal. “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.”
The legislation sponsored by council members Lee Harris and Shea Flinn and approved in a 9-4 vote includes protections against discrimination for “sexual orientation, gender identity, age, ethnicity, national origin and disability.”
It applies only to employment by the city of Memphis, not private individuals or groups that may contract with the city.
Council members Flinn, Harris, Harold Collins, Edmund Ford Jr., Janis Fullilove, Wanda Halbert, Reid Hedgepeth, Myron Lowery and Jim Strickland voted for the ordinance. Council members Bill Boyd, Joe Brown, Bill Morrison and Kemp Conrad voted against it.
The move to invalidate a Nashville ordinance banning city contractors from discrimination based on sexual orientation has taken on an “Alice in Wonderland” quality, says Jeff Woods, as Republican legislators declare the bill a pro-business initiative even as the Christian conservative Family Action Council of Tennessee stresses sexual orientation in attacks on those who oppose the bill.
An excerpt: Targeting a Shelby County Republican who voted no on the first bill, the council sent a video to supporters suggesting that ordinances like Nashville’s somehow would open women’s restrooms to child molesters.
In the video, a little girl walks into a women’s restroom at a public park and is followed by a sinister looking man.
“Will this be the future for Shelby County?” the video asks. “Do gender differences matter to you? They won’t if Memphis or Shelby County mandates ‘gender expression’ policies on private employers. Is that the kind of Tennessee you want?”
Since then, conservative Christians have encountered no more resistance from Republicans in House committees. Fowler said narrowing his proposal to the gay issue was the key.
“The broader bill created a lot of confusion as to what all it was doing,” he said after one House victory. “Anytime you have a bill with three or four moving pieces and parts, it becomes harder for people to understand. So we narrowed it down to one issue. It made it simpler. People understood exactly what it did and what it didn’t do.”
Fowler defended his organization’s video, saying it did not intend to paint gays or transgender people as child molesters. If Nashville’s ordinance were allowed to stand, “you don’t know whether a person’s in [the women’s restroom] lawfully or not in there lawfully,” he said.
“As we become a genderless society,” he added, “that’s the kind of thing that’s happening. As we become more insensitive to gender differences, it becomes easy for real sexual predators to take advantage of that situation in that kind of environment and climate. It’s not any kind of statement that those who are transgender or cross-dress are sexual predators. It’s that sexual predators will know how to take advantage of those opportunities afforded by law when the distinctions begin to get blurred with respect to who’s rightfully or not in a restroom.”