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Knoxville City Council unanimously passes LGBT non-discrimination ordinance, Don’t Say Gay bill is dead

ENDA Transgender Rights

By Scottie Thomaston

Recently, the mayor of Knoxville, Tennessee introduced a non-discrimination ordinance that was up for two consecutive readings in the city council. The ordinance bans discrimination against city government employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The measure just passed its final vote unanimously. It’s the first city-wide non-discrimination ordinance since passage of HB600, the law that stripped Tennessee cities and localities of non-discrimination protections and effectively repealed a Nashville non-discrimination ordinance for government contractors.

I wrote this about the ordinance when it was introduced:

In Tennessee this week, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero announced that she is introducing a non-discrimination ordinance in the city to protect city government employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The ordinance is up for its first reading on April 17 and a second one later before its passage.

This is a huge win for equality in any conservative state, but it’s even more thrilling in Tennessee. People in the state who are LGBT have been dealing with a huge amount of terribly offensive legislation specifically designed to attack members of the community in a mean-spirited, nasty way. Tennessee’s General Assembly has proposed everything from a bill to restrict teaching about gays and lesbians (Don’t Say Gay) which is still on the calendar, while other bills like the anti-transgender “bathroom bill” was withdrawn quickly due to immediate national outrage. Just in the past few days, the state senate has approved a bill suggesting that hand holding is a gateway sexual activity.

And of course, while the ordinance appears to be fairly limited – it only affects city government employees – it’s only so limited because of the law passed last year stripping antidiscrimination protections from cities and localities – which applies to everyone except city government employees. That law, called HB600, got national attention when, after state LGBT organizations had fought hard to keep the bill from being passed, national LGBT bloggers noticed and launched campaigns to stop it and later to punish its supporters. It earned a recent repeal attempt by state senator Jim Kyle, but unfortunately that bill failed to make it out of committee. Still, the fact that cities in Tennessee are still making efforts to fight anti-LGBT discrimination and state legislators are fighting so hard to repeal HB600 is a testament to how hard organizations promoting LGBT equality in southern states are willing to work to protect our LGBT brothers and sisters.

Tennessee has seen an ever-increasing amount of right wing legislation, and the “Don’t Say Gay” bill – restricting discussions of gays and lesbians in schools – was under consideration until tonight. Tennessee Equality Project’s Facebook page noted today that the rules of the House were suspended, and therefore the bill could have still come up for a vote before the Assembly adjourned, contrary to widely reported claims today by various media outlets that the bill died earlier. The Assembly just took up the Adjournment Resolution. The bill has died.

With the addition of these non-discrimination protections, there are some definite signs of improvement. Recently Chris Sanders, Nashville Chair of Tennessee Equality Project, told me that while the General Assembly gets much of the attention because of their increasingly right wing bills, cities are making progress:

“Yesterday was a perfect example of what we’re facing in Tennessee–increasingly welcoming cities and a hostile Legislature. By a unanimous vote, the Knoxville City Council passed a non-discrimination ordinance for city government employees protecting them from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, and disability–a positive, unifying step for one of our largest cities. It’s quite a contrast to the politics of division coming from the majority in the Legislature.”

As progress in Tennessee’s cities continues to inch forward, we can hope the legislature puts a stop to regressive legislation.


  • 1. Str8Grandmother  |  May 1, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    We will take every win we can get! Great work TN Equality!

  • 2. Scottie Thomaston  |  May 1, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    Indeed! They do great work, and it's really, really hard to win in the South (I'm in Alabama.) Everyone who worked on this deserves lots of pats on the back.

  • 3. Waxr  |  May 1, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    I would like to call attention of the people at P8TT to an anti-gay article which has just gone up on Gather, a social networking site. You can find it at

    It is under the heading "The Science That Same-Sex Marriage Advocates Don't Want You to Know (or Think About)"

    It is a rather long and detailed post, which gives me the impression that it was not composed by a single individual, or exclusively for Gather. Perhaps you can help in finding out who is behind it.

    Thank You

  • 4. Scottie Thomaston  |  May 1, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    Haven't looked yet but I'm willing to bet it's the same thing that has been making the rounds for years based on faulty "research" by Paul Cameron.

  • 5. Walter  |  May 2, 2012 at 7:33 am

    I wouldn’t get excited about this article. It is authored by “Ken S.” whose profile discloses his picture and facts that he is straight, heterosexual and single. Who the heck is “Ken S.” and what are his professional credentials to lecture us on the science of human sexuality? One need turn no further than the link below to read what real scientific experts say about homosexuality and the capacity of gay and lesbian people to lead fruitful lives. It contains a link to the legal brief in the Gill case declaring DOMA – Defense of Marriage Act – unconstitutional submitted 11/3/2011 to the US First Circuit Court of Appeals by the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other groups. The brief gives a synopsis in layman’s terms of the prevailing medical/mental health science on the subject of homosexuality today. Why waste time worrying about what a “nobody”, who won’t even fully identify himself, says when you can read what most all world renowned experts say about this subject?

  • 6. AnonyGrl  |  May 2, 2012 at 7:51 am

    Is there a way to post the article Walter found in the comments of Ken S.'s article? I can't get into, it is blocked here at work, or I would try it myself.

  • 7. Marta  |  May 2, 2012 at 11:20 am

    As a biologist, I want to briefly point out that the article (like many anti-LGBT arguments) conflates three completely different things: 1) genetics 2) development and 3) immutability.

    1) Genetics. This can get very complicated very quickly (see: epigenetics, and other ways that gene expression is regulated). But on the most simple level, the argument Ken makes is that, based on twin studies, DNA sequence alone does not determine sexual orientation. Well, obviously. This is a straw man, and no credible scientist has made this argument in decades.

    2) Development. This is based on genetics but goes much further to encompass patterns of gene expression and the hormonal environment, both of the uterus and a person's brain before and after birth. This area – not genetics – is where most of the interesting research regarding sexual orientation is taking place. Most anti-LGBT folk don't bring it up because they don't understand it, and it undermines their point. If we can explain sexual orientation in terms of developmental pathways, then it is no longer a choice.

    3) Immutability. Whether or not science can ever "prove" what "causes" homosexuality, the majority of people with same-sex attraction find it very difficult to change and consider it to be an innate part of themselves rather than a choice that they made. Anti-LGBT folk tend to ignore this, and jump to the conclusion that 1) because we don't understand exactly what makes people homosexual then 2) it must be a choice. But there's actually no evidence connecting #1 to #2. They are unrelated logically or scientifically.

    Sorry for the rant guys, this stuff just pisses me off.

    We need to be more scientifically literate (as a movement and as a nation in general) and call people out on their pseudo-science.

  • 8. bythesea  |  May 1, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    Madeline Rogero rocks! I can't believe a progressive "community organizer" managed to get elected Mayor of Knoxville, but she did (with a lot of Republicans supporting her too, they were impressed by her as a person despite the political divide) and she lived up to her promise. I really think if it weren't for the recently enacted state law preventing local anti-discrimination ordinances she would have been able to get a non-discrimination law for more than the city employees, but every step toward equality is wonderful.

  • 9. _BK_  |  May 1, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    OT: In Washington state:

    Kind of worrying. :

  • 10. Walter  |  May 2, 2012 at 7:45 am

    One thing that is probably slowing them down this time is that Washingtonians know that their identity will be made public if they sign the petitions for Referendum 74. In 2009, the religious right in Washington tried to overturn domestic partnerships with Referendum 71. At that time, they assured petition signers that their identity would be kept secret. They fought Washington State all the way to the Supreme Court trying to keep the signatures secret where they lost resoundingly in an 8 to 1 decision June 24, 2010 that the signatures must be disclosed Doe v. Reed, with only Thomas dissenting.

  • 11. AnonyGrl  |  May 2, 2012 at 7:48 am

    Excellent point! And one that should probably be used in Washington… "If you sign, make sure you are willing to stand up and announce your bigotry to the world!"

  • 12. Gregory in SLC  |  May 2, 2012 at 6:37 am

    Tennessee 'Don't Say Gay' Bill to get Axed:

  • 13. AnonyGrl  |  May 2, 2012 at 7:23 am

    Yay!!! Step by step… we are winning. Gotta love that.

    (And gotta love Greg and Ariel… smooches guys!!!)

  • 14. Gregory in SLC  |  May 2, 2012 at 7:26 am


  • 15. Ian  |  May 2, 2012 at 8:00 am

    Why doesn't 'Romer v. Evans' apply to HB600??

  • 16. AnonyGrl  |  May 2, 2012 at 9:14 am

    It looks to me like it would, but someone has to bring it to court. Perhaps as of yet, no one has done so?

  • 17. _BK_  |  May 2, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    I would think so too – but I've been following that site for about three weeks now, and it used to be that their count increased by ~1,000 signatures every two days. Then it became roughly 1,000 per day. And then all of a sudden it started to jump up by 3,000, and just now it went from around 33,000 total to nearly 50,000. I don't know. My worry is that they've planted their roots and are now milking the infrastructure they've set up. But I really do hope you're right.

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