"Scream it loud enough that they can hear you at Bellevue Baptist Church!" yells Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy, the sponsor of a non-discrimination ordinance that would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender workers in Shelby County government.
The crowd at Sunday's Unity Rally is gathered in support of Mulroy's ordinance, which will go before the Shelby County Commission for a vote on Monday afternoon. Currently, there are no local, state, or federal laws to prohibit an employer from not hiring or firing someone based on his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.
Supporters wave signs reading "Work for Equality" and "End Workplace Discrimination." Joining Mulroy on First Congo's steps are ordinance supporters State Senator Beverly Marrero and former Shelby County Commissioner Walter Bailey.
"The intent of this ordinance is solely to level the playing field," Bailey tells the enthusiastic crowd. "Employees shouldn't be judged on their sexual orientation, but their job performance. That's what counts."
About 20 opponents of the non-discrimination ordinance, most of them Baptist pastors, gathered last Tuesday for a press conference outside the Shelby County Building. That opposition rally paled in comparison to the hundreds of rainbow flag-waving, sign-bearing participants of Sunday's support rally.
"We make last Tuesday's press conference look like nothing, don't we?" Mulroy says, igniting cheers from the crowd.
The ordinance failed in county commission last Wednesday, after several commissioners cited religious reasons for not supporting workplace protections for gays. However, the full commission will vote on the ordinance Monday afternoon. The meeting begins at 1:30 p.m.
With the crazy drama going on at the Shelby County Commission over a non-discrimination ordinance protecting gay, lesbian, and transgender county workers, it seems the perfect time to launch Memphis Gaydar.
I'll be sure to provide coverage of the impending outcome of the county's vote on the ordinance Monday afternoon, as well as coverage of an LGBT Unity Rally to be held Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. on the steps of First Congregational Church at 1000 S. Cooper.
Last Tuesday, Commissioner Wyatt Bunker held a press conference outside the Shelby County Building, in which various fundamentalist pastors slammed the gay community for demanding special privileges with this non-discrimination ordinance. Apparently, Steve Gaines (of Bellevue Baptist) and company think homosexuality is a choice.
At one point, Gaines even used the phrase "homosexual brutes" to describe the gay community. Others, such as William Owens of the Coalition of African American Pastors, harped on the use of the phrase "civil rights," claiming his offense to people equating gay rights issues with the African American rights struggle in the 1960s.
But at least one gay man in the audience was standing quietly, taking the pastors hurtful words to heart. He wrote a pretty touching letter to the Memphis Flyer. Check it out (it made me cry a little bit):
Response to Pastors’ May 26th News Conference (Part 1) What It Really Means to Be Gay
I attended your press conference on May 26th outside the Shelby County Building. I stood quietly listening. I heard being gay equated with, among other things, pedophilia, addiction, perversion and allergies. (It was hard to hear some of the speakers over the traffic noise. So, I may have misheard “allergy.”) I heard a lot of talk about sexual things, fetishes and agendas.
However, in all your speeches claiming to know who I am and what my relationship is, I never heard from you a clear understanding of why I am gay. I realized that you really don’t know. You don’t have an understanding of what being gay is.
As I said, I heard a whole lot of talk about sex. In reality that’s only a fraction of what being gay is about. (Actually, since I’ve come out of the closet and accepted myself as being gay, my life has revolved around sex much less than it did when I was trying to be straight.)
Do you remember when, as a child, you imagined how your life would when you grew up? At first, it’s just “what do you want to be when you grow up.” As you grow up that picture begins to expand and include others beside yourself. Next, it’s just what it would be like to have a family. That grows a little more and the people who are part of it start to take shape until you have this full picture of what your life will be like, including who that special someone is going to be.
For me that special someone was always a man. When I thought about who would be holding my hand as we walked down the beach, it was a man. When I thought about who would pass me the Kleenex as we watched my/our child get his/her diploma, it was a man. When I thought about the front porch, rocking chairs and old age, it was a man sitting in the rocking chair next to me. The core of being gay is about whom I love. My being gay is about my relationship with him and its joys, irritations and doldrums.
• It’s about the kiss on the top of my bald head, as I sit at the computer.
• It’s about hearing him say, “I love you” on the phone when he’s on one of his out-of-town trips.
• It’s about hanging up and missing the sound of his breathing as he sleeps next to me.
• It’s about his frustration with me when I leave things lying around.
• It’s about my frustration with him when I go back to get it and he’s put it away somewhere.
• It’s about seeing the dust under the bed and in the corners and thinking, “We have got to clean this house.”
• It’s about rolling my eyes and trying not to laugh at his corny jokes.
• It’s about intentionally falling for one of his punch lines so we can rib/kid each other about it.
• It’s about coming home from work to his hug and feeling safe.
• It’s about not understanding a thing he says when he explains his scientific papers/readings, but being proud of him because he’s so smart, intelligent and competent in his field.
• It’s about feeling encouraged by him to take responsibility and steps to finish my college degree in theatre because it’s what I love.
• It’s about being hurt and angry when I see his life’s work and endeavor being taken completely taken from him because he has a boyfriend/partner and not a wife.
• It’s snuggling together on the couch as we watch a movie or TV.
• It’s about laughing together playing Wii Fit or Wii Music.
• It’s about getting snippy with each other, ruminating on it and apologizing later.
• It’s about his smile and laugh when I do something silly and playful in order to see him smile and laugh.
• It’s about having a greater appreciation for classical music because he has shared the Memphis Symphony with me.
• It’s about introducing him to karaoke and smiling as he sings his Gilbert and Sullivan and I sing my Broadway.
• It’s about holding hands in the movie theatre and feeling his thumb rub the back of my hand.
• It’s about going out to dinner and when he orders thinking, “Yep, I knew that’s what he’d get.”
• It’s about me usually being the chatty small-talker and him being the quiet, listening one when we’re out to dinner with friends.
• It’s about sitting right here writing this letter and smiling because karma has dropped a whole bunch of goodness into my life with him.
• It’s about that vision of the porch and those rocking chairs, turning my head and smiling as he’s nodded off to sleep.
That’s what my being gay is about. It is so much more than how we are sexually intimate with each other. To portray focus your speech so much on sex is to disregard and denigrate who we are to ourselves and to each other. It misleads others to believe that our lives are incomplete and one-dimensional. I don’t expect this letter to change your mind, beliefs or values. I just wanted to let you know that you are missing out on so much of who we are when you allow yourselves to focus on just one fraction of being gay.