In a nine-to-four vote Monday afternoon, the Shelby County Commission passed a substitute non-discrimination resolution that removed the phrases "sexual orientation" and "gender identity or expression."
The new resolution, proposed by Commissioner Sidney Chism, instead offers protection from discrimination against any Shelby County government employee on the basis of non-merit factors.
"I don't want the county government to discriminate against anyone, but I don't want to give special privileges to any one group," said Chism.
According to county attorney Brian Kuhn, the new resolution will still offer protection to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people. But if challenged, those investigating complaints would have to refer to Monday's Shelby County Commission records for proof that the ordinance does apply to sexual orientation and gender identity. Since the ordinance was changed to a resolution, it does not need to go through the three readings required by an ordinance.
Before the meeting began, every seat in the commission's chambers was filled and some ordinance supporters were turned away at the door. A few were allowed in later as seats became available. Nearly 50 people spoke both in favor and against workplace protections for the GLBT community.
One man in opposition to the original ordinance compared homosexuality to pedophila and beastiality, igniting jeers from much of the audience. A number of religious leaders came out in support of non-discrimination protections for gay county government workers.
Among them was Rabbi Micah Greenstein: "This is not a gay issue anymore than racism is a black problem. Gays should not be held accountable for the discrimination against them. It's the rest of us that should held accountable for bigotry."
Those voting in favor of the resolution included commissioners Steve Mulroy, Henri Brooks, Sidney Chism, Deidre Malone, J.W. Gibson, Matt Kuhn, Joe Ford, Mike Ritz, and James Harvey. Against the resolution were Wyatt Bunker, Mike Carpenter, Joyce Avery, and George Flinn.
After the meeting, Will Batts, executive director of the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center said he was pleased with the passage of the resolution as a first step.
Said Batts: "I'm satisfied based on the discussion that happened beforehand, even though the resolution doesn't explicitly state 'sexual orientation' or 'gender identity.'"