"This is a very dangerous piece of legislation,” said Pastor Steve Gaines of Bellevue Baptist Church. "It will add unnecessary burdens on employers doing business in Shelby County."
The "unnecessary burdens" Gaines refers to would mean county government, county contractors, and private employers in unincorporated Shelby County with over 15 employees would be forbidden to discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression.
If passed, the ordinance proposed by county commissioner Steve Mulroy would provide the first such protections in the state. The ordinance will go to the commission for a full vote on Monday, June 1st.
Gaines went on to say that a gay and trans-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance could mean that cross-dressers wouldn't be fired from their job, "even if they were teaching elementary-age children."
Several African-American pastors scoffed at the idea of the gay rights struggle being compared with the civil rights struggle.
"We did not march for a select group of people to have civil rights and to have the civil rights struggle be hijacked," said William Owens, founder of the Coalition of African American pastors. "I was born black, and I will die black. This [ordinance] is not a civil rights issue because those with that [gay] lifestyle chose that lifestyle."
Other pastors publicly opposing the ordinance at the conference included Edward H. Stephens of Golden Gate Cathedral, Andrew Jackson of Faith Temple Ministries, Chuck Herring of Collierville First Baptist Church, and Danny Sinquefield of Faith Baptist Church in Bartlett.
Plenty of supporters of the ordinance turned out for the conference, but Bunker quickly silenced any opposition to the pastors' statements by threatening to take the conference inside a private room in the Shelby County Building if there was too much heckling from ordinance supporters.
Bill Neely, pastor of Neshoba Unitarian Universalist Church, supports the non-discrimination ordinance and stood quietly in the crowd until the conference was over.
I've heard six pastors talk of God's love and then advocate for discrimination of God's children," Neely said. "This is about equality and justice, and those are causes that we all should be supporting."
For more on the county's non-discrimination ordinance, including Steve Mulroy's take on the issue, check out the story in tomorrow's Memphis Flyer.