Play

four-wordsThere are times where nuance and detailed explanations just don’t have enough punch where plain truth is far more effective. I’d love to say that certain members of our community are misinformed or just not sharing the whole truth when it comes to their anti-gay politics, but lately, I realize that I’m being overly generous. When I hear otherwise reasonable people say in a public forum that a policy — that would prevent discrimination by the City for employment on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression — would make our city “less attractive” to businesses that we might recruit to the area, there’s no nice way around it. So I’ll just say it.

Bigotry is dumb.

For the record, I’ll explain once again just what it is I’m asking the City to do. My quest is  to have the City of Clarksville change its nondiscrimination policy for job applicants, employment, and anti-harassment policy to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. This policy would not have any impact on any business or organization that is not a part of City government. It would only impact those departments and entities that are managed by the City’s human resources department.

In other words, there’s not a single business owner, church, private school, or club that would ever, ever be required to change their policy if this is passed.

There are two reasons why I’m only asking the City to change its internal policy. First, asking the local government to do more would frankly be an exercise in futility. Second, state law prohibits expanding the public nondiscrimination policy beyond what is written in the state’s EEOC policy.

Certain people, including a sitting County Commissioner, have insisted that my request is a “foot in the door” for a more expansive policy. The simple fact is that the current state law forbids any such blanket expansion beyond what I’m asking. The city couldn’t do it even if they wanted to.

But hey, bigotry is dumb. So these things don’ t matter when trying to argue against my well-reasoned facts. They’ll use fear of being controlled by a mysterious “gay elite” or something to keep a simple, logical, moral policy from being enacted.

There’s only one way to deal with the blind battering of bigotry in this discussion, and that’s to shut it down with fact. In this case, the curious claim is that our city would be somehow less attractive to new businesses if the City were to change its own internal policy.

If this were true, then Nashville would not be home to a large number of corporations that have relocated to Nashville since their policy was expanded in 2009. Among the list of companies that have moved to Music City USA are American Blue Ribbon Holdings, which manages more than 700 restaurants, Chem-Dry, HCA’s recent expansion, and maintains the presence of major corporations like American General, and LGBT-friendly giants Bridgestone and Gaylord. This is hardly the reputation of being “unfriendly” to business.

The simple fact is that an internal policy change has absolutely no impact on outside businesses — aside from corporations looking to align themselves with communities that are of like mind in regard to equality.

The fact is that these policies just aren’t controversial. At all. If they were, then the City of Knoxville’s council didn’t seem to be clued in. Remember, this is the same city that elected Stacey “Don’t Say Gay” Campfield as its State Senator. The Knoxville City Council not only passed a policy exactly like the one I’m asking Clarksville to pass — but they did so with a unanimous vote.

Why? Simple. It’s good policy.

This is the same reason that nearly all of the fortune 500 businesses have some aspect of written LGBT nondiscrimination policies. Even famed anti-gay Cracker Barrel changed its policy to welcome gay employees. Dollar General recently expanded their policy. The aforementioned Bridgestone and Gaylord (Please. Gaylord. As if they’d be anti-gay!) are also inclusive. Good policy is good policy.

It was good policy to nearly all of the cities within a 200 mile radius of Clarksville. Nashville. Memphis. Knoxville. Lexington. Louisville. Evansville. It was good policy for Kentucky Governor Beshear to enact an executive order for state employees to be protected from discrimination.

For those worried about lawsuits, don’t put your attorney on speed dial just yet. First, Tennessee law does not allow EEOC lawsuits on the basis of sexual orientation. Second, even civil suits are extremely rare — and to our knowledge, these kind of policies don’t generate lawsuits. There haven’t been any in Nashville that we know of in the three years their policy has been on the books.

But let’s bring this whole shebang back home for a little while. How can I say with absolute certainty that this policy change won’t be a big deal? How can I insist that it’ll be met with just a big yawn by the public? Why can I declare that this policy won’t generate lawsuits?

You see, there just so happens to be a particular county in Tennessee that added sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policy, and did so more than seven years ago. Not only has this policy not been at all controversial, it’s also not generated a single lawsuit. After all, it’s good policy.

And what is this daring, progressive county that added protection for its gay and lesbian employees? The answer might surprise you: Montgomery County, Tennessee.

Yes, thats right. Our own county — with its County Commission that meets just three blocks away from the Clarksville City Council — passed its own pro-gay policy sometime before 2005. Frankly, I’ve not been able to get a solid date on just when this policy was adjusted, because it was such a nonissue at the time, it was just regular business. After several calls to the County spokesperson, Elizabeth Black, we have yet to get an exact date. “It’s always been in place as far as I remember,” she said, stating that she’d been working for the county for several years.

This means that every County employee is protected by their employer from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This means that for at least seven years, gay teachers, gay deputies, gay bus drivers, gay clerks, and other gay county employees have worked with the benefit of knowing that their employer — Montgomery County — has their back.

For more than seven years, our kids have been taught by gay teachers without incident. Our jails have been staffed by gay guards, and our county highways are patrolled by gay deputies — and not a single lawsuit has been generated. After all, it’s good policy. It went through the exact same procedure that the City of Clarksville must use to change internal policy, and it did so without a shred of opposition.

And if this policy makes our county so “unattractive” because of its gay-friendly nature, then Hemlock Semiconductor obviously didn’t notice. For the record, HSC is a joint venture with Dow Corning, which has a strong support for its LGBT employees.

For those who insist that adjusting the City’s policy would be “divisive,” “would generate lawsuits” or even “create a special class” of people that would be a “foot in the door to more,” maybe they need to look around themselves and realize that this ship sailed years ago.

Are we going to let the politics of fear, anti-gay rhetoric, and the shrilling of petty bigotry keep us from doing the right thing?

  • If it’s good enough for Nashville, it’s good enough for Clarksville.
  • If it’s good enough for Knoxville, it’s good enough for Clarksville.
  • If it’s good enough for Cracker Barrel, it’s good enough for Clarksville.
  • If it’s good enough for Dow Corning, it’s good enough for Clarksville.

And if it’s good enough for Montgomery County, then what the hell are we waiting for?