Commissioners spar over anti-discrimination ordinance - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Commissioners spar over anti-discrimination ordinance

By Lori Brown - bio | email | Follow us on Twitter

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Shelby County commissioners fought over an anti-discrimination ordinance Wednesday, eventually shooting the ordinance down, but not before making changes to it.

The anti-discrimination sexual-orientation ordinance touched a nerve.  Wednesday's debate involved citizens and commissioners, zig-zagging across a lot of sensitive ground.

From the civil rights movement...

"I thought we'd settled the issue of having two societies," said Brad Watkins of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center.

...to the police beating of transgendered prostitute Duanna Johnson...

"Who was beaten and harassed, by Memphis Police Department persons, in 201 Poplar," said County Commissioner Steve Mulroy.

...to faith...

"If a Bible store hires someone as a man, and he comes back the next day as a woman, what are they supposed to do?" asked County Commissioner Wyatt Bunker.

Ordinance sponsor Steve Mulroy said the law needs to be laid down, because now, "In Shelby County, an employer or contractor can say, 'You are a wonderful employee, you just won employee of the year award, but you just told me you're gay. You're fired.'"

Bunker argued an employer should have the right to discriminate under certain circumstances.

"Unless you're going to draw a name out of a hat, then you have to discriminate in some form or fashion to determine who's best for you business," Bunker said.

After two hours of debate, commissioners decided to amend the ordinance so it only applies to Shelby County employees - not private employers or county contractors.

The amended version failed in committee in a five to five vote.  The full commission will decide on the issue Monday.

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