The City Council voted 8-0 in favor of protections for LGBT city workers.
The ordinance approved on first reading would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s nondiscrimination policy. It would also create anti-harassment protections stating that the city does “not tolerate illegal harassment of its employees.”
Amendments adopted late Tuesday aimed at protecting religious freedoms helped secure the ordinance’s unanimous passage.
Similar legislation was first approved in 2013, along with a plan to extend city health benefits to workers’ domestic partners. Voters struck down those measures in a referendum last August.
Councilman Chris Anderson reintroduced the nondiscrimination protections after the Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage bans in states like Tennessee unconstitutional.
“The final product accomplishes the exact thing I sought out to accomplish,” Anderson said. “It prevents all city employees from being discriminated against, harassed or terminated because of their sexual orientation, ethnic origin or gender identity.”
The amendments “didn’t change the effectiveness of the ordinance or the outcome,” he said.
Since the bill’s reintroduction, council members have debated whether it would result in transgender female employees being able to use women’s restrooms. A few members have asked if it could end up inadvertently violating a person’s privacy or religious freedoms.
Councilman Chip Henderson proposed the initial religious exemption amendment. It was tweaked slightly by Councilman Jerry Mitchell. All council members but Moses Freeman supported it. Yusuf Hakeem was absent.
The amendment states that the city does not prohibit employees from “identifying their religious beliefs,” Henderson read from the council dais. Nor can they be denied jobs, fired or demoted for doing so.
“The one thing that would make this ordinance more palatable is if we had gotten gender identification out,” Henderson said after the vote.
The bill largely mirrors language in a proposed employee handbook that would remove most personnel rules and regulations from city code. It’s unclear how long the ordinance would be in effect prior to handbook adoption. Council members return to the handbook July 28.
Issues raised during the debate, particularly around use of restrooms by transgender people, may resurface during ongoing discussions of the employee handbook, Henderson said.
“Let’s talk about what the policy looks like to protect the right of privacy,” he said.
Updated @ 8:31 p.m. on 7/14/15.
Updated @ 7:46 a.m. on 7/15/15.