Gay rights leader hammers Harwell over anti-bias bill stance

Monday, April 11, 2011 at 11:21am

A leading Tennessee gay rights advocate accused House Speaker Beth Harwell Monday of pandering to “the extreme religious right” by supporting legislation to overturn Nashville’s antidiscrimination ordinance.

“I don’t believe someone with a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt thinks that a nondiscrimination law is a ‘burden’ for businesses, except businesses that revel in discrimination,” Chris Sanders, chairman of the Tennessee Equality Project’s Nashville Committee, said in an open letter to Harwell.

The Metro ordinance, signed into law on Friday by Mayor Karl Dean, extends protections against workplace discrimination to gays, lesbians and transgender people working at businesses contracting with the city government.

The Metro Council approved it last week by a vote of 21-15. The next day, the House Commerce Subcommittee voted for legislation to nullify the ordinance and bar all Tennessee cities from enacting their own policies against gay, lesbian and transgender discrimination.

Harwell, a Republican representing Green Hills, said she supports the state legislation because she believes ordinances like Metro’s are an unfair burden on businesses.

“I think it will garner the support to pass. I will vote for it,” she said. “When a local government mandates to private businesses what their policy regarding employment should be, I do think it’s enough for the state to step in and say that’s not appropriate.”

In his letter, Sanders pointed out that the sponsor of the state legislation, Rep. Glen Casada of College Grove, ran against Harwell for House speaker after last year’s elections. Sanders said gay rights groups saw Harwell as more moderate than Casada, a Tea Party Republican.

But her position on the anti-bias ordinance shows she’s no more reasonable than the extremists in her party, Sanders said.

“Perhaps your statements will salvage your party’s relationship with the extreme religious right, but I wonder whether they’ll ever be satisfied until they push you completely against the wall,” Sanders wrote. “It’s presumptuous for someone with my limited government experience to advise you, but I would urge you to count the cost before you make your final decision on HB0600. Your place in history might be compromised by publicly enabling people who are trying to undo gains for equal rights in Tennessee. Please, don’t abandon your leadership role, your wisdom, your neighbors, and your constituents.”

At Friday’s signing ceremony, Dean was joined by Belmont University benefactor Mike Curb, a major Republican political donor. The ordinance was introduced during the controversy over whether Belmont fired its women’s soccer coach, Lisa Howe, because she is a lesbian. At that time, Curb was outspokenly in favor of workplace protections for gays, and he criticized Republicans in the legislature on Friday.

“The Republican Party has always stood for allowing decisions to be made by local governments, and the argument that this bill is anti-business is no different than the same arguments people made years ago to prevent race and religion from being protected through anti-discrimination laws," Curb said.

Dean praised the Metro Council for showing "great leadership in initiating and passing this piece of legislation."

Here is the text of Sanders’ letter to Harwell:

An Open Letter to Speaker of the House Beth Harwell

Dear Speaker Harwell:

Your election as speaker was greeted with a mixture of pride and relief by many around the State. Let’s be completely honest. The relief was that Rep. Glen Casada didn’t win. I don’t want to come across as cruel about that, and I certainly don’t want to appear crueler than legislators who file bills that take away the rights of cities and counties to protect their citizens from job discrimination, but it is what it is.

I’ll come back to that in a minute.

The pride many people felt when you were elected speaker was not only that you were the first woman to occupy the chair. It was also because of your considerable experience, intellect, and reputation for fair dealing with people. So the realization hit us: Not only did we not get Glen Casada, but we actually got Beth Harwell as speaker. Or we thought so, at least.

Your April 7 comments in The City Paper about HB0600, the state legislation that would undo Metro’s new nondiscrimination ordinance, are making people wonder what the difference is. I don’t believe someone with a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt thinks that a nondiscrimination law is a “burden” for businesses, except businesses that revel in discrimination. If it’s such a burden, then why does Rep. Casada’s own employer, Schering-Plough, forbid job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, just like Metro government is trying to do, and just like so many workplaces in Tennessee already do?

And when you said in the same City Paper piece that there were enough votes to pass HB0600 and that yours would be one of them, I have to apologize for my first thought that you sounded more like a follower and not a leader. My second thought wasn’t much more charitable as I wondered how you could do that to your own city. But these are admittedly the initial reactions of someone personally invested in the issue. So it occurs to me that I need to do a better job of explaining what’s at stake.

The people’s representatives in the Metro Council decided that our tax dollars should not fund job discrimination when it comes to vendors who make a choice to bid on Metro contracts. I don’t understand how you can view that as a “mandate” on businesses. I know you have to pick your battles, but you don’t have to repeat Rep. Casada’s talking points. Getting a Metro contract on terms mutually agreed upon by two parties is how government procurement works. If a business doesn’t like the terms, it is free to walk away. But experience across the country shows that the vast majority of businesses adapt without any problem.

Perhaps your statements will salvage your party’s relationship with the extreme religious right, but I wonder whether they’ll ever be satisfied until they push you completely against the wall. It’s presumptuous for someone with my limited government experience to advise you, but I would urge you to count the cost before you make your final decision on HB0600. Your place in history might be compromised by publicly enabling people who are trying to undo gains for equal rights in Tennessee. Please, don’t abandon your leadership role, your wisdom, your neighbors, and your constituents.

Chris Sanders

Chair, Tennessee Equality Project Nashville Committee

 

66 Comments on this post:

By: ltntn on 4/11/11 at 10:15

Your sentiments are heard. However as a small business owner that regularly contracts with the Metro Nashville Government, I believe that the government has no business tellimg me who I can or cannot hire or fire. The current Metro law does NOTHING but make it where biggotry is hidden behind other issues. Tennessee is a right to work state. Everyone works at the will of the employer and the employee. Why would anyone want to work in an environment where theoretically they would be unwelcome? Ms. Howe's circumstance is ashame, however it should not be illegal to not employ people who do not share your core values. SORRY.

By: revo-lou on 4/11/11 at 10:45

So, ltntn, if my core values are not to work with or hire women, blacks, mexicans, jews, or yankees, or ANYBODY else that isn't "like me", that is okay and we don't need a law aginst that either? Please let us know what your business is, so that those that do not share your "core values" don't do business with you, you know, so there is no conflict with your "core values".

By: TonyGottlieb on 4/11/11 at 10:49

Regrettable but the only thing certain that Sanders and company have accomplished is ensuring that no one suspected of being LGBT is ever hired for fear of a discrimination lawsuit. This is a step backwards.

By: revo-lou on 4/11/11 at 10:55

What BS, everyone knows that you just put on your "special glasses" to see if anyone you "suspect" is or is not.

Go get "MAD" about something else.

By: delltechkid on 4/11/11 at 11:03

ltntn, when you sign a contract to do business with an organization, you must abide by those rules, regardless of what your personal feelings are. If you want to fire gay people just for being gay, then you have the option to not do business with Metro. You can walk away from the contract signing, just like any other contract you don't like.

By: JeffF on 4/11/11 at 11:49

blah blah blah, boo hoo hoo. Go try to take back the state government if it means that much to you. One has to wonder how all this special rightsprotection managed to not happen during 140 years of Democratic rule

By: Loner on 4/11/11 at 12:22

Tennessee was one of the most backward states in the union of American states before the Tea Party invaded and occupied the Tennessee state house. With the return of Creationism, as a political issue, it is obvious that the year is still 1925, in the minds of Tennessee's elected leadership.

The idea that employers are free to discriminate against whomever they damn well please reflects a mindset that dates back to the days of slavery and the Confederacy. Actually it's more like 1825 , not 1925, in the minds of a majority of citizens living in the Volunteer State....the TN legislature accurately reflects the ignorance and faith-based bigotry of the population itself.

They should shoot a sequel of "Deliverance" in Tennessee....the genetics are right.

By: Loner on 4/11/11 at 12:34

Chris Sanders' letter was too long, too vague and too whiny....they need a competent wordsmith on the staff of the Tennessee Equality Project Nashville Committee, (TEPNC), and they need to change their name to something that has a catchy acronym...David Fowler's FACT group, the gay-hatin' theocrats, has talented writers on staff and a great acronym....and they are kickin' Sanders' can all over the place.

Make me an offer.

By: JeffF on 4/11/11 at 12:48

Correction, employers cannot discriminate against anyone. There are legitimate protected classes they are still required to be fair to. There is no special right to choose to be LGBTBINAMBLA..

By: PKVol on 4/11/11 at 12:49

The borders are open, if you don't like the laws of the state, there is nothing mandating that you stay here.

The U.S. Constitution protects states from having to adhere to federal laws, but the Tennessee Constitution is the law of the land in Tennessee, municipalities can not enact laws in contradiction to state laws, so the Tennessee Legislature is stepping in and enacting a law that will make Metro's ordinance illegal on the basis that it is protecting the citizens of the state that can lawfully do business in the state be protected and on even-footing with any other business.

In the ordinance that passed last week, the supporters said that this was the 'logical next step' in the process to prohibit the discrimination of the GLBT community. If this was a 'step', couldn't it be reasonable to assume the next step would be to make it unlawful for any business seeking a Metro business license to not discriminate against the GLBT community? If not, what is the next 'logical step'?

By: Loner on 4/11/11 at 2:03

PKVol is correct, the state borders are open...for now. We have all heard the term, the "former USSR"; there may come a time when people will speak of a "former USA". Our union of states could break up quickly....the word, "union", itself is being savaged by modern-day, would-be secessionists.

I disagree with PK's analysis concerning the hierarchy of power in this country; PK wrote, "The U.S. Constitution protects states from having to adhere to federal laws, but the Tennessee Constitution is the law of the land in Tennessee, municipalities can not enact laws in contradiction to state laws...".

I must disagree.

The US Constitution, not the Tennessee Constitution is the law of the land in Tennessee. That issue was settled by way of the American Civil War and the relevant post-war Amendments to the US Constitution.

PK's cocky statement reveals that 618,000 brave men may have died in vain. I suspect that many neo-confederates share PK's misconceptions concerning this fundamental principle. Revisionist historians have been quite effective.

The truth is, the states are free to exceed federally-mandated minimum standards of compliance in the areas of Civil and Human Rights; but no state has the right or legal authority to mandate less than minimum federal standards of compliance in the areas of Civil and Human Rights.

Can a municipality exceed minimum federal standards of compliance? Of course they can!

Can a state government prohibit local governments from exceeding federal standards of compliance? Methinks not.

I hope that my grade-school level Civics lesson has cleared things up for PK and those who think like PK.

By: Loner on 4/11/11 at 2:23

May I suggest an acronym, to serve as a mnemonic device, for the GOP-Tea Party agenda: GIGGLE.

That stands for God, Illegals, Gays, Guns, Liberal-bashing & Exceptionalism. GIGGLE.

Sadly, it's no laughing matter.

By: Floyd2 on 4/11/11 at 3:30

If a business wants tax dollars, then it is completely fair that government hold them to certain standards. If a business doesn't want to hold those standards, then they can refrain from doing business with that government.

Period.

CANDO represents what the majority of Nashvillians believe. If a business doesn't like it, then they don't have to do business with us.

By: PhiDelt496 on 4/11/11 at 3:45

Is this that big of an issue? Are GLBT being fired en masse because they are GLBT?

I think that the better question is: If you are GLBT, then why do you want to work for a company that doesnt want you? How comfortable is the working environment going to be if the only thing that keeps your job is a law?

I just dont feel like this is an appropriate law. It seems to me to be a slippery slope for "special" groups to get protections from government. Pretty soon it would be that an employer cant fire anyone for any reason because they belong to a "protected" group. I realize that race, disabliity, and gender are already protected, but Race and Gender are much more represntative of the general population than sexual orientation. And disability is something that must be disclosed due to job requirements.

Also, Speaker Harwell is not just Green Hills representative. She also covers alot of south Nashville including Cane Ridge, I feel like the writer showed serious bias the way he worded that statement. Not factually incorrect, he is simply trying to paint her as an elitist which Speaker Harwell truely is not.

By: revo-lou on 4/11/11 at 3:54

PhiD, how far down do you want to apply your statement?

By: pswindle on 4/11/11 at 4:04

Beth Howell is being ill advised. She needs to leave this issue alone.

By: WickedTribe on 4/11/11 at 5:21

I don't know why this is even still being discussed. Even if this stupid bill passes, it's illegal by both the Tennessee state constitution and prior Supreme Court case law.

It's not going to stand up in court.

By: spooky24 on 4/12/11 at 3:21

Amazing how they always forget that I can hire and fire anyone I want to. All present legal opinions fall on the side of the employer not the employee. If you want to flaunt your identity-you certifiably have the right too-however you do not have the right to force me to hire you-doing business with metro or not. It's just like affirmative action. Trying to force employers to conform to the wishes of the minority.
I would love to see one of these cases before the State Supreme Court. I was forced to hire you-now I'm going to fire you-sue me!!!

sp

By: HokeyPokey on 4/12/11 at 5:13

PhiDelt496, Harwell is not just a representative, she's Speaker of the House, that raises her to a whole new level of authority and complexity.

Probably a little too difficult for a woman who doesn't know enough to cover her mouth when she yawns in public, but this is Tennessee.

Oh, and "alot" is a verb, not the same thing as "a lot."

HP

By: PhiDelt496 on 4/12/11 at 5:43

Thanks Hokey for Pointing out that Beth Harwell is Speaker of the House. Something that I had no clue about since I only referred to her as Speaker Harwell in my post.

I am not even going to touch the yawning in public comment, as that already says enough about you.

I am sorry for my typo. I guess I would rather have a couple of typos than be an anal retentive d-bag.

By: govskeptic on 4/12/11 at 5:49

Speaker Harwell is rightly reflecting a majority of her caucus for a change.
Metro has passed it's bill knowing the State Legislation was pending.
Now the State needs to pass it's own law and let the chips fall where they may
if Metro wants to continue a Court challenge. Mr. Sanders can whine all he
likes, but that just the way it works!

By: HokeyPokey on 4/12/11 at 6:20

it's not a typo, PhiDelt, it's simple ignorance, stupidity and laziness masking itself as umbrage now. Ah Predicts you won't stop here, you'll be allotting your way through the internets with your lower lip stuck out for some time to come.

And I know how she yawns in public from watching her in action in house committee.

Were you there?

HP

By: PhiDelt496 on 4/12/11 at 6:44

Actually Hokey, the verb is "allot" not alot. So, who is ignorant now?

By: HokeyPokey on 4/12/11 at 6:45

I would say it's the one who first used this non-existant word. Took you that long to check the spelling, did it?

HP

By: Loner on 4/12/11 at 7:25

No new LTE or Reader Comment for the April 12th, 2011 edition of the NCP? Sometimes they pop up later in the day...this particular board is still on page one...is this the "board of the day" for the regulars?

As for typos, misspellings, missing words, wrong words, run-on sentences, dangling participles, homophonic errors, syntax mistakes and other grammatical sins...let he/she who is without sin cast the first projectile.

By: HokeyPokey on 4/12/11 at 7:30

I reserve the right to dangle my participles!

HP

By: Antisocialite on 4/12/11 at 7:38

PhiDelt496, the ignorance you have on display here would be laughable if it weren't shared by so many of the people who actually make laws here in TN.

First, the series of questions you begin with is obviously meant to downplay the severity of the problem based purely on your own completely unsubstantiated estimate of how many occur. Sure PhiDelt496, because we only enforce laws (especially laws written into our founding documents) based on how many people are affected by the injustice. Similar to how a small town won't investigate a murder because they don't happen that often... oh wait, that doesn't happen. Just for the record, this is the EXACT same type of thing that people would say during the Civil Rights movement to deny blacks the rights afforded to them under the constitution, not that you will acknowledge the parallel. If this abortion of logic wasn't enough, you go on to try and shift blame to the discriminated employees, because after all, 'who wants to work where they aren't wanted?' Conveyed with all the overprivileged disdain of someone who has never had to struggle to make ends meet, and certainly never had to do it in the face of blatant discrimination at every turn.

Your middle paragraph is a complete joke as well, and you don't even realize it. I'm not talking about the pitiful slippery slope argument here either, but just to head it off at the pass : No, pedophiles and zoophiles will never gain protected status because children and animals cannot give legal consent. Gay adults however, can. But I digress, the real joke is that you don't even have a grasp of the terminology involved in this debate. You seem to think that , "Race and Gender are much more represntative (sic) of the general population than sexual orientation." If you bothered to educate yourself on the subject matter, you would know that the protected classes are Race, Color, National Origin, Religion, Age, Sex (what you meant), Disability Status, and Veteran Status. Gender is explained by the World Health Organization in this way: "Male" and "female" are sex categories, while "masculine" and "feminine" are gender categories. In other words, you kind of endorsed exactly what you were arguing against. By the way, representative...I do not think it means what you think it means either.

By: schlueterwhite on 4/12/11 at 7:39

It seems to me that the majority of posters don't completely understand the intent of this bill. Private businesses in Metro can still hire and fire "at will". But now my tax dollars won't be used to support businesses that discriminate. I commend Sanders and has group for their efforts to promote the fair-minded use of public tax dollars.

By: Loner on 4/12/11 at 7:39

Sorry, Hokey, but dangling a participle is a privilege, not a right. That privilege can be revoked, if participle abuse occurs and the grammar police are summoned. Do the right thing, HP....keep your participles well-connected and be extra careful when using the past participles of deponent verbs....they can be real killers.

By: Loner on 4/12/11 at 7:48

The WHO defines sex as being different than gender? WHO knew? This could engender a debate in and of itself...it could spawn arguments....(.....pregnant pause here...)....or we could abort the thing right now. Does the premise have a right to life?

By: revo-lou on 4/12/11 at 7:51

DO NOT give up your day job loner!

By: Loner on 4/12/11 at 7:55

As long as we are going to stay on-topic, let me re-post my views on this issue - I'm still waiting to hear a cogent rebuttal of my argument:

The truth is, the states are free to exceed federally-mandated minimum standards of compliance in the areas of Civil and Human Rights; but no state has the right or legal authority to mandate less than minimum federal standards of compliance in the areas of Civil and Human Rights.

Can a municipality exceed minimum federal standards of compliance? Of course they can!

Can a state government prohibit local governments from exceeding federal standards of compliance? Methinks not.

Metro is on solid legal footing here, IMHO....they should sue the state in federal court.

By: Loner on 4/12/11 at 7:59

By: revo-lou on 4/12/11 at 8:51

DO NOT give up your day job loner!

I reckon that's not a compliment....bring it on, Revo.

By: revo-lou on 4/12/11 at 8:00

Loner, I believe the bill has to still pass the State Senate and then be signed by the gov. Lets see if it makes it that far before we get it into court. Of course, if it does go to court, it will be delt with quickly. Another waste of time and resources from our state "leaders".

By: revo-lou on 4/12/11 at 8:01

{Loner on 4/12/11 at 8:59
By: revo-lou on 4/12/11 at 8:51

DO NOT give up your day job loner!

I reckon that's not a compliment....bring it on, Revo.}

In reference to your comedy attempt loner, it wasn't that funny, well, except in your mind!

By: Loner on 4/12/11 at 8:03

Of course.

By: Loner on 4/12/11 at 8:07

Sorry to hear that my attempt at humor failed to tickle your funny bone Revo, but since there was no cover charge, you are getting your money's worth.

Humor can be directed at either head...I was going for the cerebral type...perhaps I should aim lower...for the other head....Nah, I'll leave stroking that funny bone to you, Revo-lou.

By: bruingeek on 4/12/11 at 8:14

Just to be clear. All a business has to do is add a non-discrimination statement regarding GLBT to hiring/firing/employment policy that states the requisite verbiage mandated by this bill. At that point the business is eligible to do business with Metro. There is nothing in the bill that requires a business to actually have employees of a protected class (i.e. quota). Nothing. And yes, I do believe that when there is money involved, many businesses will do whatever it takes to get government contracts. I would suggest that those who choose to be underhanded are simply smart enough to keep their operational prejudices/preferences quiet.

By: Moonglow1 on 4/12/11 at 8:15

Moonglow1: I am shocked that someone in the Haslam administration actually has a Ph. D. With the focus on creationism, hatred of teachers & science, and now the fervor to overturn this anti discrimination ordinance Harwell must be "afraid" to cross the Tea Party theo-nuts Politicians have only one goal and that is to stay in power. So she feels she must pander to the extreme right. Well she should think again. Green Hills is not populated by the extreme theo-nuts. So Beth think again. The theo-nuts are not your base. Do what is right not what you are being pushed into doing. Do not pass laws that make TN the laughing stock of not only national but also international news. Make Vanderbilt proud of that Ph. D. you earned.

By: Loner on 4/12/11 at 8:18

Moonglow, why are you offering good advice to this Haslam woman? I say give her and her ilk more rope...they'll hang themselves.

By: Loner on 4/12/11 at 8:23

Will there be an affirmative action aspect to the GLBT Rights issue? I think that is the unspoken fear in the straight community.

By: Moonglow1 on 4/12/11 at 8:35

Moonglow1: Loner. I see your point. I fear they will succeed in ruining the state even more then they have already before they hang themselves. She & the other theo-nut Marsha Blackburn.

By: revo-lou on 4/12/11 at 8:46

We have seceded in prompting Blackburn to national status. I am sure she will do the state tea-nuts proud at the federal level.

By: Loner on 4/12/11 at 9:34

Moonglow, we have theocrats holding elected office, here in New York state as well. Rep. Peter King's show hearings, about the "threat from Islamism", are evidence of that.

Our two US Senators are both Zionists, one a Christian the other Jewish; Scripture guides their thinking vis-a-vis the Palestine-Israel conflict and ME issues in general.

There is no call from either major political party to cut funding for Bush's Faith-Based Initiative...it's a non-issue. Obama increased their budget....where is the outrage?

By: Loner on 4/12/11 at 9:55

Moonglow, as for giving politician's enough rope, so that they eventually hang themselves, the time-honored policy has risks, no doubt about it.

We gave Junior Bush and Dick Cheney a lot of rope and they got us entangled in two shooting wars that required expensive invasions and long-term occupations of "Muslim lands". Then the economy melted down, as financial panic set in during the waning days of their governance.

Those two Texas oilmen got away with all that and avoided the hangman's noose....hundreds of thousands were killed and wounded, close to a trillion dollars have been invested in these dubious nation-building schemes. Establishing secular, pluralistic and constitutional democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan could turn out to be a fool's errand...President Obama is giving it a go, nonetheless.

By: Loner on 4/12/11 at 9:56

SHB, "killed or wounded", not "killed and wounded"...mea culpa.

By: EquinsuOcha on 4/12/11 at 9:58

Alright, who left the closet door open??

By: Loner on 4/12/11 at 10:00

It's OK, EquinsuOcha , you can come out of that closet now...we are all supportive, pretty much. Come out!

By: Loner on 4/12/11 at 10:05

Somewhat off-topic, did the NCP miss this story?

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee's highest honor in the arts will be awarded Tuesday in Nashville for exemplifying the state's finest cultural traditions.

Winners are the Blues Foundation of Memphis; buck dancer Thomas Maupin of Murfreesboro; Charles Towler of Cleveland, a Southern gospel convention singer; Patrick W. Halloran III of Memphis, who helped preserve the Orpheum Theatre; the W.O. Smith Music School in Nashville; Estelle Condra of Nashville, an actor and writer; Johnny Maddox of Gallatin, a ragtime pianist; and Dolph Smith of Ripley, an artist.

The awards will be presented by Gov. Bill Haslam and first lady Crissy Haslam. The Governor's Arts Awards were established in 1971.

Rich Boyd, executive director of the Tennessee Arts Commission, said the eight represent the rich diversity in the state's culture.

Source:

http://www.greenfieldreporter.com/view/story/95ea591b323d424c81b3b1e14efd2cd5/TN--Arts-Awards/

By: Loner on 4/12/11 at 10:07

I'm from out of state, please, what is a "buck dancer "?