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: slacker on 4/12/11 at 11:13

Loner, a large shipment of Scot/Irish settled in Tn.
Think ''RiverDance.'' The dancer in ''Deliverance'' was ''buck'' dancing.

By: PhiDelt496 on 4/12/11 at 11:40

Antisocialite,

My question is this: Why is it the government's responsibility to legislate morality? Why do we need them to step in and force one person's viewpoint on another? What group needs protection next?

I want my tax dollars to go to the contractor who can do the best work for the lowest price. I want companies to be able to stand on their beliefs and maintain their integrity, no matter how much I agree/disagree with their beliefs. I dont think that it is the government's place to dictate that. I see court challanges coming either way this bill goes. If metro succeeds in keeping their law, a company without the anti-discrimination clause could be the low bidder and then sue because they werent awarded the contract. The lawsuit will be between Metro and State governments.

I dont see this as an issue of exceeding federal law, I see it as an issue of government trying to regulate business. The only solution for this problem is for the federal government to pass the anti-discrimination law at that level. Then all other arguments are moot.

I really dont like how if I take a stance different from what the GLBT leadership wants, I am anti-GLBT. I am NOT! And most of the GLBT that I know dont really care about this, they dont want special protections. They just want to be left alone and allowed to live their lifes how they see fit. I try to respect their wishes. But they are mostly conservitives anyway so they dont count. Right, Antisocialite?

By: Mike Burch on 4/12/11 at 1:01

The Republican party is descending into bigotry and fascism. There is no logical reason that we can legislate against discrimination aimed at minorities and women, but not a GLBTs. The Republicans are trying to create a theocracy based on a few verses in the Bible, ignoring all the verses that call for compassion and social justice.

Jesus and the apostles were clearly liberals who insisted that true religion consisted of helping the weak, the poor and the downtrodden.

The Pharisees claimed that they were the "chosen few" and ignored the message of the Hebrew prophets and Jesus to practice true religion: compassion and social justice.

The Republicans are the new Pharisees. They want laws and government to favor the rich and powerful, while the weak, poor and downtrodden get the shaft.

Should we allow bad religion to rule our government?

Mike Burch

By: Nitzche on 4/12/11 at 1:33

is chris boy or girl?

By: PhiDelt496 on 4/12/11 at 1:36

Mike,

I agree that the job of religion is to help the weak, poor, and downtrodden. But it is not the job of Government. No one should be able to hold a gun to your head and force you to help others. You should do it through your own sense of charity and mercy. Not be forced to through taxes and government mandates. I do not agree with the "conservitive christian" movement, but I am in favor of government playing less of a role in our lives. I guess I base it on Thomas Jeffersons quote "Any government big enough to give you everyting you need is big enough to take every thing you have." He is not just speaking of material possesions either. Too much government steals our Liberty!

By: PhiDelt496 on 4/12/11 at 1:37

Nitzche,

You cant ask that question...its discrimination!

By: revo-lou on 4/12/11 at 2:31

{PhiDelt496 on 4/12/11 at 2:37
Nitzche,

You cant ask that question...its discrimination!}

Which just shows why Metro did what it did. The correct answer Phid, is of course, that it doesn't matter. That YOU didn't know that shows why your opinion has little value.

By: TharonChandler on 4/12/11 at 4:08

I'm Strait, I happen to be a Christian, and though i once sufferred a severe 'gay bashing' i see no reason to acknowledge anything normal about open homosexuality; as for any government or public policy . I obviously have taken no stand 'against' anyone's own choices but i ain't Gay.

By: HokeyPokey on 4/12/11 at 4:33

Thank you for your testimony, George Strait.

HP

Can I get a witness?

By: Nitzche on 4/12/11 at 4:44

2 lesbians went into a bar...........

By: slacker on 4/12/11 at 5:32

A bar with a Metro contract.

By: Loner on 4/12/11 at 6:41

This NCP comment board has simmered down for the night; let us hope that a new Reader Comment & an accompanying comment board appears in the next online edition.

Excellent post, Mike Burch. Which part of the GOP-Tea Party agenda will make the news next? I have constructed a mnemonic, an acronym to identify their agenda. I call it, GIGGLE.

Here's how GIGGLE breaks down:

God
Illegals
Gays
Guns
Liberal-bashing
Exceptionalism

"American Exceptionalism" is the new rallying cry of the Right. They used to call that sort of rhetoric, "Jingoism"..... call it what you will, it's a sham, a scam and a flim-flam.

By: EquinsuOcha on 4/13/11 at 10:11

It's a good thing homosexuals only make up 1 percent of the population........

By: EquinsuOcha on 4/13/11 at 10:13

By: Loner on 4/12/11 at 11:07
I'm from out of state, please, what is a "buck dancer "?

Best news I've read all day......

By: GUARDIAN on 4/13/11 at 1:36

GUARDIAN-Just because San Fransucko has a city ordinance that all businesses that does business in or with the city have to hire qays doesn't mean Nashville should. SO it's like this a business wants to hire a new employee. A qays walks in and says I want the job. If the business doesn't hire them they sue and tell the city and the city cuts the business off from them. So what part of this story is fair to the business. Don't tell me it's equal rights because it's not. City ordinances like this are so so wrong. I have gay friends but they don't wear signs saying I'm GAY but QAYS wear the sign and shout it out 24/7. Give US a break and don't tell I won't ask but I don't want anyone telling me up front that they are and I have to treat them special because of it.

By: Nitzche on 4/13/11 at 2:43

ONE Percent?.....what kind of country is this that the Majority Rules? I like communist Russia when 2% ruled the other 98%........that's it, I am leaving this backwards state, who is with me?.........oooh, not many?