At-large Councilman Charlie Tygard is at the center of a tug-of-war between advocates and opponents of the nondiscrimination ordinance working its through Metro Council.
Tygard said his e-mail inbox has reached a point where he’s been forced to delete messages after reading them, because he doesn’t have time to respond.
Opposition groups such as the Family Action Council of Tennessee and the American Family Association have started rallying Nashville residents to contact Metro Council members about the ordinance. That’s led to a barrage of form e-mails to all Council members, especially those like Tygard who are viewed as swing votes.
The nondiscrimination ordinance, proposed by at-large Councilwoman Megan Barry and co-sponsored by nine other members, would make it unlawful to discriminate against Metro workers on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The bill passed first reading on July 21 with a 24-9 vote and Tygard voting in favor of it.
“We’ve gotten such a flood of form e-mails from both sides,” Tygard said. “I said I voted on first reading to get to second and to see the analysis [from the Metro Council staff]. I’m not sure where the ins and outs and pros and cons are.”
An e-mail from the Family Action Council to local opposition tags Tygard as one of nine Council members who “may be key to defeating this ordinance.”
Gay rights advocacy group the Tennessee Equality Project responded with another chain e-mail urging supporters of the ordinance to send Tygard hand-written thank-you notes. Tygard said already he’s received a handful of them.
The subject line of one e-mail acquired by The City Paper reads, “Charlie Tygard is our focus for the next three days.”
The e-mail from the Tennessee Equality Project continues, “If we can hold Charlie through second reading, I think we can rally the votes for third reading, but nothing is definite.”
A similar nondiscrimination ordinance came through Metro Council in 2003 when Tygard represented District 35. He voted against the ordinance then, and it ultimately failed.
Tygard said zoning issues are the hardest to face on Council, but added that social issues, such as the nondiscrimination ordinance or the guns-in-parks opt-out bill, were also difficult.
“Then you get into these emotional issues and answering to the special interest groups, whether it be guns or nondiscrimination, and it can be divisive,” Tygard said.
Although the ordinance received 24 votes on first reading, some members cast their support for the purpose of moving the debate along and are not committed to voting ‘yes’ on second reading.
District 22 Councilman Eric Crafton, who voted ‘no,’ said he wants to see the statistics for the number of sexual orientation discrimination complaints filed with the Metro Human Relations Commission. The Human Relations Commission can record complaints, but cannot investigate claims or take any action because sexual orientation is not a protected class.
The City Paper learned last week there have been eight complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation since 2005.
Supporters of the ordinance claim the lack of complaints was due to the fact that no real action could be taken, since sexual orientation is not a protected class like race, religion, gender or disability.
The Family Action Council of Tennessee is run by David Fowler, an attorney and former state senator from Chattanooga. The group has reportedly contacted Nashville churches to rally opposition to the ordinance.
The American Family Association is a national group, which describes itself as one of the largest and most effective pro-family groups in the world.
One e-mail to Council members from local representatives of the American Family Association warns against setting off down a “slippery slope” should the ordinance pass.
“We must not continue down a slippery slope of lasciviousness by lowering our community standards to appease a micro-minority constituency that [is] less concerned about tolerance, but who are dead set on forcing the majority to accept behavior they consider repugnant and immoral,” the e-mail, from Nashville residents Brian and Cheryl Welch, states.
The ordinance will be on second reading at the Aug. 4 Council meeting.