A Certain Defeat 

Reflections on the failure of the city’s gay ordinance

Reflections on the failure of the city’s gay ordinance

By Bruce Dobie

It was such a rich spectacle, filled with irony, pathos and such unprincipled ambition as would astound even the most hardened political observer.

Last week, the measure that would have extended protection to gay employees of Metro ended jarringly with one of the city’s top elected officials breaking a tie vote and deciding that in the final analysis it was best to tank the measure and save his hide.

That the officeholder in question, Vice Mayor Howard Gentry, is black and often mentions having experienced the sting of discrimination in Nashville as a child while visiting city parks, made his capitulation all the more poignant. Really, you can’t make this sort of stuff up.

The other political figure pulling an impressive duck and swerve throughout the storm was the mayor, whose avoidance of the issue could be chalked up either to an extreme case of gutlessness or a sense that the measure was so doomed from the outset that it shouldn’t have been introduced at all. In Purcell’s case, both explanations may be true. His unwillingness to so much as publicly hint that he supported the issue was painful to the gay and lesbian community, who were left reeling in private meetings with him by his ability to talk a lot and say very little.

That the measure got 18 votes—there are 40 Metro Council members—the night it died was nothing short of stupendous. We’re talking about Nashville after all. Of course, over the months that the bill had been up for consideration, its scope had been whittled down to the point that it was little more than symbolic. When it was first introduced, the bill would have added gays and lesbians to the classes of Nashvillians who cannot be discriminated against in housing or employment. The bill landed in the hopper quietly enough. But when word leaked out, the nutsos emerged from under their rocks, and the steps of the Metro Courthouse soon became a gathering place for backwater preachers and their offspring to argue for the elimination of homosexuals from the planet—using

passages from the Book of Revelations in the process.

Needless to say, that first bill, which covered everyone living in the city, was killed. Assorted forces then tried to figure out what to do next. About this time, the mayor indirectly dipped his toe into the conflict when his legal director opined that the Metro Human Relations Commission already had the power to investigate discrimination against gays and lesbians. But backers of the bill still wanted to pass something, and so they returned with another measure that provided job protection only for gays and lesbians working for Metro. It was a smart move, designed to put the city on record that it opposes discrimination. It also was an attempt to do something, anything, for the city’s gays and lesbians and provide them the sense that they had a political toehold here.

From time to time, issues pop up that doom certain coalitions to failure. In this instance, the one that capsized the effort was counting on black council members to support the normally Democratic constituency of gays and lesbians. But many African Americans are also religious conservatives, and several in the council said they viewed homosexuality as a lifestyle choice. The bill’s harshest critic, Carolyn Baldwin Tucker, is black. The irony, of course, is that among all the possible constituencies in this city, blacks have the most experience with discrimination and its redress by government.

Of the lessons learned in this process, perhaps the toughest for the homosexual community is the fact that the city simply isn’t ready to go on record supporting it, as such a move seems far too politically radioactive for most council members. A certain amount of naïveté accompanied the city’s gay and lesbian community as it waded prematurely into battle, but one can’t fault its numbers for either their idealism or the correctness of their position. It’s a fair bet the idea will live to see another day.

Thus ends what was probably the most vituperative issue to confront Metro Council in years. With elections in August, gay activists would be advised to jump headlong into the council races and begin preparing for round two.

The irrelevant $3 million day

One casualty of the state’s horrendous budget situation could very well be our presidential primary. The primary’s more than $3 million cost is one factor in its possible dissolution. The other is the fact that Tennessee’s primary is scheduled for March 9, and by then it’ll probably all be over.

The current nominating system of presidential candidates is widely viewed as anachronistic and bizarre. That the nation allows Iowa (the first caucus in the process) and New Hampshire (the first primary) to weed the race down to two or three finishers is not the only oddity. In recent years, we’ve also left it up to the extremists in South Carolina (remember Bush’s visit to Bob Jones University?) to finish the job.

Not too long ago, Tennessee joined other Southern states in the so-called “Super Tuesday” primary, which was an attempt by conservative/moderate Democrats in Tennessee and nearby states to stomp out the party’s more liberal elements. But a number of other states have now moved their nominating events well before Super Tuesday, which makes that day’s primaries, Tennessee’s included, pretty well irrelevant.

What may happen is that Tennessee simply scraps its primary and adopts some sort of caucus system to select its convention delegates. In the long run, however, Tennessee would be wise to get behind the idea of a national primary.

Not too long ago, Tennessee joined other Southern states in the so-called “Super Tuesday” primary, which was an attempt by conservative/moderate Democrats in Tennessee and nearby states to stomp out the party’s more liberal elements. But a number of other states have now moved their nominating events well before Super Tuesday, which makes that day’s primaries, Tennessee’s included, pretty well irrelevant.

What may happen is that Tennessee simply scraps its primary and adopts some sort of caucus system to select its convention delegates. In the long run, however, Tennessee would be wise to get behind the idea of a national primary.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Recent Comments

Sign Up! For the Scene's email newsletters





* required

All contents © 1995-2015 City Press LLC, 210 12th Ave. S., Ste. 100, Nashville, TN 37203. (615) 244-7989.
All rights reserved. No part of this service may be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of City Press LLC,
except that an individual may download and/or forward articles via email to a reasonable number of recipients for personal, non-commercial purposes.
Powered by Foundation