Strange and Stranger 

The new year must have kicked off somewhere in the twilight zone.

The new year must have kicked off somewhere in the twilight zone.

On Jan. 1, if you recall, a poor, innocent family was handcuffed and thrown in the back of a squad car by a bunch of Tennessee’s finest. Then, when their ultra-happy dog came bounding out of their car, officers blew it away like it was an attacking lion. Caught on videotape, the incident made national news. Gov. Don Sundquist appealed to the nation for calm.

A similar level of bizarreness then pervaded Metro Council. Our city’s legislative body, which has never been known for stately debate, outperformed itself at its first meeting of the new year by discussing sex with dead people, sadism, pedophilia and transvestism. All this is pretty steamy stuff for our conservative little community, but it wasn’t sexual libertines doing all the talking. It was religious wackos. In the name of Jesus, would someone please stamp out all this sadism we keep seeing on the way to work?

We are actually making light of a rather awful situation. This Metro Council discussion came in the context of a solid proposal to help the city’s gay and disabled communities. Proposed by Metro Council member Chris Ferrell (who happens to be a graduate of the Vanderbilt University Divinity School and an ordained Southern Baptist minister), the measure in question would broaden the city’s “Fair Employment and Housing Practices,” which make it illegal to discriminate against people on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin or sex. The proposal calls for sexual orientation and disabilities to be added to the list.

The measure is scheduled for a final vote on Jan. 21. Mayor Bill Purcell, in the words of an aide, “doesn’t have an opinion on it.” But thousands of Nashvillians, who are either disabled or gay, obviously want and need the bill to pass. Discrimination against homosexuals and people with disabilities is very much alive and well, judging by the response the proposal has provoked.

Metro Council member Carolyn Baldwin Tucker has expressed reservation that the measure would protect school employees who are footstompers or practice bestiality. A Crieve Hall Church of Christ elder, The Tennessean reported, said homosexuality “is a violation of God’s law,” and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has gotten so angry about the measure that it may not hold its annual meeting here in 2005. (The idea does have a certain charm to it.) The head of the SBC also went so far as to say the ordinance could turn Nashville into “the San Francisco of the Southeast.” (Horrors.)

Ferrell says that he plans to amend his proposal by the time the vote is held so that all religious institutions are excluded from the bill. That way, if a Baptist feels that the bill forces him to hire a militant lesbian to answer the phones, he won’t have to. (Darn.)

“It’s my hope that when we correct the issue of religious institutions, then we’ll be successful,” Ferrell says.

It’s the Scene’s hope as well that this measure passes. Numerous other cities have adopted similar measures. The gay and lesbian community here has made great strides in the last decade in Nashville. This is one more important step in that long march.

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