After weeks of silence and speculation about where two of the most influential entities in Nashville would come down on the Metro Council bill to extend LGBT protections to city contractors, Mayor Karl Dean and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce released statements within an hour of each other on Friday, with Dean endorsing the measure and the chamber asking for it to be deferred.
Dean issued his first public statement on the bill, saying he would sign the council-initiated legislation if it passes.
"Nashville is known as a welcoming and friendly city and as a city that doesn’t tolerate discrimination," Dean said in a statement released Friday afternoon. "The idea of requiring companies that do business with the city to adopt a nondiscrimination policy similar to our own makes sense."
Dean added that if the bill doesn't pass this time, he would "encourage those on all sides to come together in the spirit of cooperation to talk through the issues and continue working towards that goal."
In a letter sent to council members Friday afternoon, Nashville Chamber President/CEO Ralph Schulz and Debby Dale Mason, chief community action officer, wrote that the "short timeframe surrounding this specific bill process" has left the chamber unable to fully evaluate what effect legislation might have on businesses contracting with Metro — the only ones who would be affected under the new ordinance.
Nondiscrimination is a value important to those who live, work and invest in Nashville. The Nashville Chamber believes BL2011-838 is well-intended. However, as currently written, the legislation does not reflect a process in which diligent and responsible research has been conducted by those seeking the creation of a locally protected nondiscrimination category, or by those who would be impacted by new legislated requirements.
Councilman Mike Jameson, a co-sponsor of the legislation, called on the chamber to share the results of a membership survey — on which its response to the legislation is based — with the public.
“The simple question is whether our chamber of commerce believes gays and lesbians can contribute to our business community or not, and I look forward to working with them to answer that question," Jameson said. "We’ve got a full month between second and third reading to discuss and share every shred of research we each come up with.”
Spokeswoman Stephanie Coleman told the Scene that the chamber could need as long as two more months to study the bill.
The chamber's letter includes a list of nine specific complaints about the bill as it is written and two "other issues" ostensibly from the membership surveys. (Read the letter and a breakdown after the jump.)
Various council members have told the Scene over the past two weeks that they expected the first complaint: Because state and federal nondiscrimination law has no LGBT protections, Metro would have to create a new mechanism for adjudicating any complaints that are filed. At least one council member who plans to vote for the bill on second reading Feb. 15 has reservations about that aspect.
The chamber also writes, again, about the lack of time offered to the chamber and other businesses to analyze the potential outcomes of such legislation, and suggesting that disruptions in the workplace — confusion over which policies apply to whom, for instance — could ensue if the bill passes. There is also a nod to small businesses, many of whom lack proper human resources departments and — the chamber appears to request — could be excused in the final version of the bill.
Then, inexplicably, the chamber delves into the tried-and-true scare tactics for defeating any legislation that addresses LGBT issues, breathlessly suggesting that employers won't know whether they're violating the law because, while it's easy to "determine how many members of a certain race, gender or age" a business has on staff, you can't spot someone who's gay in plain sight. The chamber also raises the question of whether "physical workplace changes might be needed, particularly for transgender personnel" — i.e. new restrooms.
The "other issues" with which the chamber letter closes are taken directly from the playbook of David Fowler, president of the conservative Family Action Council of Tennessee, who recently suggested a pair of alternative arguments to CANDO if the homophobia line doesn't work: The bill would inhibit the free flow of intrastate commerce in Tennessee and drive up costs for Metro taxpayers because fewer businesses would be bidding on contracts.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 136 U.S. cities and counties currently have LGBT nondiscrimination laws that apply to both government and private business.