Rally in Tenn. demands LGBT rights

ramsey maynard

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Standing in a steady drizzle as dark clouds rolled over the Mississippi, supporters of the Tennessee Equality Project rallied outside of the federal courthouse here Dec. 9. All across the state, similar rallies took place to petition President Obama to sign an executive order barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in federal contracting jobs.

Anne Gullick, the Tennessee Equality Project's Shelby County chairperson, addressed a semicircle of thirty equality advocates saying, "This is about equality in the workplace." Gullick, standing beneath the American flag, said, "I am a straight woman. This is my cause." She pointed out that "the women's rights movement and the LGBTQ rights movement" have much in common: "the oppressors are the same."

The next speaker, Michelle Bliss, discussed why the TEP is seeking an executive order from the President: "Our state legislature has cut us off at the knees." She went on to explain, "Nashville has passed a law that says no municipality can extend protections beyond their own employees."

In October, by a 9-4 vote, the City Council of Memphis approved a nondiscrimination ordinance that extended protections to city workers based on sexual orientation and gender identity. However, the City of Memphis is powerless to extend similar protections to other workers due to state law.

According to Bliss, "The only way to overcome this state law is through federal action." She added, "Workers should be judged by what they do 9 to 5" and not by who they love.

Chai Feldblum, a Commissioner at the EEOC and the lead attorney in drafting the Americans with Disabilities Act, agrees. Feldblum met with a small group of local equality advocates days before the rally in the basement of Evergreen Presbyterian Church. "Ultimately what is needed," Feldblum said, "is a federal law." "But," she said, "until we get that, what we need is an executive order."

Feldblum outlined her approach, saying, "You need three things to create social change: law, policy and practice and social norms." An executive order from President Obama would represent a crucial change in policy and advance the cause of equality. Feldblum confided, "I have zero doubt the President will issue this executive order." She paused, then added, "The question is when...we have to be smart and strategic about it."

The final speaker at the rally was Glenn Ramsey. Ramsey, an adjunct professor at the University of Memphis, encouraged the crowd to "extend the struggle" and "build on the recent victory [in the Memphis City Council]."  Ramsey said they should secure "the real right to work... for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender" people across Tennessee.

While his partner, Jim Maynard, held an umbrella over his head, Ramsey put the purpose of the rally into perspective, saying, "We know, as America's working people, that policies like these [right to work] and longstanding employment discrimination against LGBT people, only serve the aims of America's corporate elite to divide and conquer our national workforce."

Last week the Supreme Court agreed to hear two separate cases regarding marriage equality. Should the justices rule to curtail discrimination, the Republican wedge issue of LGBTQ equality will be severely blunted. Considering the GOP's reliance on wedge issues, especially in the South, to divide the working class against itself, a Supreme Court ruling declaring marriage discrimination unconstitutional would represent a strategic defeat to the right wing.

While distant thunder rumbled, Ramsey asked, "Who else defeated the massive amounts of wealth invested by the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson and the American Heritage Foundation?" Ramsey shouted to the applauding crowd, "We the American people did, and we can do it again! Si se puede!"

Photo: Glenn Ramsey and Jim Maynard. James Raines/PW

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  • Zach,

    Glenn Ramsey was referring to the 2012 Obama campaign and not to Koch's or Adelson's position on equality. Their massive financial support of defeated campaigns has been well-documented. His echoing of the 2008 Obama campaign slogan "si se puede" links the historical success of progressives working on national electoral campaigns to the current struggle for equality.

    Your inability to understand what was clearly written explains why the rest of your comment has the factual accuracy and linguistic clarity of a drunken spider monkey.

    Why is it that people who profess to be anti-union have no work ethic and are always asking for a free handout?

    Only a rude freeloader would refuse to pay someone for the work they've done. Every worker in a union shop benefits from the contract and every worker is supposed to pay their part of the tab to make it happen.

    You're the kind of guy that would eat a huge steak when having a dinner with friends and when it came time to split the bill claim you hadn't ordered anything and blame the waiter for bringing the bill.

    Posted by Artie , 12/16/2012 3:42am (2 years ago)

  • ... and apparently Glenn Ramsey is a moron. Both the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson support gay marriage, and have made numerous statements as such.

    But hey, if you believe that forcing people to pay fees to political organizations on the condition of their employment is SUCH an advancement for liberty, why shouldn't we bash people that are pro-LGBT? Truth apparently isn't an issue.

    I'm just glad that both the unions and anti-gays have earned themselves big black eyes for trying dictate their backwards economic/theocratic values through the heavy hand of government on the rest of us. Oh, the wonders of freedom and individual liberties.

    Posted by Zach, 12/13/2012 4:34pm (2 years ago)

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