NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Nashville became the latest city to add "sexual orientation" and gender identity to its non-discrimination policy Sept. 15 but left the two controversial terms undefined, and critics charged the ordinance only opens the city up to more far-reaching laws affirming homosexuality.
The new law passed the metro council 24-15 and applies only to metro employees -- and thus all public schools -- in the areas of hiring, promoting and firing. It is believed to be the first law of its kind in any Tennessee city. It sailed through the council six years after members defeated a similar version by one vote. That 2003 version, though, did not include the phrase "gender identity," a term so fluid that it presumably could protect, for instance, public school teachers who decide to crossdress.
Supporters of the proposal declined to define the terms, and in an analysis of the proposal wrote, "While the ordinance does not include any specific definitions for 'sexual orientation' or 'gender identity,' the courts have held that these terms are of common usage and are not impermissibly vague."
Tim Tracey, an attorney with the conservative legal organization Alliance Defense Fund, called the lack of definitions a "huge problem."
"It's punting," he told Baptist Press. "It's saying, 'Well, I'll let the court fill it with whatever meaning it wants.'"
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest homosexual activist organization, says gender identity "refers to a person's innate, deeply felt psychological identification as male or female, which may or may not correspond to the person's body or designated sex at birth." HRC defines sexual orientation as "an individual's physical and/or emotional attraction to the same and/or opposite gender." The latter term includes bisexuality, homosexuality and heterosexuality.
The American Psychiatric Association actually considers some people who are struggling with their gender identity to have a disorder. Protesters at this year's APA meeting asked the organization to reclassify gender identity disorder (GID) so it is not labeled a disorder.
"It is very peculiar for a city to be protecting what is a designated, recognized psychological disorder," Tracey said.
Councilwoman Megan Barry, the ordinance's main sponsor, said the issue simply was about doing what is fair.
"I believe that all employees deserve protection, and it's my responsibility as a council member to make sure that happens," she told The Tennessean daily newspaper.
Tracey, though, argued that adding sexual orientation and gender identity to non-discrimination policies is fraught with problems.
"Sexual orientation and gender identity, those are by nature malleable concepts, because gender identity is this notion that I can self-identify, I can pick what gender I am. And sexual orientation is, by its nature, changeable," he said. "They're trying to put things that are behavior on par with what we know are immutable concepts like race and gender. That's problematic. When a government -- whether it's a city or a state -- places something new in a non-discrimination policy, it's saying, 'This is something that is good, that we need to protect and that we should be promoting as a society.'"
Supporters of the law say it's but the first step in what they hope will be further advances for the homosexual movement. The next step could be broadening the law to cover private employers or granting marriage-like benefits to partners of metro homosexual employees. Tracey said the law's supporters now have their "foot in the door."
"People think, 'Well, it's not necessarily that big of a deal just to put this in a non-discrimination law.' But when you look at a state like Vermont, you can go back and look what bills are passed and when, and there's a progression from hate crimes laws or non-discrimination laws to civil unions to same-sex marriage," Tracy said. "It's a progression. It really does start with something that may seem benign."
Nashville and Davidson County voters tend to lean Democratic, although they are far from culturally liberal. In 2006 a statewide constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman passed in the county, 68-32 percent.
Voting for the ordinance were Tim Garrett, Megan Barry, Ronnie Steine, Jerry Maynard, Lonnell Matthews Jr., Frank Harrison, Walter Hunt, Pam Murray, Mike Jameson, Erik Cole, Karen Bennett, Darren Jernigan, Anna Page, Sandra Moore, Kristine LaLonde, Erica Gilmore, Buddy Baker, Edith Langster, Emily Evans, Jason Holleman, Sean McGuire, Greg Adkins, Carter Todd and Bo Mitchell.
Voting against the ordinance were Charlie Tygard, Michael Craddock, Jim Forkum, Rip Ryman, Jim Gotto, Carl Burch, Bruce Stanley, Phil Claiborne, Eric Crafton, Randy Foster, Duane Dominy, Jim Hodge, Parker Toler, Sam Coleman and Robert Duvall.