City police officer Brian Moran was off duty Tuesday night, but he came to City Council ready to do battle. Past president of the local and state Fraternal Order of Police, Moran is a seasoned veteran of the public arena, an imposing figure known for his ability to think on his feet. On this night, however, he came toting notes that would have served him well in Baptist Sunday School sword drill.
"I'm here for human rights," he said. "I've been doing my research. And if somebody'd brought up Leviticus, I was going to hit them with these."
He flashed a list of Bible verses enumerating human acts that are sanctioned—burning a bull on an outdoor altar as a sacrifice, selling a daughter into slavery, owning slaves as long as they're not from neighboring states.
"But I didn't need to do it," he said.
That's because City Council voted unanimously, and without discussion, to approve an ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin, disability, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity in hiring.
This means that the legislative body of this scruffy little burg on the reddest end of the state the punditocracy has dubbed "Talibanessee" is halfway to adopting an anti-discrimination ordinance. It will be adopted if it is passed on second reading at the May 1 meeting.
In a rare bit of only-in-Knoxville irony, one of the most active supporters of the non-discrimination ordinance is a close relative of gay-bashing state Sen. Stacey Campfield, whose sponsorship of the notorious "Don't Say Gay" bill and wacky theories about the origin of AIDS ("some guy screwing a monkey…") have embarrassed Tennesseans and gotten Campfield an overdose of national attention.
Paul Berney and Campfield are first cousins who get along, but don't agree about much, politically, Berney says. Does Campfield know that he's been lobbying for this ordinance for the past year?
"Not to my knowledge, and I don't know (what he'll say). My family's Catholic, and like Stacey I have a lot of love and respect for the church … What I was taught was that the church looks at sex not between a husband and a wife as a sin. Masturbation is a sin; sex outside marriage is a sin. If we're going to deny people privileges and rights based on homosexuality, maybe we ought to look at all that other stuff, if we're going to legislate morality. Bottom line, I don't think it's for the government to decide. As a taxpayer, I want the most qualified person doing the job, period. I don't care what they do on their own time."
Berney, a Green Party member who ran a credible, though unsuccessful, first-time campaign for City Council last year, says this issue has been important to him for some time. He and others in this movement have dedicated their efforts to longtime Green Party and human rights activist Norris Dryer.
"About a year ago, Norris asked all the candidates if they would do this, and Madeline was the only one who said yes. Everybody else got political about it. After she was sworn in, Norris brought this up again and I spoke with Chris Sanders of the Tennessee Equality Project and he came and did a workshop, which (Rogero aide) David Massey attended. He said the mayor had met with legal department and was already working on an ordinance. I called the mayor and we scheduled a meeting. She just said, matter-of-factly, ‘I said I was going to do this and I meant it.'
"We were all shocked at how fast she moved on this. We did some research for her… some grunt work, but something I was thinking was going to take 8-10 months of arm-twisting was easy peasy. We walked in, talked with her for an hour. It was incredibly refreshing. I'd worked on the Living Wage campaign, which was very stressful. I had no idea how easy things are when the mayor is on your side."
Dryer, who worked at WUOT-FM radio for 34 years and is in his 44th year as a violinist with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, turned 69 this month and says his recent involvement in this issue has been limited because he is battling some serious health issues. He isn't shocked by how smoothly things are going, he says.
"The right-wingers in this town pretty much realize that progressives have taken over—the mayor and a majority of City Council. They are dispirited and know they're not going to get anywhere… I had a symphony rehearsal tonight and couldn't be (at the City Council meeting), but I will be there for the second reading. I have to pinch myself once in awhile to even think about this.
"Eight years ago, the idea of a lady mayor and especially one as progressive as Madeline would have been unthinkable."
Rogero and city Law Director Charles Swanson—mindful that the General Assembly last year struck down a Nashville anti-discrimination ordinance that, unlike the Knoxville measure, was aimed at city contractors—have crafted an air-tight instrument that won't give the Legislature much room to maneuver if they decide to attack it.
After the vote, Rogero reminded the crowd of purple-clad ordinance supporters that they need to show up at the next City Council meeting.
She got a standing ovation.
Berney says he doesn't believe that politics will impair his relationship with his cousin. After all, even though Campfield is a confirmed "birther" who signed on as a plaintiff in Russian doctor/dentist/loonybird Orly Taitz' lawsuit to pitch the president out of office for not being a citizen, he got Berney a ticket to the Obama inauguration. His only requirement was that Berney give him the ticket stub when he got back.
"He thinks it might be worth some money one day," Berney said.