Knoxville, the third largest city in the state of Tennessee, has created a unique identity for itself in one of the most conservative states in the nation. The “Queen City of the Mountains” is home to the flagship campus of the University of Tennessee.
The city’s city council has recently passed an anti-discrimination ordinance, which protects members of the LGBT community from being discriminated against in the city’s hiring practices. Ben Byers, the chairperson of the Knoxville chapter of the Tennessee Equality Project said Knoxville is interested in “hiring the best person for the job.”
Of Tennessee’s two largest cities, only Nashville has passed an anti-discrimination ordinance protecting people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Memphis’ city council and mayor did not push for the passage of an anti-discrimination ordinance.
Tennessee is currently one out of six states that have a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage that do not ban other forms of recognition, like North Carolina’s Amendment 1, which banned domestic partnerships along with re-banning same-sex marriage. The state also does not protect its own citizens from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, whether real or perceived.
Madeline Rogero, the city’s mayor, proposed an operating budget that provides a raise for city employees, funding to support sustainability, and dedicates $24.4 million to the city’s employee pension, which is underfunded. Rogero is also the first female mayor in Knoxville’s history.
Knoxville’s small size in population at 178,874 goes to show that major urban centers are not the only bastions for progress, as Memphis has shown. The city is also a beacon of hope for social progressives in a state that attempted to pass its infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill. A co-sponsor of the bill, Republican Dwight Scharnhorst even had the audacity to associate homosexuality with beastiality: “There is no need to talka bout Billy wanting to marry a goat.” The bill did not move forward to be voted on, though.
The city’s mayor also supports restrictions on development on hills and ridges in the area to protect the city’s scenic beauty and to protect waterways from runoff.