“Commission priorities are promoting respect for diversity and encouraging improved race relations, building two-way respect between the community and the police and compliance enforcement.” This statement comes from the Nashville Human Relations Commission Web site where they proudly work to eliminate discrimination. They’ve worked diligently to make it illegal to discriminate in Nashville based on race, sex, age and religion. But what about sexual orientation?
An ordinance that would have prevented housing and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation failed almost two years ago after a heated battle within the Metro Council. Had it passed, the Commission would have had the authority to fine for this type of discrimination. The Commission has added sexual orientation to its bylaws and will investigate any complaints or concerns related to it, and while they may not have the authority to fine, they can bring public attention to those businesses or landlords who discriminate based on sexual orientation.
As a staff writer for O&AN during the debate, I covered the story and found myself frustrated that once again the GLBT community was being left without equal protections. The biggest argument heard at the time was the fact that there weren’t any complaints lodged by citizens based on sexual orientation. So, it appeared that, without any complaints, protection wasn’t needed. My mind went directly to the fact that if the Commission could not take any legal actions against the business owner, then why would anyone lodge a complaint?
As time passed since my original coverage of the debate, I often wondered how much discrimination GLBT citizens faced in the housing market that went unreported and unchallenged. I decided to do my own research to see if I would find an apartment owner or management company unwilling to rent to me based purely on my sexual orientation.
I devised a plan to follow-up on any discrimination I faced by lodging a complaint with the Human Relations Commission. I thought it would serve the community to follow the complaint through the process and hopefully give the Commission a stronger argument to add sexual orientation to its bylaws.
I began by calling real-estate rental ads from various sources; The Tennessean, The Nashville Scene, and one of the local Apartment Guides. I introduced myself by giving my name and the type of home/apartment I was interested in (usually a one-bedroom). After receiving a brief description of the rental property, I would proceed to inform them that my boyfriend and I had just moved to the area and that we were definitely interested in viewing the property. Surprisingly, out of over twenty-five calls to private home owners and management companies, NOT ONE seemed to have an issue with my sexual orientation. In fact, one person I spoke with seemed excited to have two gay males rent her home. She thought that we would take better care of it than the students she’d rented it to last. So much for following a complaint through the Human Relations Commission process!
When sharing my results with a friend, I explained that it was actually very refreshing to be able to share openly my same-sex relationship without fear of repercussion or discrimination, and that perhaps Nashville really was coming around. It seemed the prejudice and bigotry toward our community was slowly eroding. He, however, pointed out that maybe they weren’t actually losing their prejudice, but simply realizing the value of the pink dollar! Either way, I realized the more we are open with our relationships and orientations, the more the housing industry and others will realize they simply can’t afford to discriminate against us; our numbers are too large to ignore and we aren’t going away.
The Human Relations Commission was created in 1965 and charged with the enforcement power and responsibility to receive complaints of discrimination, a first of its kind in Tennessee . If you would like to find out more about the Nashville Human Relations Commission or lodge a complaint, visit their Web site at www.nashville.gov/humanrelations.