From Atlanta to Orlando, Ann Harbor to Richmond, Hartford to Birmingham, and Nashville to Knoxville, governmental entities across the country are taking proactive measures to be more inclusive and serve a customer base that has often been relegated to living in the shadows in our communities and not being able to bring their whole selves to work. Over the last 10 years, cities across the country have begun to appoint LGBT liaisons to work specifically with both community members and employees who identify as LGBT. The goal of each liaison is to ensure that community members and employees alike know that all people within the community are valued, regardless of how they identify. The following article, written by Chip Barry who serves as the deputy chief of operations for the city of Knoxville and LGBT liaison to Mayor Madeline Rogero, highlights the work being done within the city of Knoxville to make certain that both internal and external LGBT customers feel included, valued, and accepted.
By Chip Barry, deputy chief of operations and LGBT liaison to Mayor Rogero
Did you know that the city of Knoxville has an LGBT liaison? Actually, there are two liaisons: one appointed by the mayor, and one appointed by the police chief. Investigator Shelley Clemmons was appointed as the Knoxville Police Department LGBT liaison by Chief David Rausch a few years ago. The purpose of the role is to help strengthen the relationships between the LGBT community and the Knoxville Police Department. By establishing an ongoing dialogue, the liaison hears directly from community members about concerns, works collaboratively with the community to identify solutions, and shares recommended safety measures and available resources.
I am the deputy chief of operations for the city of Knoxville and also serve as the LGBT liaison to Mayor Madeline Rogero. Mayor Rogero formally appointed me to serve in this capacity in 2015. The city participates annually in the Municipal Equality Index survey conducted by the national organization, Human Rights Campaign. The index rates over 500 cities based on non-discrimination laws, the municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement, and a city leadership’s public position on equality. From 2015 – 2019, the city increased its score by 20 points. In Tennessee, of the eight cities participating, Knoxville is ranked second to Nashville by only three points. Unfortunately, in Tennessee, each city surveyed loses 30 points off the top due to limitations of state law on local legislation.
As the liaison, I work closely with LGBT groups and individuals to hear concerns and to share information through outreach and public education. I stay in contact with local, state, and national organizations like the Tennessee Equality Project, Human Rights Campaign, and GLESN to advise the mayor on current LGBT policy and other equality issues. I also serve as a resource to LGBT city employees and any citizen seeking resources that address issues of inclusiveness.
In the last eight years under Mayor Rogero, the city of Knoxville has approved policies or passed legislation that are much more inclusive than ever before. In 2012, Mayor Rogero proposed, and city council unanimously adopted, a non-discrimination ordinance that protects city of Knoxville employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The city offered domestic partner benefits beginning in 2014 which included LGBT domestic partners. City administration has recognized and supported Knoxville PrideFest and Pride Parade not only through written support, but also by marching in the parade and actively participating in other LGBT events.
As the LGBT liaison to the mayor, my proudest moments are when I can assist someone one-on-one who may be experiencing discrimination in one form or another. Helping them feel welcome in Knoxville, educating them on resources to assist them, and assuring them that there is someone to support them in the LGBT community is always rewarding.
As we continue to grow as a city, it is critical that Knoxville continue to be welcoming and inclusive. A diverse community is a thriving community, and we all play a part in the success of our city. City administration is proud to be recognized for our efforts to promote LGBT equality. Even though politics can complicate progress, there are reasons to be hopeful that Knoxville will continue to focus on making LGBT equality a cornerstone of the community.