Jacksonville City Council last night voted 12-6 to expand its Human Rights Ordinance to include protections for LGBT people. It was the third time in five years that the Council had considered them. Each other time the measure had failed.
— Meredith O'Malley (@MeredithinJax) February 14, 2017
Jacksonville was the second-largest city in the nation (behind Houston) without an ordinance protecting LGBT citizens.
The measure passed 12-6, with Councilwoman Katrina Brown being absent. She was expected to vote yes.
The bill, sponsored by Council Members Aaron Bowman, Tommy Hazouri and Jim Love, added the words sexual orientation and gender identity to the existing HRO which prohibits discrimination for public accommodations, employment and housing.
Mayor Lenny Curry returned the bill without a signature, making the HRO expansion law.
— John Engel (@EngelsAngle) February 15, 2017
The ACLU of Florida said that the ordinance, given its religious exemption, does not cut it:
“It is significant that one of the largest cities that had not yet done so has acknowledged that LGBT people deserve explicit protection against discrimination. However, this ordinance falls short of fully providing those protections.
“The broad religious exemption included in this ordinance legalizes discrimination against LGBT people and only LGBT people. Jacksonville’s laws already ensure that religious organizations can conduct their religious activities as they see fit, and protecting LGBT people doesn’t change that. But the exemption in the ordinance will allow a religiously-affiliated school to fire a gay janitor, or a religiously-affiliated homeless shelter to turn away a transgender person or a same-sex couple. It sends the message that Jacksonville thinks that LGBT discrimination is different, and more legitimate, than other forms of discrimination – and even permissible for certain institutions.
“Today’s vote was an important milestone, but it is not the end of this fight. We intend to continue working in the community until LGBT people in Jacksonville enjoy full and equal protection under the law.”
Equality Florida praised the Council:
This update modernizes the existing city ordinance which previously banned discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations (such as restaurants and stores) based solely on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status or familial status.
“After years of hard work and courageous advocacy, Jacksonville has sent a clear message to Florida and the entire country that discrimination of any kind is wrong and that LGBTQ people are welcomed and accepted,” said Amber Paoloemilio, Field Director of Equality Florida.
Over the last five years, because of the personal stories from LGBTQ people, business owners, and faith leaders, Jacksonville public opinion has transformed. Based on a 2015 poll conducted by the University of North Florida, over 62% of voters support this important update to the Human Rights Ordinance.
Equality Florida and the Jacksonville Coalition For Equality (JCE) applaud the efforts of over 10,000 Jacksonville residents who have voiced their support for this update. The LGBTQ community, alongside a coalition of over 700 small businesses and 200 faith leaders, has demonstrated the urgent need for these protections so that everyone, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, has the opportunity to earn a living and provide for their families.
“As a transgender woman, I applaud the efforts of the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality, Equality Florida, and the Jacksonville City Council for helping our city take an important step today,” said Tricia Russell, Statewide Equality Florida Board Member and long time Jacksonville resident. “Transgender people face a disproportionate amount of discrimination and harassment in our community and our state. This law will help ensure that all people, regardless if they are gay or transgender, will have the opportunity to earn a living, rent a hotel room, or go to a restaurant without fear of being discriminated against.”
The council did pass a separate amendment that specified that federally-defined religious organizations would be exempt. We are committed to working with the team on the ground, from small business owners to faith leaders, to improve this part of the ordinance and ensure full and equal protections for LGBTQ people.