Jacksonville Debates Changing Anti-Discrimination Laws
On May 22, hundreds of people flocked to the Jacksonville City Council for a public hearing on the proposed Council Bill 2012-296, which would add sexual orientation, gender identity or expression as protected classes to the city’s current anti-discrimination legislation. Nearly 100 people expressed their support of the legislation with only about 15 speaking out against it. The Council has currently taken no action on the bill. It will be up for a vote on June 12.
"A person should be employed on nothing less than the merits of how well they do their job, or to rent and maintain residency based on nothing less than being a good tenant and having the ability to pay; not their sexual orientation," said Daniel Flood, Board Chairman of Oasis, The GLBT Center of Northeast Florida.
The bill proposes extending basic non-discrimination rights to the LGBT community in Jacksonville. Florida is an "at will" employment state, meaning that employers do not need to give a reason for terminating employment. Council Member Warren Jones, the bill’s sponsor, pointed out that the bill does not apply to employers that have 15 employees or less.
But this bill will cover more than just discrimination against LGBTs in employment opportunities; it will also cover housing and public accommodation. The current legislation prevents discrimination based on race, creed, religion or disability. Adding sexual orientation and gender identity would put the legislation in line with similar anti-discrimination found in all of Florida’s other major cities.
Religious Leaders Speak Against Legislation
The proposed legislation has already come under fire by local religious leaders. Dr. Raymond Johnson, Founder & President of Biblical Concepts Ministries, has mobilized his congregation to speak out against the legislation, quoting Biblical scripture Romans 1:22-32, and accusing those who support it of having a "reprobate mind."
"We reject the theory that this is an ’anti-discrimination bill,’ as the bill takes away the rights of the majority of our citizens and gives special rights and class to a small minority of people," said Johnson. "We have spoken so politically correct we have desensitized a generation to homosexuality. It is not an alternative lifestyle; it is sodomy, perversion and sin. We know God will bless or curse this city according to our law and public policy as Proverbs 14:34 states ’Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.’"
Mac Brunson, the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, also claimed that the legislation was a way of legally mandating people to accept lifestyles they might object to on moral grounds.
"If passed, the ordinance would in fact discriminate against every person whose faith, religious and moral beliefs and/or moral standards this ordinance would be confronting head on," said Brunson.
And conservative Council Member Kim Daniels, a pastor at Kimberly Daniels Ministries International, provoked moments of public outburst by asking if sexual orientation extended to animals, whether the bill would void all birth certificates, and by suggesting that a vote for gay rights would mean an end to the rights of other protected classes.
But other religious leaders expressed tolerance, with Reverend Harvey Carr of the Christ Church of Peace comparing this ordinance to the stand taken for civil rights for African Americans.
"This is not a religious ordinance," said Reverend Carr. "All men are created equal. Freedoms and rights have continued for all people. If we had not done that then many of you would not be able to sit where you sit, much less vote."
Others spoke to the impact the legislation would have on making Jacksonville a better city in economic and educational arenas.
"When you took the oath of office, you swore to protect all of the residents of Jacksonville, not just some of them," said Audrey Moran, a former Republican mayoral candidate and Senior Vice President of Social Responsibility and Community Advocacy for Baptist Health, a faith-based system consisting of six medical facilities and hospitals in the Jacksonville area.
"This bill is good for Jacksonville," said Moran. "This bill has broad community support. People from all across our city are urging you to bring our city in line with other metropolitan cities and ban all remaining types of discrimination. And our Chamber of Commerce, one of the largest in the country, voted yes on this bill last Friday."
Faculty members from Florida State College at Jacksonville also supported the legislation, saying that the lack of protection for the LGBT community was leading to a "brain drain" in the city, and noting that some students had expressed fears for their safety.
Local LGBT community leaders urged everyone to speak out in support of Council Bill 2012-296, and provided community members with compelling talking points and statistics.
"It astounds me that anyone could be refused something as simple as being serviced by a place of business for any other reason than being a good patron -- a patron contributing financially to an establishment, be it checking into a hotel, buying a car, buying groceries or dining out," said Flood. "Where or how does sexual orientation and identity fit into any of those situations? No one deserves to be subjected to arbitrary labeling and discrimination."
Currently, 16 states and the District of Columbia have policies that protect against both sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in employment, while an additional five states have state laws that protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation only. In Florida, six counties and 13 cities have anti-discrimination laws that protect the LGBT community.
The concept of LGBT non-discrimination measures is also being addressed on a national level. In April, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that, "Any employer who discriminates against an employee or applicant on the basis of the person’s gender identity is violating prohibitions on sex discrimination contained in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964."
Also this year, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity issued a regulation to prohibit LGBT discrimination in federally assisted housing programs. The new regulations ensure that the Department’s core housing programs are open to all eligible persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Flood encouraged all supportive Jacksonville residents to attend the City Council meetings on June 4 and June 12 to show their support for Council Bill 2012-296.
"Blanket statements of morality expressed in religious ideology are not reasons to refuse the rights of basic legal protections from one segment of the population, specifically while simultaneously using those same statements to guarantee those rights to another segment of the population," said Flood. "The law should not be used to legislate on the perceptions of individual morality because it never benefits the expression of humanity. No, the law should be fair, it should be just, and it should be balanced -- by doing for some, so should the same be done for all."