Last night, the Jacksonville City Council in Florida heard from experts on both sides of the heated debate on whether or not to update the city’s Human Rights Ordinance (HRO).
The city council voted 11-8 in favor of moving forward with hearings on bills that would prohibit LGBT discrimination in the city. The council was scheduled to start debating two bills yesterday, but Council Vice President Lori Boyer proposed withdrawing them both in order to study the impact of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s most recent declaration that LGBT city employees and contractors would be protected from discrimination.
Councilman Tommy Hazouri’s non-discrimination bill would add LGBT protections in housing, employment and public accommodations to the city’s HRO, while Councilman Bill Gulliford’s bill proposed putting such an addition up to a public vote later this year. The city council’s decision to reject Boyer’s motion means that the city will move forward with hour long hearings on the bills over the next few weeks.
In debating Boyer’s motion, several council members made powerful statements in support of Hazouri’s legislation.
Republican Councilman Aaron Bowman, a co-sponsor of the non-discrimination bill, referenced his military experience when he spoke against Boyer’s proposal to withdraw the bill.
“It’s a simple issue for me. That’s what I risked my life for for 32 years,” he said. “I’m befuddled by some of these arguments we’ve had. It’s an easy decision.”
When asked by another Council member if he would continue to push for LGBT non-discrimination were his bill to be tabled, Hazouri stated that he would bring the bill back the following week, “next week, next month, next year, and until it’s passed.”
Last week, Mayor Curry announced plans to ban discrimination in city hiring and by city contractors, so that practices will comply with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) guidance regarding anti-discrimination policies. Given the EEOC's position that gender identity and sexual orientation are included under Title VII, we expect the mayor's directive would therefore provide employment protections to LGBT city employees as well.
HRC is proud to work alongside Equality Florida and Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Network (JASMYN) as part of the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality.
As one of the largest city in the United States, we hope to bring Jacksonville in line with every other major city in America with the passage of a fully-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance.