• The new bill is available here:
  • The bill’s hearing schedule is here:
  • Our evaluation is here:
  • Florida Family Action’s review is here:
  • Read our related Florida Times-Union letter here:

Council hears from both sides in HRO debate

By Christopher Hong Posted January 10, 2017 10:56 pm

Hundreds of people showed up at Tuesday’s Jacksonville City Council meeting to voice support and opposition to a proposed law that would prohibit discrimination against the LGBT community.

Council members didn’t discuss the legislation, and they won’t debate or vote on it until next month. Still, the simple fact that the idea is again being considered by the council — the second time in two years — was enough to attract a large crowd to the meeting.

For nearly two hours, individuals waited their turn to make their case for or against the proposed law. By now, council members have heard most of those arguments many times.

Advocates say the lack of discrimination protections for gay, lesbian and transgender people is a black eye for Jacksonville, which remains one of the few major cities without such a law in place.

Prominent business leaders support the law, often referred to as the Human Rights Ordinance, or HRO, saying it has discouraged big companies from moving or expanding in the city — although they say confidentiality requirements prohibit them from providing specific examples.

“We believe all people should be protected from discrimination in employment, public accommodation and housing,” said Darnell Smith, chairman of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.

Critics of the law, many of whom identified themselves as Christians, said they fear it will muzzle their religious liberties and burden small businesses, despite a provision that it wouldn’t apply to religious organizations or businesses with less than 15 employees. Some used demeaning language in reference to the LGBT community, calling them “deviants,” “weirdos” and a “risk to the community.”

“This is a homosexual superiority ordinance,” said Raymond Johnson, a fierce opponent of the law.

Other critics expressed concern about the law allowing men in women’s restrooms. The legislation has no requirements for special restroom accommodations and doesn’t specify any rules on restroom use. It does, however, state that people will not be allowed to use their gender identity, defined as a person’s consistent, uniform and sincerely held expression of gender, for any illegal or improper purpose.

The legislation, if passed, would update the city’s existing law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital or familial status to include sexuality and gender expression.

It’s unclear whether the legislation has support from 10 council members, the minimum majority needed to pass.

Councilmembers Aaron Bowman, Jim Love and Tommy Hazouri announced last week they would co-introduce the legislation. Other supporters had the chance to join them at Tuesday’s meeting, but none did.

Last year, Hazouri introduced similar legislation but withdrew it after it failed to gain enough support to pass from his colleagues.

Mayor Lenny Curry, who can veto any legislation approved with less than 13 council votes, has said he believes changing the human-rights ordinance would not be “prudent.”

Council committees, which do most of the heavy lifting in debating and amending legislation, are set to take on the proposed law in early February. The full council could vote on the legislation as early as Feb. 14 if it’s not delayed by committee reviews.

Tuesday’s meeting remained orderly. No speakers were interrupted, and the crowd obeyed strict rules that forbid protesting or breaking out in applause during the meeting.

“Even how both people on both sides are passionate and absolute on the importance of this passing or not passing, everyone was civil and respectful of each other,” said Council President Lori Boyer at the end of the meeting.

Chris Hong: (904) 359-4272 

City council looks at Human Rights Ordinance

Steven Dial reports. 1/10/2017

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The heavily debated human rights ordinance was back in the spotlight during the first Jacksonville City Council meeting of 2017. This ordinance was in the headlines for the better part of last year.

Mayor Lenny Curry held multiple forums and public discussions about the issue. By the end of the 2016 debate nothing was done. The only change was Curry adding protections for city employees that are members of the LGBT community.

The debate is over adding protections for members of the LGBT community citywide. With the ordinance it would protect LGBT members from discrimination when it comes to things like being denied employment simply because of their sexual orientation.

More than 100 people gave public comment at the first council meeting of 2017. The bill is not that different from the failed bill from last year.

This years bill would exempt churches and schools. A new part of the bill would exempt small businesses of 15 or fewer employees.

When it comes to the controversial bathroom debate, the bill is more specific than last year's version, saying that businesses could still have single sex bathrooms.

There will be another public comment on the bill at the next city council meeting in two weeks. .

Your attendance at the following meetings is critical

It is critical to attend Council meetings, to speak, and to send emails.  The email list is here.

Council meetings are held in the Council chambers, 1st floor City Hall; Committees meet in the Linwood Roberts Room, 1st floor City Hall.

  • Tue, Jan 10, 5:00p: City Council introduction & 1st reading
  • Tue, Jan 24, 5:00p: City Council 2nd reading & Public Hearing
  • Mon, Feb 06, 8:30a: NCIS Committee considers bill
  • Tue, Feb 07, 12:30p: Rules Committee considers bill
  • Wed, Feb 08, 8:30a: Finance Committee considers bill
  • Tue, Feb 14, 5:00p: City Council 3rd reading & consideration

News Reports

The City Council sponsors of the new LGBT ordinance are defrauding Jacksonville’s citizenry.

They pledged (1) that their new bill, 2017-15, would (unlike their previous one) reaffirm the inalienable right to practice moral and religious principles; (2) that it would exclude small business, churches and individual religious practices, and (3) that it would resolve the “men in women’s bathrooms and locker rooms” issue.

But, it violates all of the sponsor’s pledges.  The new ordinance is merely a far more deceptive version of the old one, using devious definitions, section omissions and diversionary language to disguise its equivalence to the old 2012 and 2016 offerings.

This intentionally-deceptive ordinance, for example, hides 26 sections of the municipal code, to make the proposal seem meager.

Further, it makes the definition of “Gender Identity” and “Gender Expression” open to vast future interpretations and applications.  In a circular definition: “Gender Identity” becomes “gender-related identity”.  And, now “Gender Identity”, which is INWARD self-perception, is now OUTWARD BEHAVIOR, including “expression” and “appearance” – the moment a straight man dons woman’s clothes he becomes a woman – this is preposterous and intentionally devious.

And, the bill evades the public’s “men in women’s bathrooms” concern by creating a “right” to keep “single-sex” bathrooms, locker rooms and dressing areas, a right which businesses and public accommodations already have.

Nothing has changed.  The other pages of this website are still accurate.

Our legal counsel Roger Gannam offers the following thoughts:

Dear Jacksonville friends,

          I will have plenty more to say about this bad bill in the coming weeks, but for now please do not be deceived by the proponents (who do not speak for the majority of Jacksonville people or businesses) – be aware of these key facts:
1.  This bill is nothing new. It is a repackaging of the same, tired, bad 2012 and 2015 HROs.
2.  There are new words, but no added meaningful exemptions for religious citizens. Business owners who do not want to participate in someone else's same-sex wedding receive no protection in the new HRO.  Women and girls who do not want to share a public bathroom with a man dressed as a woman receive no protection in the new HRO.
3.  From Wednesday's (January 04, 2017) public meeting: No business has ever cited the absence of the HRO as the reason for not coming to Jacksonville. Not one. Yet the "leaders" who want this bill claim it is still an issue, claiming it's brought up in their important "confidential" conversations, so their claims can never be verified.  In other words, instead of evidence they want you to take their word for it.  Don't.  All the available evidence refutes them.
          Mayor Curry has it right: Jacksonville is a fair, tolerant, and great city *now*. Even the proponents of this bill said so at Wednesday's meeting, over and over again. Let Council Members know Jacksonville didn't need this bill in 2012 or in 2015, and Jacksonville certainly doesn't need it now.

Roger Gannam, Liberty Council

The Deceptive New HRO Is As Harmful as Ever