With less than a week to go before 2017-15, the latest attempt to expand the Human Rights Ordinance, hits three Jacksonville City Council committees, advocates are rightly optimistic and proud of the progress they’ve made in educating the council.
The HRO expansion bill would include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression as categories in the current HRO, protecting people on those grounds from discrimination in the housing market, the workplace, and in terms of public accommodations, such as bathrooms and locker rooms.
The carefully-worded bill includes carve out protections for businesses with under 15 employees, and for religious organizations.
Even as some outside groups, such as the Anti-Defamation League, say that the religious exceptions go too far, advocates of expansion know that they are the price to pay to get a HRO passed that protects people on the grounds of gender identity.
There is some rough consensus on the vote count that will emerge February 14.
Most say there are at least 11 votes in favor; the goal is 13, a number that would remove Mayor Lenny Curry from having to take a position on it either way.
Despite that, there are reasons for caution, on the local, state, and national levels.
On the local level, a familiar face returns to City Hall to warn against HRO expansion on Thursday afternoon.
Roger Gannam of the Liberty Council will address members of the panel at 2:00 p.m. Thursday, at the request of Councilman Bill Gulliford (an opponent of expansion of the ordinance).
Gannam asserts that “Jacksonville does not have an LGBT discrimination problem that needs to be solved.”
2017-15, says Gannam, would force “businesses and citizens” to “open their women’s facilities to men.”
The bill would also compel those same parties to “celebrate” same-sex relationships.
Gannam has had plenty of exposure in Jacksonville during the HRO debate. He’s not expected to say anything new regarding the impacts of the HRO expansion.
However, in an attempt to get 13 votes on this measure, it is entirely possible that Gannam could sway a council member toward his moral case.
The margin for error is nil for expansion advocates. And Gannam’s role is to impart reasonable doubt.
In addition to local resistance to expanding the HRO, a bill filed in the Florida House this week could impact local ordinances such as this one.
House Bill 17, filed by Republican Randy Fine, would preempt and supersede local regulations governing businesses.
Exceptions include laws adopted before Jan. 1, 2017, though the Fine bill would have those local regulations sunset at the end of 2019.
Another exception: regulations “expressly authorized” by the state.
While Jacksonville’s current HRO, which does not include so-called SOGI protections, would qualify as a pre-existent law, any expansion of the HRO may be argued as being in conflict with the Fine bill.
Our sources in Tallahassee confirm that there will be a Senate sponsor.
While it is theoretically possible that someone in the Duval Delegation might move to have the expanded HRO “expressly authorized” by the state, in practical terms there are only two people, both Democrats, who would push for that: Sen. Audrey Gibson and Rep. Tracie Davis.
The Fine bill may be less than fine for LGBT equality advocates, in its amorphously-worded current form.
One more note of caution: the low number on the bill filed on Jan. 31 suggests a tacit endorsement from House Speaker Richard Corcoran.
On the federal level, mixed signals have been sent from the Donald Trump administration regarding LGBT rights.
While he was lauded, albeit cautiously, for continuing the Obama policy of barring workplace discrimination against federal contractors and employees, there is fear that the other shoe will drop in the form of a new executive order.
The Nation, a left-of-center publication, produced language from a so-called “leaked draft” of Trump’s “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom” executive order.
Trump, once seen as an unlikely exponent of the policy goals of the religious right, embraced its agenda during the GOP primaries.
This draft language, according to The Nation, “covers ‘any organization, including closely held for-profit corporations,’ and protects ‘religious freedom’ in every walk of life: ‘when providing social services, education, or healthcare; earning a living, seeking a job, or employing others; receiving government grants or contracts; or otherwise participating in the marketplace, the public square, or interfacing with Federal, State or local governments’.”
“Americans and their religious organizations will not be coerced by the Federal Government into participating in activities that violate their conscience,” the order reads.
While there are serious questions as to what the order would ultimately mean, or even if it would pass legal scrutiny to be released in anything close to its current form, it adds another layer of uncertainty to a potential long-awaited expansion of Jacksonville’s HRO.