2017-15 – Florida Politics

Religious right to Lenny Curry: ‘keep your promise’ on HRO

The phones were lit up Friday morning when FloridaPolitics.com visited the office of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.

The subject: Curry allowing the city’s Human Rights Ordinance to become law, albeit without his signature.

When asked Wednesday about not signing the HRO into law, the mayor cited his position that he did “not believe that legislation was necessary” after signing his departmental directive in 2016 to protect LGBT city employees and city contractor employees from workplace discrimination.

“I still hold that view. But the city council is the legislative body. Last night, they took up the issue … and it got a supermajority vote. They demonstrated their will … Republicans and Democrats, council people from all over this city,” Curry continued.

“It’s law without my signature, and we’re moving on,” Curry said. “It’s closed. It’s over.”


Though it is over, in the sense that LGBT rights are now codified in Jacksonville law, it’s not over for those on the religious right who supported Curry in 2015 … and are threatening to withhold support in future mayoral runs.

They point to an email from Mar. 9, 2015, in which Curry said he would have vetoed the 2012 version of the HRO expansion — one that ultimately did not pass the city council.

“I thought that 2012-296 was flawed in its assumption of widespread discrimination and in it the remedies it proposed. Based on how this kind of legislation has affected other cities, I came to believe that the regulations contained in the bill could have created more problems than they solved. That’s why I would have vetoed the bill had I been mayor,” Curry wrote.

Of course, there were changes between 2012 and 2017: an increasing societal understanding of the need for LGBT protections, a bill that was drafted to protect small businesses and religious organizations, and so on.

But for a fervent band of commenters, the objection isn’t to granular elements of the legislation — but to the need for it at all.

And, as was the case earlier this week, they continue to let Curry have it.


Some sample correspondence: “You have previously stated, ‘[I am] pro-life, and you are a Christian. I was raised in the faith and I am active in my church.’ You also, stated….. I would have VETOED the bill if I was MAYOR!”

“This anti-liberty proposal is the worst possible piece of public policy any elected official could support. It violates the dignity, safety and the security of women and children and disregards religious liberty,” asserted another.

“I thought you had more courage.  I will support someone who will stand up against the tyranny of the Social Justice Warriors,” asserted another correspondent.


We contacted Curry’s office Friday afternoon, and were advised to refer to the statement issued Tuesday evening after the supermajority city council vote in favor of HRO expansion.

For Curry, the matter is closed.

The question going forward: when will the matter be closed for his critics on this issue?

Jacksonville passes HRO expansion, secures LGBT rights

The skinny: Almost five years after it was first put up for a council vote, Jacksonville’s legislators finally passed an expansion of the city’s Human Rights Ordinance on Tuesday.

The bill passed 12-6, with Councilmen Matt SchellenbergSam Newby, Danny Becton, Bill Gulliford, Doyle Carter, and Al Ferraro in opposition.

The HRO expansion offers long-awaited protections of the city’s LGBT community … if the mayor doesn’t veto it. If the mayor does veto the bill, the council would have to vote to override the measure.

The expansion would add sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to the list of protected categories under the ordinance, which ensures that people aren’t discriminated against in the workplace, the housing market, or public accommodations (restrooms, locker rooms, and so on).

Mayor Lenny Curry returned the bill to the city council without his signature; the bill is now law.

“As your Mayor, I promised to convene community conversations about discrimination. At the conclusion of those conversations, I exercised an executive action to implement a clear policy for City of Jacksonville employees and contractors. I said then and continue to believe additional legislation was unnecessary. But this evening, a supermajority of the City Council decided otherwise. This supermajority, representatives of the people from both parties and every corner of the city, made their will clear,” Curry said in a statement.

“Now, with the issue resolved, I invite City Council and all the people of Jacksonville to join me as we confront serious issues like the final steps of pension reform to bring us financial security and increase our efforts to end the violence and crime hurting innocent people in our city,” Curry added.

Supporters went into the vote confident that the council would pass the bill; however, the amendment process was worth watching, with two amendments (one to remove transgender people from protections, and another to remove the prospect of jail time for those who violate the ordinance).


Religious Exemption: As discussion began of the ordinance, the first major talking point was the religious exemption.

General Counsel Jason Gabriel discussed what would make an organization a religious organization, allowing it to be exempt from the legislation.

Gabriel, outlining the potential room for interpretation, noted the ultimate arbiter would be the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission.


No Jail: After that, Scott Wilson advanced an amendment striking jail time as a potential penalty for violating the HRO.

That was a concern in one committee.

The amendment was unanimously approved.


Referendum redux: Then, a second amendment from Bill Gulliford, to amend the bill and make it effective based on a charter referendum in 2018.

Gulliford had advanced this in committee.

The Beaches Republican noted division in the community on this issue.

“This may go down in flames … but I submit to you a referendum is the only way this issue will end,” Gulliford said, noting that legislation can always be introduced to tweak the bill after passage.

Gulliford asserted, meanwhile, that the idea that civil rights would not have passed referendum was unprovable.

This got a gasp from the crowd, but Gulliford persisted, insisting that opponents of the referendum may be “afraid to trust the people.”

Councilman Brown took the opposing view from Gulliford, urging that a referendum be a state issue.

“I would not have been confident that in 1864,” a referendum would have been passed “that black people should be free,” Brown said, drawing a burst of applause from the crowd.

“Let’s make the hard decision — and let the chips fall where they may,” Brown added.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri, the leading vote recipient in the May 2015 election, noted that he was elected to pass the HRO.

Councilman Al Ferraro saw a difference between the HRO and civil rights legislation, with people potentially losing “freedom of speech.”

“I’m not against anybody who’s gay or transgender or anything like that,” Ferraro said, adding that a “business will go broke because they’re innocent, just because of the financial burden.”

“This is a bad bill because of the way it’s written,” Ferraro added. “I do believe everybody’s equal … [but] the bill is going to harm people.”

“The Chamber is telling us,” Ferraro added, that there would be consequences if the bill doesn’t pass.

Councilman Danny Becton, another expansion opponent, bemoaned council members talking about emails and cards on the issue.

“All that to sway your vote. What is that? It’s a referendum,” Becton said.

The referendum failed 13-5, with Newby, Becton, Gulliford,  Carter, and Ferraro in opposition.


Closed Companies = Closed Minds?: Becton floated a second amendment, to exempt “closed” companies from this law.

“Anybody who is 100 percent in ownership of their business,” Becton said.

Councilman Hazouri said the Becton amendment would “emasculate” the bill.

Ferraro told Hazouri he didn’t know what it was like to start a business.

“These small business cannot take and afford — the lawsuits are going to go left and right,” Ferraro added.

Councilman Jim Love, a bill sponsor, noted that such lawsuits are not happening in Tampa and Orlando.

“We need to get this done now,” Love said, noting that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told him that Tampa had an advantage over Jacksonville because of this bill not having passed yet.

The Becton amendment failed 13-5, along the same lines as the previous amendment.


No-T Time: Bill Gulliford wasn’t done. He sought a reboot of the compromise bill from 2012, which struck “the transgender issue” from the legislation.

“Why not expand it on feelings? I can feel like I’m 23, and ask people to bake me a cake, and if they don’t do that, I can sue them?”

“Feeling but not fact is a bad way to pursue this,” Gulliford said.

Reggie Brown, who voted against the bill in 2012, spoke as a member of the military.

“We need to take a page out of the military,” Brown said. “[Transgender] people will fight for the flag … some will die for the flag … and that’s just the way it is.”

“When I listen to the recommendations to leave out one particular part of the population,” Brown said, “I’m concerned.”

“If they’re willing to die for you … why would we leave any soldier out?”

The amendment failed 13-5, with the same people on the losing end.


Nikolai Vitti: ‘Expand the HRO’

Duval County School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti serves in an appointed role, yet on Tuesday, he offered epistolary advice to the Jacksonville City Council.

That counsel? Expand the city’s Human Rights Ordinance to protect people at work, in the housing market, and in the realm of public accommodations on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Vitti called the vote, which will be held Tuesday evening at City Hall, an “opportunity to play an important part in this city’s movement toward equal rights.”

“Our city has not moved forward as quickly as it should have because historically its leaders have shirked from critical issues and decisions,” Vitti wrote.

“Please do not place yourself in a position to explain to your children or grandchildren why you voted against equal rights,” Vitti added.

A No vote, Vitti added, “signals that the city, through the City Council, is rejecting the LGBTQ+ community.”

Vitti’s position is not a surprise.

The Duval County School District has protections similar to those offered in the HRO to students and teachers.

And some of Vitti’s biggest backers are the Jacksonville Civic Council and other community stakeholder types, many of whom have been the staunchest supporters of HRO expansion.

As well, it’s uncertain how much political cover Vitti’s position offers a council member worried about a re-election campaign in 2019, given that a school superintendent doesn’t last indefinitely in Duval County.

However, HRO expansion supporters will likely note that, as opposed to some politicians whose position on the issue is opaque, Vitti at least took a stand.

Jax HRO opponents plan seven-day fast, praying for ‘extreme confusion’

A familiar sight at the Jacksonville City Council meetings of late: Blake Harper.

Harper, staunchly opposed to the city’s proposed expansion of the Human Rights Ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity, has shown up at meetings of the full council and committees with a large Bible under his arm for the whole meeting.

While the Bible is an important accoutrement for attendance at local council meetings, it won’t be enough in and of itself to defeat the ordinance.

In an email to ideological allies, Harper urged a seven-day fast against this bill, tapering off food in preparation for the vote (admittedly a good strategy ahead of any council meeting).

Fast participants taper down from two meals a day, to one meal a day, to a liquid fast in the three days before the vote.

Shockingly, Harper recommends stimulants among that liquid diet: coffee and tea are permissible for those involved in the fast.

Beyond that, lots of prayer is recommended: “for an awakening in Jacksonville to the extreme threat this HRO Bill 2017-15 poses to the Christian faith, to the traditional family, to small businesses in general and to Christian owners of small businesses, specifically … for a spirit of extreme confusion in the camp supporting the HRO bill … for City Council members Greg Anderson, Anna Brosche, Katrina Brown, Reggie Brown, Garrett Dennis, and Reggie Gaffney to vote against the HRO bill.”

But wait — there’s more!

“Pray for City Council members Boyer, Bowman, Crescimbeni, Hazouri, Love, Morgan and Wilson to be disturbed by frightening dreams and extreme anxiety over the HRO issue that they might be compelled in their spirits to dramatically renounce their rebellious support for the evil HRO BIll 2017-15,” advises Harper.

With no assurance that the bill will get 13 votes, Mayor Lenny Curry may be the final arbiter of whether this bill becomes law.

Harper’s got the mayor’s back: “Pray for Mayor Lenny Curry to intervene aggressively and quickly against the HRO at any necessary point in this process.”

With the HRO having cleared the committee process, Jacksonville residents can take heart: if all goes as scheduled, and council members aren’t reduced below a quorum by the requested divinely ordained anxiety, confusion, and the like, this whole sorry circus may leave town in a week.

Jacksonville HRO clears final city council committee

The Jacksonville City Council’s Finance Committee approved the expansion of the city’s Human Rights Ordinance on Wednesday morning.

The measure was approved by a 4-3 vote, with Bill GullifordSam Newby, and Matt Schellenberg opposing expansion.

The expansion would add sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to the list of protected categories under the ordinance, which ensures that people aren’t discriminated against in the workplace, the housing market, or public accommodations (restrooms, locker rooms, and so on).

An amendment to allow companies with up to 50 employees to discriminate against LGBT people in employment practices was passed in the first committee to consider the bill on Monday, but it did not pass the second committee on Tuesday

In a process fraught with interesting wrinkles in parliamentary procedure, Wednesday’s meeting was no different, as Schellenberg immediately pushed for reconsideration of the “50 employees” amendment.

It was spiked 4-3.

From there, another amendment from Gulliford: to put the HRO expansion up to a referendum in Aug. 2018.

The referendum discussion showed the demarcations on the issue at large.


Referendum Amendment fails 5-2: “This is a contentious issue … I have friends on both sides of the issue,” Gulliford said. “If you think passing a bill will end [discrimination], you’re naive. But a vote will end it.”

Councilman Aaron Bowman noted the impact of inaction, citing the economic havoc wreaked on North Carolina via HB2 passage, including losing NCAA championship games, the NBA All-Star Game, and concerts by groups such as Pearl Jam.

“We’re getting ready to open a new amphitheater,” Bowman noted, before calling the referendum an attempt toward “tyranny by the majority.”

Heated discussion continued, with Councilman Tommy Hazouri noting his history of activism on “human rights” issues, such as the Equal Rights Amendment and minority set asides.

“A referendum is not good for us,” Hazouri thundered. “Who are we as a city? What’s right?”

Hazouri got a groan from the crowd when he mentioned the Pulse massacre in Orlando, and then gave back as good as he got, saying “nobody asked you to speak. You already had your opportunity.”

Councilman Greg Anderson dialed back the heat, saying the referendum “fundamentally alters” the bill, as the legislation would hang suspended pending the plebiscite.

The general counsel disagreed with that read; however, Anderson stood his ground, opposing the amendment.

Gulliford noted that Texas is going to pass its own version of HB2.

“There’s some people that feel like they should be able to exercise their feelings and beliefs according to the Constitution,” Gulliford said, noting his belief that “the only way to put this to bed is a vote of the people.”

Council VP John Crescimbeni proposed a referendum on the entire HRO, given that the other protected classes were included by council ordinance.

Gulliford said the addition of sexual orientation/gender identity protections was more “contentious” than protections on race were in 1992, when the city council passed the larger ordinance

Council President Lori Boyer noted that she had asked for legal advice on whether a referendum amendment would be in order; she noted that “it would be permissible,” and up to the council to decide if the amendment was cause to be substituted and re-referred to committees.

Councilman Matt Schellenberg went against Gulliford, noting that the votes aren’t there for the amendment.

That said, Schellenberg noted “this is going to a referendum anyway.”

Councilwoman Katrina Brown wondered if it was even possible to vote on excluding two groups from the HRO.

Crescimbeni: “it’s winner take all.”


Religious Exemption Language: An amendment was brought to the committee attempting the clean up the definitions of “religious organizations” and “religious corporations,” after confusion in a previous committee.

While mosques, synagogues, and so forth are excluded, the question comes down to church related businesses and businesses that are for profit but predicated on an assertion of religious values.

Religious organizations, in the amendment, would include a “religious corporation, association, or society,” consistent with federal law.

Crescimbeni noted that a company like Hobby Lobby, absent clarity, could position themselves as religious organizations. Likewise, a religiously-affiliated school could.

Theoretically, said Crescimbeni, a group could opt out of the HRO if the language was not more strictly defined.

Gulliford countered that a “non-profit based on Christian principles,” such as a homeless shelter, may have a “legitimate concern” about this legislation.

“This is crazy. It gets into the whole issue of a lack of definition of all this,” said an “appalled” Bill Gulliford.

Despite objections, the amendment was approved without objection by a hand vote.


Let’s ram this thing through: Councilman Aaron Bowman discussed lost economic opportunities because of a lack of an ordinance, noting that he has hosted many site visits from companies that did not come here for that reason.

The impact is especially felt with companies with younger, skilled workers; these corporations, for whatever reason, value equal rights over arcane and politicized interpretations of Christian doctrine.

Feeling a loss coming on in yet another committee, Gulliford posited that small businesses drive the economy, and lamented the supporters’ unwillingness to “compromise,” as evidenced by the spiking of his substitute bill Monday.

“Let’s ram this thing through” was how Gulliford characterized resistance of “legitimate concerns” from expansion opponents.

Hazouri noted, in response, that those concerns are really a “parade of horribles.”

“There’s nothing to fear but fear itself,” Hazouri said.

Schellenberg, meanwhile, said that companies that didn’t come to Jacksonville were “discriminating against us, without knowing who we are.”

Voting for the HRO, Schellenberg asserted, negates the prima facie truth that Jacksonville is a great, loving place where people say hello to each other in Publix.

HRO clears second Jacksonville City Council committee

The Rules Committee of the Jacksonville City Council was the second committee in two days to approve expansion of the city’s Human Rights Ordinance.

The measure would extend protections in housing, public accommodations, and employment on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

The Rules meeting saw two co-sponsors of the HRO expansion bill, Tommy Hazouri and Jim Love, on the committee.

The bill was expected to come out of the committee favorably.

And it did, with a 6-1 vote … even though one social conservative monopolized most of the discussion time with an impassioned discourse on semantics.


Chairman Garrett Dennis kicked off deliberations with some interesting comments, noting that council members are just like the people in the audience (possibly a libelous statement).

“If anyone cannot control their emotions, before or after this meeting, please exit the chambers,” Dennis said.

Councilman Danny Becton, an expected opponent of the bill, noted that as a business owner, he is an “asset to this council” regarding his “personal decision making” and his commitment to “practicality.”

“I have not met one person this year who would tell me what problems this ordinance would solve regarding discrimination against the LGBT community,” Becton said, describing the ordinance as “not doing very much besides make us look good.”

Becton called up the director of the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission, who said the bill would offer opportunities for redress to people on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Becton posited that, as an at-will employment state, employers had the right to fire employees, wondering why a law against workplace discrimination would be relevant in that context.

“Absent of some not very intelligent person stating their discrimination verbiage,” Becton surmised it would be tough for someone to demonstrate that discrimination was cause of dismissal.

Becton then speculated that an ordinance like this would lead to “silent discrimination.”

A representative of the office of general counsel, when asked by Becton if someone could get locked up for this, was told this was a civil matter.

Becton was undeterred, describing the “hammer of enforcement” despite the attorney explaining the limitations of municipal code to him.

Becton, not noted for civil libertarian tendencies, advanced the dread specter of the “police state” toward the close of his initial remarks.

In a Gullifordian touch, Becton also advanced the specter of “unintended consequences” for small businesses, speculating that one offense against this expanded ordinance could mean bankruptcy.


Council VP John Crescimbeni, who supported the bill in Monday’s committee, noted this bill just adds two protected classes to an extant ordinance.

“I have a hard time reaching the same conclusion you do,” Crescimbeni said to Becton, noting his concerns about special penalties on SOGI protections were unfounded given that they haven’t been an issue in other jurisdictions where LGBT protections are law.

Crescimbeni than proposed an amendment defining “religious organization” and “religious corporation,” two exempt classes from some parts of the ordinance, to add “clarity” to that section.

After a spirited and circuitous semantic discussion, the likes of which have not seen since the council debated the legality of backing a car into one’s own driveway, Crescimbeni clarified his intent as trying to “help define” these terms in context of the bill.

The amendment failed.


Becton continued haranguing representatives from the office of general counsel, asking about the prospect of imprisonment.

General Counsel Jason Gabriel noted that a civil code infraction, to the best of his knowledge, has not led to imprisonment.

Becton then asked for definitions of phrases like gender expression; Gabriel, at one point, referred the councilman to a dictionary.

“I’m a private business owner. I’m trying to follow the rules,” Becton said, “but I don’t even know what the rules are.”

Discussion — more of a monologue — continued, before Becton suggested a “referendum,” saying that the preponderance of pro-HRO expansion emails was not reflective of popular sentiments.

“This is a bad piece of legislation, and it will hurt the private sector,” Becton concluded.


Councilman Hazouri noted the amount of time devoted to Becton’s harangue as perhaps being the wrong move.

Then Hazouri noted that “with all of the piling on we’ve heard, there are only three things it does. It extends the present law that everyone enjoys … the same rights for housing, employment, and public accommodations.”

Hazouri pointed out the carveout exemptions, adding that “the time is really now.”

“If you wanted to go to another city and you’re starting a business … all the major cities have similar anti-discrimination legislation,” Hazouri added.

Amended HRO expansion bill clears first Jacksonville City Council committee

Monday morning saw the first of three Jacksonville City Council committees approve the latest attempt to expand the Human Rights Ordinance.

The vote was 4-2.

The measure would extend protections in housing, public accommodations, and employment on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

As well, the bill offered in its original form carve out employment protections for businesses with fewer than 15 employees, and for owners of owner-operated rental homes and four unit buildings.

As you will read below, an amendment was passed allowing such protections for businesses with fewer than 50 employees … a measure which speaks to a fragmentation in the process.

The bill also exempts some religious organizations such as churches, synagogues, mosques, religious schools, and affiliated non-profits.

Despite the attempt to produce a clean bill, there were questions even before discussion started.

The agenda for the meeting of the Monday Morning Neighborhoods, Community Investments, and Services committee noted that the “legislation is brief” and that “thorough discussion” was recommended in committee.

Thorough discussion happened — though the bulk of it dealt with a substitute bill advanced by Councilman Bill Gulliford, drafted in the hours before the meeting.

The substitute ultimately failed, with just two votes in support after a lot of discussion.


Gulliford’s sub included changes such as “gender identity” to “transgender identity.”

“One of the big problems,” Gulliford said, is “the number of different gender identities out there.”

Religious organizations would become a “broader” definition, Gulliford said, including such as homeless shelters.

“What I’m attempting to do,” Gulliford said, “is to make it as acceptable to all parties as possible … a serious attempt to try to end up in a place where both sides may feel a little better about it.”

“The big issues are the bathroom issue, the religious liberty issue, and the impact to small businesses,” Gulliford said.

Gulliford also referred to a letter of opposition from the Diocese of St. Augustine, which invoked the principle of “conscientious objection” to laws perceived to be unjust.

Among the features of the bill: a person being exempted from the bill if he or she is acting in accordance with a religious belief, including a belief that marriage is between one man and one woman — a provision that runs counter to federal anti-discrimination laws.

Council VP John Crescimbeni wondered if this substitute conflicted with Florida Statute, federal or state law.

The office of general counsel had no answer.

Council President Lori Boyer noted that the substitute bill would require a re-referral.

Councilman Greg Anderson took issue with Gulliford coining a term “transgender identity,” which Gulliford said was a “way to avoid a lot of argument” and “be more definitive.”

“I’ve done a lot of research on this. I’ve never seen it before,” Anderson noted.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri noted the conflict between Gulliford’s substitute and federal law.

Councilman Jim Love, a bill co-sponsor, noted also that worries of lawsuits and assaults — a specter raised by HRO expansion opponents — did not come to pass in Tampa, a city to which Jacksonville is losing jobs and economic opportunity.

As did many of his colleagues, Love opposed the bill substitute.

Love also noted that 50 percent of the state was protected by legislation barring discrimination on sexual orientation and gender identity grounds.


Responding to the substitute, bill sponsor Aaron Bowman noted that there were 30,000 service officers in Jacksonville, with 85 percent required to live outside the gates because of a lack of housing.

“A portion” of that group is divested of rights once off their base, Bowman said, especially given the military offering protections to the LGBT community.

Bowman also noted that, out of the emails he’d received on the subject, he found that out of over 3,000 emails, 2,768 support the legislation.

“That’s a 10 to 1 ratio,” Bowman said, adding later that in other cities, “the world hasn’t stopped” because of this legislation.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri, another bill sponsor, noted his contention that the council has a duty to move the bill through committees and vote on it next week.


Gulliford had his say, of course, and stood by his substitute.

Councilman Garrett Dennis, meanwhile, asserted that the current bill is just “words on paper” because the aggrieved party “has nowhere to go to report, to complain” for relief.

The general counsel’s office described recourse, through the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission, which includes “conciliation” between the parties and a potential cause finding that could assert grounds for actionable grievance.

Among the potential penalties: a $500 fine and a 90 day jail stretch.

Dennis noted that the director position, which would be necessary for enforcement, is currently unfunded; he has a bill (2016-35) to rectify that.

“This bill doesn’t go far enough in protecting who we already have and who we’re trying to add,” Dennis said.

Notable: the vast majority of complaints the JHRC hears are employment complaints related to medium-sized businesses, with 1 percent of them driven by public accommodations such as bathrooms.

Some complaints are filed by “frequent fliers,” described by JHRC Director Charlene Taylor-Hill as people who complain repeatedly.

In other jurisdictions, said the JHRC director, the addition of SOGI protections has not led to the need for additional staff.

Councilman Doyle Carter noted that the extended process of inquiry hurts the “little guy, who does not have the resources” for a lengthy JHRC investigation.

However, that burden exists now.


Councilman Gulliford, feeling a loss coming on, got fired up.

Gulliford noted that in Houston, legislation was repealed by citizen referendum.

“You have to anticipate the worst of situations that may arise,” Gulliford said, noting that liberties are being granted to one group at the expense of another.

Councilman Hazouri said “this is not a bathroom bill like it was in Houston,” noting that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office agreed with him.

“This bill is voted on on Valentine’s Day. Will it be Happy Valentine’s Day or a Valentine’s Day Massacre?”


The Gulliford substitute was dispatched, but amendments were offered to chip away at the bill.

One amendment: to increase the number of employees a small business could have for purposes of exemption from the sexual orientation/gender identity provisions to 50, which contravenes federal statute from the EEOCleaving the city exposed to litigation.

That amendment passed 4-2, with Garrett Dennis joining Doyle Carter, Bill Gulliford, and Joyce Morgan in support.

Council VP John Crescimbeni thundered that “this creates a two-tier system,” allowing discrimination against LGBT people that would be otherwise barred by the bill.

“That’s insane,” Crescimbeni said.

Hazouri said “we have to be consistent with what we do, just like we have to be consistent with what our sexuality is.”


From there, discussion moved toward the meta-discourse realm, with Councilman Dennis wanting to know how the city can “regulate a private business.”

“How in the world do we regulate it here in this city,” Dennis said.

Gulliford voiced his opposition to the measure again, calling it “onerous” toward those who oppose these “burdens of laws,” with potential for “frivolous enforcement” due to the malleability of the “gray area of proof.”

Despite those caveats, the bill passed 4-2. And Dennis supported it.


Speaking after the meeting, Councilman Dennis discussed his thought process on the bill, including backing the amendment that seems to create tiers of permissible discrimination.

“I spoke to a few business owners,” Dennis said, and “their sweet spot is around 50” employees.

Dennis believes that protections should be “consistent across the board,” and suggested that maybe he “misunderstood” the amendment he voted for.

Dennis is also coy about where he stands on the bill.

“No one has gotten a yes or no out of me,” Dennis said. “I still have a couple of days to figure out” a position.

Dennis suggested that one way forward may to be raise the threshold of actionable discrimination to companies with 50 employees across the board, which means that the full human rights ordinance — and not just the proposed addition — would be out of compliance with EEOC guidelines.

However, “the LGBT plight is totally different” from the experience of African-Americans, Dennis added.

The next committee stop for this bill: Rules on Tuesday afternoon.

 The chair: Garrett Dennis.

Shad Khan: No to Muslim Ban, Yes to HRO

In Houston for the Superbowl, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan broke with the city’s right wing on two hot-button issues.

Khan, a Muslim immigrant from Pakistan, came out against the controversial Donald Trump immigration/travel ban from seven majority-Muslim countries.

And, for good measure, he expressed — to a national publication — his support for the expansion of Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to include protection on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression at work, in housing, and in public accommodations in businesses that aren’t churches or small businesses.

That HRO support was known around Jacksonville; however, discussing it nationally should be seen as a signal.

This bill has its first committee stop on Monday morning. And Khan expects the politicians he’s been working to deliver in committee and when the full council votes on the measure on Feb. 14.


On the Muslim ban, Khan broke with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry in a significant way.

“The bedrock of this country are immigration and really a great separation between church and state,” Khan told the New York Times, describing the ban as “not good” and “sobering” for him personally.

Curry had said, meanwhile, that “when the federal government moves to protect [American citizens], that’s the right move. The Trump administration is trying to protect [Americans] from terrorism.”


On the HRO, meanwhile, Khan said he had “no remorse over supporting it.”

Indeed, Khan and his lobbyist, Paul Harden, have been making calls on behalf of the legislation — and Khan has been known to say that he can’t believe this issue is unresolved in Jacksonville.

Curry has said previously that expanding the Human Rights Ordinance would not be “prudent,” but has pledged to review legislation if presented to him by the city council.

The mayor, who values his relationship with the Jaguars owner, has not pledged a position on the current bill beyond that.

HRO onslaught hits Jacksonville City Council committees starting Monday

A sign of the times in Jacksonville’s City Council as discussion of expanding the Human Rights Ordinance begins next week: requests for press passes to the February 14 meeting when the full vote is expected to occur are already being taken.

The public hearing in January drew an overflow crowd to the council chambers, leading the fire department to bar entry.

Two more rooms, then the conference room in the public library, were opened up for the discussion of expanding Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to include employment, housing, and public accommodations protections for the city’s LGBT community.

What will the evening of the vote be like? No one really knows.

With each attempt to pass the bill, passions grow more intense on both sides of the issue among the public, while most members of the council demur from offering a position with any conviction — never mind intensity.


Meanwhile, Council President Lori Boyer wants a clean process.

“I am hopeful that this bill moves through committees without deferral and that committee reports (votes) up or down are taken in accordance with the original schedule allowing final action at Council in mid-February. Any delay will cause the procedures outlined herein to be extended,” Boyer wrote in a memo last month.

“The bill has been assigned to NCIS (because it addresses housing issues), Rules (because it addresses consumer issues and unclassified matters) and Finance (because it purports to have economic development impact),” Boyer added.

Of course, that time table may be altered by the expectation that Councilman Bill Gulliford will offer an amendment with a referendum option of some type.

Gulliford is in the first committee (Neighborhoods), and the last committee (Finance), to consider the bill. And he delights in exploiting parliamentary procedure to frustrate adversaries.

As is known, and as vexes many expansion opponents, there will be no public comment on the bill in committees or the council meeting Feb. 14.

If Gulliford were to offer that amendment in Finance on Wednesday rather than on Monday in Neighborhoods, that may create enough confusion to throw off the whole process.

Advocates are confident in their vote count being enough to pass the bill, though there are real worries about getting the 13 votes required to make the mayor’s position irrelevant (and a general belief that the mayor would prefer the bill pass with 13).

Some quasi-informed speculation about the vote count follows:

A total of six council members seem like hard no votes at this point: Councilman Gulliford, along with Danny Becton, Al FerraroDoyle Carter, Matt Schellenberg, and Sam Newby.

People who seem like maybes: Scott Wilson, Council President Lori Boyer, Garrett Dennis, Anna BroscheGreg AndersonReggie Brown, and Katrina Brown.

The remaining members of council — Aaron BowmanJim LoveTommy Hazouri, Council VP John CrescimbeniJoyce Morgan, and Reggie Gaffney — seem like yes votes headed into the committee process.

Many of those in the maybe column are more voluble on the HRO in private conversations than in public. But the game is played in front of a crowd.

If all those in the maybe column vote yes, then there is no problem for Mayor Lenny Curry, who can simply say “look, the city council is the policy making body,” and move on.

If the bill passes with 10, 11, or 12 votes, will the mayor sign it or put it in his pocket?

A veto, though it would delight the GOP base, undoubtedly would inflame many others — diluting his political capital and eviscerating his ability to build city-wide consensus.

We are hearing that the referendum option Gulliford supports leaves the mayor cold.

If the HRO were to be litigated by the city’s activists on both sides of the issue for over a year in the media, one needn’t have a vivid imagination to surmise that the spectacle would be devastating for corporate recruitment, leading to the kind of national reporting spotlight that shined on North Carolina in the wake of HB 2.

All of this discussion and speculation purposely elides what may be happening in Tallahassee and Washington on the matter of LGBT protections in law.

Jacksonville LGBT rights opponents speak; Bill Gulliford talks HRO referendum

On Thursday, opponents of Jacksonville’s proposed expansion of the Human Rights Ordinance had their say in the Council Chambers.

Councilman Bill Gulliford, launching the meeting, noted the passion surrounding this issue, which is now in its fifth year of being debated citywide.

“I decided to have this meeting for several reasons,” Gulliford said, including “objective discussion” of these issues, and the “disappointing” lack of public comment being allowed during committee discussions next week.

Gulliford then discussed the issues being discussed, including legal issues, economic impacts, religious conscience, and the potential for a referendum.

Gulliford filed a bill in favor of the referendum late in 2015, and withdrew it after Tommy Hazouri withdrew his own bill that is much like the current bill up for discussion

“I will at the appropriate time introduce that option of a referendum in the process,” the councilman vowed.

That option, he said, “could be” introduced during committees, if he believes it’s “prudent” at the time.

Notable: a referendum can only amend the charter, not the ordinance code.


Council members on hand had their own takes on a referendum.

Councilman Reggie Brown, an opponent of the referendum option, noted that civil rights expansions such as in 1865 and 1965 would not have passed by referendum, but were still necessary and historically validated nonetheless.

Councilman Sam Newby, meanwhile, issued support for a referendum. Councilman Al Ferraro likewise supported a referendum, as a way of instituting finality.

“I would support a referendum if this went forward,” Ferraro said.


Beyond that, there was robust discussion, much of it against the HRO expansion.

Gulliford then called up the perennial legal expert on his side of this issue: Roger Gannam of the Liberty Counsel, making his umpteenth trip to city hall to speak to the issue of “legal problems” with the proposed legislation.

On the issue of “gender identity,” Gannam postulated that the bill’s definition of such was “broad.”

It was impossible for a business owner or the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission, which would enforce this, to determine the applicability of people who identify as “gender fluid,” “non-binary,” or other such terms, Gannam said.

Councilman Danny Becton spoke to his problem with the bill.

The shortening of the bill to five pages, Becton said, creates an impression of false transparency, as the bill doesn’t itemize every change to code that was made, but just lists the relevant changes to statute.

“Words have just been condensed down to a couple of numbers,” Becton said. “This bill is the exact same bill [as 2016]. It’s been marketed as something that it’s not.”

Rev. Charlene Cothran from Palm Coast spoke up next, a former member of the Human Rights Commission and a longtime lesbian activist, who has been “transformed” after 29 years of activism.

Cothran’s line of reasoning: the LGBT rights movement is not analogous to the civil rights movement.

“They now demand special rights, after they stay in the closet at their convenience,” Cothran said.

“Homosexuals can and do change,” said Cothran.

Former Jacksonville City Council candidate Geoff Youngblood had his say also.

“I would not be able to keep everyone safe if a male who [acted] female went into the women’s bathroom and accosted one of my employees,” Youngblood said.

Youngblood runs a seasonal business, with staffing that occasionally exceeds 15 people; the bill’s definition of a small business would penalize his business by forcing him to abide by the ordinance.

Youngblood called for a referendum, saying “let the people decide,” especially if the council is “fearful” of a decision.

Rev. Heath Lambert of First Baptist Church voiced his objections to the proposed ordinance also.

“This is a debate about convictions, not about discrimination. The conviction of LGBT men and women,” Lambert said, is they should be “affirmed.”

“The Christian conviction,” said Lambert, is that the LGBT lifestyle is one of many sexual sins, including pornography and adultery.

“The passage of this ordinance would be to pick a favorite,” Lambert said, between the LGBT community and the Christian community.

“If the council decides to discriminate against people of religious conviction,” Lambert added, this would “bring true harm.”

Lambert then pivoted to a discussion of sexual abuse survivors of his acquaintance, and their fear of a “man who looks like a man, but feels himself to be a woman” being in a room with them.

“They’re too scared,” Lambert said, to speak out in public.

“They’re not afraid of that moment in the bathroom alone. They’re afraid of what the city council will do to them,” in terms of this ordinance potentially passing.

Council VP John Crescimbeni pressed Lambert on his discussion of “convictions, sins, et cetera,” pointing out that religion is protected in the Constitution.

Crescimbeni also objected to the “baker, the butcher, and the candlestick maker” discussions of small businesses from elsewhere that have gotten national exposure to religiously-driven objection to anti-discrimination ordinances.

Crescimbeni wondered if these parties objected to “heterosexual couples living together outside of marriage.”

“Gender is an ontological objective reality,” Lambert said in response.

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