Jacksonville Human Rights Ordinance Archives - Florida Politics

Opponents of Jacksonville’s human rights ordinance continue to raise money, organize

One of the under-the-radar political stories of the 2018 cycle in Northeast Florida: the move by religious conservatives to overturn Jacksonville’s LGBT protections.

Empower Jacksonville, a political action committee, brought in $10,100 in November — pushing it to $31,430 raised and just over $23,000 on hand.

Empower Jacksonville seeks to have two ballot items next August. The first: a referendum to change the city’s charter to allow citizens to challenge any law via referendum.

The second measure: a straw ballot on whether or not the HRO should be subject to a citizen referendum. The specific area of contention: the additions to the law this February, not the previously extant law.

Those additions: protections of LGBT people in the areas of housing discrimination, workplace protections, and public accommodations.

The bill has carve-outs and caveats: protections for churches and church schools, businesses with under 15 employees, and no possibility of prison time for violating the ordinance. The Jacksonville Human Rights Commission handles investigations.

There have been a couple of violations claimed, both on the grounds of housing discrimination; in other words, the dread specters of people exploiting the ordinance to make dubious claims have yet to come to pass in the ten months since it has been law.

Nonetheless, for those on the religious right, it’s a matter of principle — and political activism.

The group is collecting petitions currently; as one would suspect, churches will be a primary collection point.

Empower had an organizational meeting Tuesday evening at the Salem Centre. Expect a ramp up for petitions in the months ahead.

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?

After HRO expansion passes, opponents vent their rage at Lenny Curry

During the five-year debate ahead of Jacksonville codifying LGBT rights in its Human Rights Ordinance this week, opponents often couched their rhetoric in the Christian gospels.

However, with the bill having passed, the gospel of love has morphed into the rhetoric of hate.

Getting the worst of it: Mayor Lenny Curry, who respected the supermajority of the City Council and did not veto the bill, even as he made it clear Tuesday evening that he believed the 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.”

In other words, Curry was respecting the City Council’s prerogative to set policy, his own position on the bill notwithstanding.

However, some of Curry’s erstwhile supporters seem to believe that he should have usurped the authority of the council and forced a confrontation with the legislative branch over this issue.

Consider a text Curry received Wednesday from Nancy McGowan, who apparently is a Republican activist.

“Why did you run for mayor Lenny?  To implement a blessing on homosexuality and a mental disorder called transgenderism?  What a disgrace you are as a former Republican.  As a former Christian and most importantly the legacy you have left to your own children and those in the community.    You should have never run for office as you have compromised the very person you were and that is so sad.   You lied to all those who supported you and for what gain?”

McGowan’s position is remarkable, as Curry never said he would veto a bill, just that he wasn’t going to push a bill through.

He told media that he would stay out of the process with the City Council, and he did just that.

McGowan’s decision to attempt to read a former Republican Party of Florida chair out of the party is an odd one for her to have made. And her decision to question Curry’s faith goes beyond oddness.

Curry forwarded these texts to his chief of staff, noting that “people should not be texting me stuff about city business. Please get those text messages in my city email account so we are in compliance with public records laws.”

And in that inbox, the text messages became part of an anthology of vitriol, in which character assassinations abounded because he didn’t thwart the will of the council — all 19 members of which were duly elected, just like the mayor.

Another all-star of recent public comment periods, Pastor Wade Mask, also impugned the mayor’s integrity in an email.

“I was encouraged when I was part of a group that met with you last year. You did not commit to anything, but constructed what you said in such a way that I certainly believed that you were with us. Was I ever wrong,” Mask wrote.

Curry, wrote Mask, “could have vetoed it and made them overturn it with the twelve or if Ms. Brown showed up by making her vote one way or the other.”

[Editor’s Note: LOL]

Mask had hoped that one day Curry would be governor. But not now, alas.

“There is an old country saying, ‘Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.’ I will not be fooled again,” Mask added.

Still more feedback greeted the mayor in his email box.

Angela Strong wrote the following: “This is a very family oriented town with values and morals that we can be proud of. I would think that in light of the results of the Presidential race and the obvious majority voting for American values that you would know in your heart that if you wish to be supported in the future you might want to pay closer attention to what the families of your city want for our children’s future.”

Pastor Jim Wilder mused that “The only problem is that this violates the word of God. May God have mercy on your souls!”

Larry McQueeney contended that “the fact you did not veto that hideous bill makes me sick to my stomach.  That is intellectually dishonest and morally wrong.  You have betrayed the people of your hometown to get what?  A state appointment?  Really?”

Keri Petty, meanwhile, wanted to see Curry primaried should be not veto the bill.

“Lastly, this legislation as w/all LGBT legislation(local, state, & federal)has nothing to do with “equality”, but REDEFINITION! They’re wanting to redefine the normal boundaries of civilization for the last 5,000 to 7,000 years. I voted for you & I’m hoping to vote for you again should you choose to run again. However, if you approve this bill, you will not have my vote & I hope the Republican Party will bring a strong Republican candidate that would consider the issues of the MAJORITY of the population of the city to run against you in the primary,” Petty wrote.

Carol Thomas, likewise, was irked.

“If you think you covered your butt by not signing the HRO 2017-15 Ordinance the council foolishly and despicably passed, I wouldn’t count on it.  We know it came in under your watch and we know what you did to stop it.  Nothing,” Thomas wrote.

“Can’t wait to vote against you.  How long do I have to wait?  If there is a recall effort, I’ll be in on it.  This was not what I voted for.  False advertising!  Family values, my granny! But aren’t you modern!  So was ancient Rome, when it wasn’t ancient.  How spineless can you be? I’ll be looking for your name on ballots for years to come, just for the pleasure of voting against you,” Thomas added.

Karl Klein had this take: “A super-majority on one vote is not the fig leaf you think it is.  You can and should veto the ordinance anyway.  Make the City Council revote and see if they can maintain the super-majority.  You have gone back on your word and betrayed the people who voted you into office.  With Republicans like you, there is no need for Democrats.  I will do everything I can to ensure you are never elected to any position in government.”

And John Green had this measured insight: “This will be your Legacy – ‘One Term Curry let the HBO pass on his watch’.”

Certainly, more communiques like these are on their way to Curry’s inbox. Thus far, though, the vituperation is outstripping the congratulation.


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.

HRO expansion is not the only story in Jacksonville City Council Tuesday

While the Human Rights Ordinance expansion is the biggest item being considered Tuesday by the Jacksonville City Council, it’s not the only one.

Below, a preview of what to watch in Council Chambers.


Margin Call: On Tuesday, the Jacksonville City Council has a decision to make: will the city protect LGBT rights as other major metros do or not?

As discussed extensively on this site and elsewhere, the 19-person council will vote on expanding the city’s Human Rights Ordinance.

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).

If 10 vote for it, the law is subject to a potential veto or signing from Mayor Lenny Curry, putting the mayor on uncertain political sands no matter how he moves.

If 13 vote for it, it’s out of the mayor’s hands.

Thus far, five different council members have voted against the measure in committee. A sixth, Al Ferraro, almost certainly will join them Tuesday.

Thus, for advocates, there is a simple math: ensure that everyone who isn’t part of that group of six shows up and doesn’t get cowed into voting no.

Both HRO expansion advocates and opponents will demonstrate their positions outside the building in various ways. Advocates plan to congregate in Hemming Park. Opponents are expected to have prayer circles outside the building.


Northwest Passage: The Jacksonville City Council is expected to approve a revamp of the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Fund, via Ordinance 2016-779,

Among the policy changes:  an emphasis on loans (backed by title liens) rather than grants; a limit on NWJEDF funding of no more than 25% of the total project cost.

One council person can speak with certainty to how things went wrong with the NWJEDF formula previously.

Councilwoman Katrina Brown‘s family businesses are currently being sued by the city for failing to create sustainable jobs via the NWJEDF; the Browns’ CoWealth LLC was granted money to create 56 jobs, and now the city is attempting to settle up in court, as the company created no jobs … falling just shy of the goal established two mayors ago for what was to be a bustling barbeque sauce plant.

Brown has not returned press calls on this or any subject, and disconnected her phone. So far, the council has managed to discuss reforming the program without discussing Brown’s issue — despite her being in one committee during discussion of this bill.

Expect no discussion of Brown’s situation during Tuesday evening’s meeting. After all, she’s a connected person in the city, and connected people play by different rules than the rest of us in One City, One Jacksonville.


Hemming Happenings: Ordinance 2017-1 will set up new rules for an old problem: issues with public comportment among the denizens of Jacksonville’s Hemming Park.

The solution this time around: to strengthen trespass orders, requiring that they be doled out in writing, with associated case numbers and a legal appeal process.

Hemming Park already has security on premises, but they typically are outmanned by the dozens of people in the park during normal business hours.


Access Granted: Ordinance 2017-16 will provide funding to a position intended to ensure equal employment opportunity on racial grounds in city hiring, including the independent authorities.

The position was established during the John Peyton administration, but was defunded and funding has yet to be restored.

Though one opponent in a committee said the measure was “discriminatory on its basis – what you’re dealing with is race and gender,” this bill will pass, and will be touted as a political victory by sponsor Garrett Dennis.

Time will tell if the bill fixes the problem of racial disparities in hiring and employment on the city level, however.

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.

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