““Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide.” — John Adams
“If we’d had a referendum in 1965, I’d still be on the back of the bus.” — Denise Hunt
A light legislative agenda on Jacksonville’s City Council was offset by dozens of public commenters, discussing the pro and anti sides regarding expansion of Jacksonville’s HRO (Human Rights Ordinance).
Before the meeting, Council President Greg Anderson discussed his Committee of the Whole process, to ensure a “fair” and “orderly” process. Tonight, Anderson opted to have all HRO public comment happen during the second public comment period.
“There’s three choices. For. Against. Other public business,” Anderson said, who spoke at great length about how he wanted to keep the process orderly.
And, with the possible exception of the speaker who touted the book Hitler’s Cross and asked God to have mercy on the soul of HRO expansion ordinance introducer Tommy Hazouri, and maybe a couple of others, it was orderly.
Especially when the shuttle buses took the opponents out of the uncertainty of downtown and back to their churches in other neighborhoods.
With Anderson promising/threatening a “hard stop at midnight” for the public comment on the HRO, which started before 7:00, there only were five hours for partisans to make their points in three minute chunks.
Anderson advised that speakers “honor Jacksonville,” saying that “even though we disagree, we don’t have to be disagreeable.”
Cindy Watson, of JASMYN, spoke of the LGBT Youth organization she helmed, expressing particular concern about the “rejection” LGBT youth have encountered.
“This ordinance can help real people, people without means, get recourse from discrimination,” Watson said of the Hazouri bill, as the crowd murmured.
An opponent, Jacqueline Benjamin, spoke next.
“I am opposed to the bathroom issues,” Benjamin said, on grounds of “dignity” and “privacy.”
“You’ve got to think about these children,” Benjamin added, conflating themes like a DJ mixing records.
“Mens are coming into mens, and womens are coming into womens [SIC],” Benjamin said, before recounting her horror of the time she entered a men’s room by mistake.
This set the tone. A speaker discussed, her voice breaking up, the discrimination that a gay man raising a child for his sister faces. Then a woman in a sweatshirt with a maple leaf talked about “deviance” and how advocates wanted a “privileged status,” with a “hidden agenda” to “destroy the family unit.”
Advocates, she said, sought to “subvert” constitutional rights.
“We can be a pillar of straight, er, strength if we don’t pass an HRO,” she said, before holding forth against deviant behaviors once more and calling for a referendum.
Erin Thursby, a “voting Republican,” made the economic case, saying that “large businesses are looking at this and deciding whether or not to come here.”
Westsider Roy Bay, a 56 year old Caucasian, said that when he was “10 or 12 years old,” he was “sexually assaulted by the homosexual community,” describing how he “entered into a life of homosexuality” and “going into bathrooms… and sexually assaulting kids, because I thought that’s what life was all about.”
In June, 1985, Bay “found out that wasn’t acceptable.”
Bay never went to jail. If he’s seriously repentant, though, there’s still time.
“This happens in the homosexual lifestyle, over and over again,” Bay (whose namesake, born in 1959, has a significant rap sheet according to Duval court records) said, before getting applause when he said that God set him free from “this type of lifestyle.”
Later on, another gentleman made similar claims, before saying, as an “Army veteran,” he would be “real particular about who is lying beside him in a two man pup tent.”
Gregory Benjamin, another opponent, said that “you never see animals doing what they shouldn’t do” and you “don’t see female with female and male with male,” before trotting out the Sodom and Gomorrah line.
Jacksonville Coalition for Equality Chair Dan Merkan brought the conversation back to pragmatism, bringing up extensive support from the faith and business community.
“What we know is that young people in our community who are LGBT,” he said, face “discrimination” but “have no recourse.”
Someone born intersex talked about being born and raised female.
“Prior to reclaiming my gender, I received prejudice in [local hospitals] because of my body being what it is.”
Intersex traits, said the speaker, “are as common as redheads.”
“There is no correct bathroom for me… the fear and the ignorance I am hearing is profound.”
A pro-referendum speaker spoke next, giving a shoutout to “the great Councilman, Clay Yarborough.”
He seemed to be making a Constitutional argument, talking about bakers with lawyer fees and the Houston mayor, whose HERO fell in a referendum.
“Protect our religious liberties,” he said.
Another gentleman asserted that “most people won’t be discriminated against unless they want to make their sexual proclivities an issue.”
An pro-HRO pastor lamented the “disinformation” being heard, advising Council members to educate themselves on this issue.
“We’re asking you to allow all of our citizens equal access to housing, employment, and public accommodations,” she said.
And so it continued.
Jimmy Midyette spoke up, saying that he appreciated Anderson’s attempt to bring “dignity to this process,” saying that “I hope I see that at this point.”
He also chastized Bill Gulliford for introducing the referendum bill, implying that it subverted the mayor’s Community Conversation process, and that “protected categories” historically have been added via ordinance, not referendum.
“We’re here simply to ask that Jacksonville update its ordinance code,” Midyette said, to provide protections to everyone.
A former Catholic High School principal pled, using Pope Francis as a reference, to say, effectively, that Jesus would back this bill.
An opponent of the bill then said that Greg Anderson wasn’t a “man of his word” because the break was longer than five minutes, and “the real issue is a moral issue.”
He spoke with great conviction about the generational lineage of his moral code, saying that “humans are moral beans.”
Anderson shut him down at three minutes, his voice quavering.
Dr. Gene Youngblood, speaking for the “moral 98%,” held forth against “sodomites,” “perverts and pedophiles,” urging Council to “let the people vote,” saying that “we need no other layer of government to protect moral and ethical people.”
“I’m fearful of what’s going to happen…”
His time ended, and Anderson looked to shut him down.
He didn’t want to go. It was a non-negotiable condition though.
Anderson insisted that he sit down.
A follow up speaker, emotion filling her voice, lambasted Youngblood for his rhetoric, saying that her “heart was broken” at the claims, as she called against a referendum on human rights, “in the name of all that is good and holy.”
Soon enough, Raymond Johnson spoke, “representing a coalition of pastors” to “remind the City Council that we the people have the right to vote,” as if there wasn’t just an election.
Some Council members, he added, were “recruited and funded” by the Chamber and the Civic Council to pass a “Homosexuality Superiority Ordinance.”
Evin Willman, plaintive, an LGBT activist, said that “I have a lot to learn” from people on the other side of the issue… but “they don’t think they have a lot to learn from me.”
Willman’s statement crystallized the tragic divide in discourse.
On one side, people defending their pastors’ interpretations of the moralism of the New Testament that isn’t necessarily in the text. On the other, people who seem genuinely surprised that a precondition of these people’s “first liberties” is denying LGBT people their rights.
It will continue along these lines for weeks to come. Pro-HRO activists will, seemingly counterintuitively to those not following this story, have to appeal to Council to vote an ordinance up or down, making cases as David Vandygriff did, that a referendum would “tear this city apart.”
However, the opponents of such a measure claim that whether Council passes an ordinance or not, a ballot measure on this is going to happen.
Their bet: there are a lot more people who subscribe to 20th century iterations of Moral Majority Christianity than there are people who are willing to mobilize for the rights of the LGBT community.
And even though some may inveigh against the tyranny of the majority, there are those in the majority who believe that tyranny is just fine in achieving their desired ends.
They don’t worry too much about how history will regard their opposition to LGBT equality. And, as one speaker said was the case during integration, many of today’s opponents will revise history and say they were supporters of the measure down the road.
Before the HRO public comment drama, other legislative business ensued:
- Anna Brosche discussed the successful completion of the Public Service Grants committee on Council, refining the process. The final report was submitted in December. Process refinements are documented in great detail at the link of what Brosche called a “strengthening of the public service grants process.” The ordinance will go through three committees.
- John Phillips was appointed to the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission.
- A vehicle allowance was approved for the Supervisor of Elections office.
- Jax Journey legislation was approved, creating a chapter in the ordinance code.
- The pension tax resolution, sponsored by the entire Council, was approved without exception.
- Members of the Riverside/Avondale organization PROUD spoke up against the redevelopment of a long-vacant dry cleaner into a bar, called the Roost, that would bring economic vitality and development to a street lined with rental properties.