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Jacksonville HRO sponsors to be honored, as fight to keep law commences

Last February, Jacksonville expanded its Human Rights Ordinance, giving protections to the LGBT community in the workplace, public accommodations, and housing markets.

This February 3rd at the Florida Yacht Club, Equality Florida will honor the three sponsors of the legislation: City Council VP Aaron Bowman and Councilman Jim Love (two Republicans), and Councilman Tommy Hazouri (a Democrat).

Unsurprisingly, Equality Florida gives itself credit for passage.

“After a nearly 10-year campaign, Jacksonville ended its reign as the only major city in Florida without an LGBT inclusive Human Rights Ordinance. In February 2017, we saw unprecedented leadership and investment in this battle by Equality Florida, the citizens of Jacksonville, and these three elected leaders – resulting in the updated HRO on Valentine’s Day.”

The citizens of Jacksonville — specifically stakeholders — had a lot of input. Bowman is the VP of a business development and recruitment wing of the JAX Chamber (Jax USA). Groups like the Jacksonville Civic Council were instrumental in leveraging support, as was Jaguars owner Shad Khan — a singularly influential figure who publicly urged passage and lobbied wobbly councilors behind the scenes.

And the passage of the HRO had a salutary effect: Jacksonville’s score of 67 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index puts it on par with Miami, and represents a quantum leap from scores in the 20s a couple of years back.

But this level of protections is under attack.

Though the legislation moved through last February, a ballot challenge may be in the offing, via Christian conservative group Empower Jacksonville.

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. (December numbers were not posted as of this writing on the morning of January 8).

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.

The group is collecting petitions currently to get ballot access; as one would suspect, churches will be a primary collection point for the roughly 27,000 needed.

And in the context of petition collecting, the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality is pushing back.

The group urges people to “decline to sign,” and then “to note where you saw the petitioner and what was going on and then send a quick e-mail” to the JCE.

As well, JCE asserts that petitions may be collected extralegally (on property that they have no right to be collecting petitions on, including private property that is not their own, and government properties.

Ultimately, the Empower Jacksonville group will seek to put LGBT rights up for referendum; in Houston, where similar legislation was passed, a ballot challenge was successful.

Could a similar fate strike Jacksonville in the end?

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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