After a nearly five year battle, the LGBTQ community made huge gains Tuesday, Feb. 14 when the Jacksonville City Council voted to expand the Human Rights Ordinance.
The new HRO adds sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to the list of protected categories.
This means that gay, lesbian and transgender people can not be discriminated against in the workplace, the housing market or public accommodations (such as lockers rooms and bathrooms).
The bill passed 12-6 and was sent to the desk of mayor Lenny Curry. While Curry has not been a supporter of the bill, he neither signed nor vetoed the bill, thus making it law.
The controversial city council meeting was packed with supporters and dissenters, many who could not refrain from speaking out. Multiple times the city council president, Lori Boyer, had to ask those in the overflow room and library to respect council decorum.
UNF LGBT Resource Center Director, Kaitlin Legg, said she and several UNF students huddled together in her office and live streamed the council meeting.
Legg said UNF has protected against discrimination based on sexual orientation since 2005 and gender identity since 2010. But she believes now that Jacksonville itself is on board, the city will see more student retention after graduation.
One of the staunch fighters against the bill was councilman Bill Gulliford. He fought for small businesses and members of the religious community.
Gulliford tried to make an amendment to the bill allowing it to go to a referendum, where the public would vote yes or no, but it was struck down by the council.
In regards to the opposition Legg said she was disheartened, but glad to see a majority of people still supported the bill.
“It was disheartening to see some of our council members add all these amendments to water down the bill, but it felt really good that most of those amendments weren’t approved,” Legg said.
One of the main worries of the opposition was that small businesses would be financially burdened by increased lawsuits against them. However, Jim Love, a sponsor of the bill, said that in cities like Tampa, where the HRO is passed, there has not been an increase in lawsuits.
Gulliford also tried to pass an amendment that would keep transgender people off the bill, which failed 13-5.
One other noteworthy aspect about the bill is the religious exemption. The bill allows for religious organizations to be exempted from the ordinance, with the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission having the final say on what is a religious organization and what is not.
Angel Kalafatis, Mentor Program Coordinator of the UNF LGBT Resource Center, said she felt a little disconnected from the decision because she wasn’t actually at the council meeting, but she said when it finally sank in she felt joy and excitement.
“I was excited because it gave me a chance to talk to my kids about it, and I like looking for those excuses to have conversations like that with my kids. We all celebrated this morning when the kids got up,” Kalafatis said.
Karlene van der Jagt, UNF junior, nutrition, believes that it’s great that the bill passed.
“Well the LGBT community is really growing and they’re more open now than in the past, I’m really happy about that. People get to know them and get to communicate better with them too,” Van der Jagt said.
Another UNF student is glad that the city of Jacksonville has made such strides in fighting discrimination.
John Masterson, junior, health administration, said that he’s always thought including everyone is the right thing to do.
“I think UNF has a really diverse group of students, so I think that [the decision] will be in favor of a lot of people. I think a majority of people at UNF will accept it, there’s always going to be a few that won’t, but I think the majority will,” Masterson said.
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