Jacksonville wraps HRO community discussions

By : Jamie Hyman
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Jacksonville – The third and final meeting to discuss proposed LGBT protections in Jacksonville is in the books.

Mayor Lenny Curry scheduled the Community Conversations to discuss a human rights ordinance that includes nondiscrimination protections covering sexual orientation and gender identity. Jacksonville is the only major Florida city without protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in the areas of employment, housing, and public accommodations, despite being the Florida metro area with the highest percentage of LGBT residents, according to a report by the Jacksonville Office of General Counsel.

The first meeting was Nov. 17 and focused on supporting the needs and well-being of families. It was contentious, and resulted in a 25-year-old Jacksonville man’s arrest after he left a voicemail with a reporter saying he’d bomb the second meeting. Afterward, the Ku Klux Klan distributed anti-gay fliers in Jacksonville neighborhoods.

The second meeting was Dec. 3, where a panel discussed religious freedom. About 750 people packed a gymnasium at Edward Waters College for that discussion, featuring a panel of four, evenly split on both sides of the issue. Three of the panelists were faith leaders and the fourth was Roger Gannam, who traveled to Jacksonville from Longwood to represent Liberty Counsel, designated an official hate group by Southern Poverty Law Center.

Liberty Counsel recently made headlines representing Kim Davis, the Kentucky Clerk who refused to issue legal marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The final meeting on Dec. 15 focused on impacts on businesses. According to Jimmy Midyette, a local attorney who is part of The Jacksonville Coalition for Equality, Mayor Curry put together solid representatives in favor of the HRO to sit on the panel.

“The CEO of Baptist Health, the largest private employer in Jacksonville, Hugh Greene, made a compelling case for extending basic human rights protections for the LGBT community,” Midyette says. ” Amy Ruth, the Chief HR Officer of Florida Blue, talked about how their company has a competitive advantage by hiring the top talent available, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The third panelist on the pro side was Jack Webb, former president of the Jacksonville City Council and a labor and unemployment attorney.

“It was fantastic to have another attorney on the panel to combat the misinformation being spread by the Liberty Counsel’s Roger Gannam,” Midyette says.

He says he believes the next step is for Mayor Curry to “take in what he’s learned and propose a bill to the City Council.”

That is expected to happen in early 2016.

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