Conservative religious group calls for the repeal of Jacksonville’s HRO protections for LGBTQ people

By : Jeremy Williams
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Empower Jacksonville, a newly formed anti-LGBTQ group in North Florida, is attempting to get two initiatives put onto the 2018 ballot that would strip away protections from the city’s Human Rights Ordinance based on people’s sexual orientation and gender identity, according to The Florida Times-Union.

The group, which introduced itself at a news conference last month at Jacksonville’s First Baptist Church, announced they would begin attempts to collect signatures for the two initiatives immediately with the hope to have both on the ballot in August 2018.

The first initiative would be a non-binding straw poll on whether Jacksonville voters agree with the city council’s vote in Feb. 2017 that added sexual orientation and gender identity to the HRO. The second would amend the city charter and allow citizens to vote to repeal any law passed by the city council.

The group will need signatures from at least five percent of the county’s registered voters, or roughly 29,000 signatures, to get the two referendums on the ballot.

According to the Times-Union, Empower Jacksonville is registered with the state under the fictitious name Florida Family Action. Florida Family Action has associated with anti-LGBTQ activist and attorney John Stemberger. Stemberger is the president of Central Florida’s Florida Family Policy Council, part of Focus on the Family’s national network.

“I was asked by a group of folks in Jacksonville to help them set up some of the legal structures like a fictitious name and the accounts necessary to comply with Florida election law, which I did,” Stemberger said to the Times-Union via email.

Stemberger stated in the email that he is not heading up the Empower Jacksonville campaign.

Bennett Brown, co-chairman of Empower Jacksonville, said during a press conference that this was just a matter of giving rights back to the people of Jacksonville.

“In order to keep Jacksonville great, we need to give the citizens of Jacksonville the right to repeal any law that is unfair or unjust that is passed by our city council,” Brown said.

Empower Jacksonville committee co-chairman Harry Lewis echoed Brown’s sentiment.

“Our government has no business telling us what we can say or what we must do, nor should they have the authority to punish us merely for our ideas or our beliefs,” Lewis said.

Jacksonville’s city council voted 12-6 last Valentine’s Day to expand the city’s HRO to include people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity in the areas of employment, public accommodations and housing.

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