First Coast Connect: Business, Faith Leaders Lobbying For Expanded HRO

Jan 11, 2017

Mount Sinai Baptist Church Pastor R. L. Gundy (from left to right), host Melissa Ross and Darnell Smith, market president of Florida Blue and chair of the JAX Chamber, discuss the expansion of the human rights ordinance on First Coast Connect.
Credit Joy Kader / WJCT News

Supporters are hoping the third time will be the charm in passing a bill to expand Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to cover the LGBT community.

It was introduced last week at the Jacksonville City Council meeting which would update the law to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Appearing Wednesday on First Coast Connect, Darnell Smith, market president with Florida Blue and chair of the JAX Chamber, and Pastor R. L. Gundy of Mt. Sinai Baptist Church talked about how businesses and faith leaders are lobbying hard for the HRO.

“We believe it is simply the right thing to do, to provide protection to all individuals,” Smith said.

He said from a business perspective they cannot achieve their economic potential if they do not have these protections. Smith said there are a number of companies that are looking at Jacksonville for employment opportunities.

“It is clear to a number of them that it is important for them to bring their employees to Jacksonville and that we have an expanded, comprehensive HRO that provide protections from discrimination for all persons,” Smith said.

The business community is speaking with one voice, saying companies can attract the young and the most talented people if Jacksonville is perceived to be a tolerant city. However, the faith community had more opposers than supporters.

Gundy said, “We had some struggles in the faith community in the past.”

Since then, Gundy has gotten people over a lot of fears by putting forth his effort to speak, “lobby,” “share,” and “pray” in discussion groups with religious opposers. He said they now understand that the bill will protect the churches.

“As of last night, we actually have 200 faith leader pastors who have come on board to support the HRO,” Gundy said. “So we are not where we used to be.”

Gundy said he’s not trying to address the issues of sin, with religious people who are opposed to the bill, rather talk to them about giving people the right to have a job, the right to have housing, and the right to have public accommodations.

Smith called the bill a “Jacksonville solution,” a balance between religious liberties and human rights. He said the bill “compromises” with conservative people, by exempting specific schools, churches and other religious organizations from the law, along with businesses with fewer than 15 employees.

The bill will start going through committees this month and could be voted on Feb. 14.

Listen to the full conversation about HRO on Wednesday’s episode of the “First Coast Connect.”

News Intern Joy Kader freely can be reached at joykader@yahoo.com, 561-900-5235 or on Twitter at @joykader95