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Last Jacksonville HRO Community Forum Focuses On Business

Lindsey Kilbride

It was standing room only at Tuesday’s community forum on Jacksonville’s human-rights ordinance.

The panel discussion was the third and final one hosted by  Mayor Lenny Curry as he considers expanding anti-discrimination protections to LGBT residents.

The theme was how an LGBT-inclusive human rights ordinance would affect city businesses.  

An hour before the forum, a line of people stretched to the street at the Jacksonville University venue. People were waiting to hear arguments for and against a revised human rights ordinance.

One of them, Angela Strain, works for JASMYN, an organization that helps and works with LGBT youth. She says transgender people have an especially difficult time finding work.

Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News
Those in favor of an expanded HRO wore orange stickers in support.

“I think it’s important that we’re here to listen to the business community about how important diversity is for Jacksonville to grow,” Strain said. “We work with a number of companies who are affirming and supportive of a diverse workforce.”

But she says even when businesses have inclusive policies, it’s not enough because when gay and transgender people step outside their workplace, they’re not protected in housing and accommodations.

On Tuesday more than 250 Jacksonville business leaders signed a letter in support of expanding the city’s human-rights ordinance. But many people against adding the protections came to the forum.

Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News
A large crowd waits to get into Jacksonville University's auditorium nearly an hour before the HRO forum begins. Later on, people who show up later are turned away at the door.

Raymond Johnson of Grassroots Campaign Consulting was selling shirts that read “Jacksonville says NO! NO! NO! to HRO.” He says an expansion of the HRO would infringe on his rights as a small-business owner.

“I have a constitutional right to run my business the way that I see fit,” he said. “And I don’t need to be sued or drug into a kangaroo court just because perhaps I don’t want to participate in some way in, perhaps, a same-sex wedding.”

The panel was made up of six people. Three were for the HRO expansion: Amy Ruth of Florida Blue; Attorney Jack Webb; and CEO of Baptist Health Hugh Greene.

The three panelists against an expanded HRO were Roger Gannam, Attorney with Liberty Counsel; small-business owner Diann Catlin; and the Rev. Ken Adkins.

If expanded, the HRO would protect people on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression at work, in housing and in public. A similar ordinance drafted in 2012 exempted businesses with fewer than 16 employees and religious institutions.

After three forums, Mayor Curry says he’s still reading through speaker cards and emails and is still learning about the issue.

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.