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Will Third Time Be Charm? Jacksonville Council To Consider Human Rights Legislation

Lindsey Kilbride
Republican Council members Aaron Bowman and Jim Love, and Democrat Tommy Hazouri presented their revamped human rights bill Wednesday.

A bipartisan trio of Jacksonville City Council Members introduced a bill Wednesday that would expand the city’s human-rights ordinance to protect LGBT people.

Jacksonville’s existing human rights ordinance protects people from discrimination based on factors including race and age in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodations. The bill would update the law to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

This is the third attempt to expand the law. Council vetoed the first version in 2012, and the sponsor withdrew a similar bill last year to fine tune the piece of legislation.

The new anti-discrimination bill is much shorter than previous drafts — just five pages, compared to 14 pages last year and more than 30 pages in 2012. Councilman Aaron Bowman, a bill sponsor, said this time it’s more clearly written.

MORE | Read the entire bill below

“I can’t tell you how many time last time this went through that I met with religious leaders and they said, ‘If you just can some protection for my congregation, I could have supported it.’ Well it was already there,” Bowman said.

Bowman, Republican Council member Jim Love and and Democrat Tommy Hazouri presented their revamped human rights bill Wednesday to about six council members and a packed committee room at City Hall of both supporters and opponents.

This time, the bill also defines gender identity as “a person’s consistent, sincere assertion of a particular gender identity, appearance or expression, or by any other evidence that a person’s gender identity is sincerely held.”

Fredrick Wilson, an opponent of the added protections said after the meeting the gender identity section is a problem for him because business owners won’t know if someone is sincere.

“I’m more conservative,” Wilson said. “I think men should look like men, traditional dress; women should looks like women, traditional dress. For someone to come and tell me now that they don’t have to, I don’t like that.”

Along with religious institutions, businesses with fewer than 15 employees would also be exempt from the law.

Many Jacksonville business leaders came to the meeting in support of the bill, including JAX Chamber Board Chair Darnell Smith, who called the bill a “Jacksonville solution,” a balance between religious liberties and human rights. Haskell Company CEO Steve Halverson said expanding the law would help draw in talent to his company.

“Let’s get this right,” Halverson said. “Let’s make our business more competitive as we can add more jobs and increase tax bases.”

Bowman pointed to businesses’ leaving North Carolina and entertainers refusing to perform in the state after its lawmakers limited LGBT protections as a cautionary tale.

The HRO bill doesn't require businesses to change bathroom signage to gender neutral or retrofit their restrooms. The bill also allows businesses to establish and enforce dress codes as long as they aren’t based upon “sex stereotypes.”

Last year, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry held a series of community forums examining the possible expansion of the HRO. He ultimately decided legislation on the matter wasn’t necessary, but he changed the city’s hiring policy to not allow for discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Following Curry’s decision, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office adopted the same inclusive hiring policy. The Duval County School Board adopted the same protections for its students and employees in 2012.

These are all listed as examples to follow in the new bill introduced Wednesday.

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

Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride

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.