A panelist at Thursday’s town hall meeting to discuss Jacksonville’s human rights ordinance underrepresented the amount of discrimination that happens against LGBT residents. That’s according to the authors of a study he cited.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry has been holding community meetings to discuss the pros and cons of expanding Jacksonville HRO to protect people on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations.
The Liberty Counsel is an Orlando-based group that advocates for religious freedom. At Thursday’s Jacksonville HRO community forum, Liberty Counsel lawyer Roger Gannam argued against adding LGBT protections to the city’s human rights ordinance, saying they’re just not needed.
"A law like this should be passed in response to a problem,” Gannam said. “Jacksonville does not have a widespread or systematic problem with discrimination against anyone.”
Gannam referenced data collected by the Jacksonville Community Council back in 2009, when the organization was tasked by the Human Rights Commission to find out if LGBT people were discriminated against, in what areas and how often.
“Yeah, some people had stories of discrimination, no one’s denying that, but they were exceedingly rare, and even more rare were incidences of discrimination that would be covered by this kind of law,” Gannam said in an interview following the panel discussion. He made similar statements during the forum before a crowd of hundreds assembled in the Edward Waters College auditorium.
But the Community Council’s Laura Lane says that’s not what her group, known as JCCI, found.
“We thought there wouldn’t be as much as there is,” Lane said. “And there was a lot more discrimination than we thought.”
The study collected LGBT residents' stories using personal interviews, focus groups and a written survey.
Of the 211 LGBT- identifying people surveyed, 41 percent reported having been discriminated against within the past five years.
Lane says 45 percent of survey respondents who suffered discrimination said it was at work, and 40 percent said it happened in local restaurants. Discrimination at work and in public accommodations would be prohibited under an expanded HRO.
Lane says gathering this kind of data is hard because people who have faced discrimination don’t always want to talk about it.
“So when [Gannam] says that discrimination is low or doesn't meet a bar or some kind of expectation for writing a law, he’s also not willing to say what that would be,” she said. “But if you agree that writing a law to write protections for all people who have a sexuality, then in fact you’d want to write a law that protects everyone from discrimination.”
When asked at the forum, Gannam didn’t say how many cases of discrimination would warrant a change in the law.
The next HRO community meeting is next week. The topic is how the change would affect the business community.