Jax City Council To Consider Competing LGBT Anti-Discrimination Bills

Dec 16, 2015

 

Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News

Jacksonville City Councilmen Bill Gulliford and Tommy Hazouri are sponsoring competing anti-discrimination bills, which will start moving through Council next month.

Gulliford introduced his human-rights ordinance bill, with a requirement for voters to decide on the issue, Wednesday morning.

 


Gulliford’s referendum proposal follows three community conversations hosted by Mayor Lenny Curry to explore expanding the ordinance to include protections for LGBT people.

Gulliford’s bill would change the city charter to allow the public to vote on LGBT anti-discrimination. He says all Jacksonville residents should vote on the issue for the sake of finality.

“You saw it defeated once before. Let’s assume this time it passes,” he said. “Do you think the people on the other side of the issue are just going to roll over and not mount a citizens’ initiative to get it on the ballot at some future  time? I think you’ve seen that kind of action taken on signs, on trees, and those were a lot less passionate issues than we have before us now.”

He says he’s received more than 11,000 emails on the topic, and a community vote is the logical step after Curry’s forums.  

Gulliford's bill is identical to the one the Council defeated, other than the referendum requirement. It would grant protections to people on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations. Religious institutions and businesses with 15 employees or fewer would be excluded.

He says he included transgender people the bill because business leaders like Audrey Moran say "it's all or nothing," meaning adding protections for gay people but not transgender people does not go far enough. In 2012, the City Council amended the bill to take out transgender protection before voting.

But Councilman Tommy Hazouri will be introducing a similar bill without the referendum requirement. His bill would let Council decide on LGBT protections because, he says, referenda aren’t appropriate for deciding human rights.

“If you had that, then a referendum, I dare say, would not have passed back in 1920 with women's suffrage to give women the right to vote, in 1964 for civil rights,” he said.

Hazouri says he has his doubts that Gulliford's referendum would pass next year.  

“You can’t leave anyone behind, and human rights is not an issue that’s for a referendum,” Hazouri said. “It’s for those 19 members of the Council including myself to debate the bill and — bills in this case — and make a decision because we were elected by the people to do so.”

Earlier this month, a group of 20 pastors against the HRO expansion called for a referendum. Pastor of Timothy Baptist Church Fred Newbill says the LGBT fight is not the same as the civil-rights fight was in Jacksonville.

“If the people of Jacksonville pass it, we have to accept the law, or we have to accept what is voted,” Newbill said. “No, I won’t agree with it, but there are a lot of things I don’t agree with, but I’m a citizen of the city.”

On the other side, Jimmy Midyette, legislative director of the Jacksonville Coalition of Equality, agrees with Hazouri that fundamental rights should not be subject to popular vote.

“The Council can address these legitimate concerns of faith leaders and small businesses and make sure we have an ordinance that works for Jacksonville,” he said.

Both bills will go through Council in January. If Gulliford’s passes, the referendum would likely be on the August ballot.

The original story is posted below. It was posted Wednesday morning:

Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Gulliford says he plans to introduce a human-rights ordinance bill, with a requirement for voters to decide on the issue.

Gulliford’s referendum proposal follows three “community conversations” hosted by Mayor Lenny Curry to explore expanding the ordinance to include protections for LGBT people.

Gulliford says all Jacksonville residents should vote on the issue for the sake of finality.

“You saw it defeated once before. Let’s assume this time it passes,” he said, referring to a Council vote in 2012. “Do you think the people on the other side of the issue are just going to roll over and not mount a citizens’ initiative to get it on the ballot at some future time? I think you’ve seen that kind of action taken on signs, on trees, and those were a lot less passionate issues than we have before us now.”

Gulliford's bill is identical to the one the Council defeated, other than the referendum requirement. It would grant protections to people on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations. Religious institutions and businesses with 15 employees or fewer would be excluded.

He says he included transgender people the bill because business leaders like Audrey Moran say "it's all or nothing," meaning adding protections for gay people but not transgender people does not go far enough. In 2012, the City Council amended the bill to take out transgender protection.

But many people who back the human-rights ordinance expansion argue human rights should not be submitted to a vote.

If Gulliford’s bill passes Council, the referendum could be on the ballot as soon as next August, he says.

Read Gulliford’s letter announcing the bill's filing.