The Jacksonville City Council’s first meeting of the new year kicked off with hours of public comment Tuesday evening – most of it about two proposed bills that could expand anti-discrimination protections for gay and transgender residents.
Jacksonville’s human rights ordinance does not protect people on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. But two bills introduced in Council Tuesday could change that.
One introduced by Councilman Tommy Hazouri would add anti-discrimination protections outright. The other, introduced by Councilman Bill Gulliford, allows the public to vote on the matter instead.
Among a crowd of commenters, Bill Lewis said he supports the public referendum proposal.
“I don’t understand the excuses why there needs to be a special law for a certain class of people,” he said. “And I know there’s exceptions out there. I know there’s mean people out there. Most places, if you’re working in a business and you feel things aren’t working out for you, go find another job.”
But Bobbie O’Connor said a public vote would be a huge mistake.
“We cannot let the majority in this community vote for basic human rights for the minority. We cannot,” she said. “There would not be African-American City Council members and maybe not even women sitting up here today if we had put that to a vote in years past.”
City Council President Greg Anderson has decided to have the entire Council hear both bills all together instead of their going through the normal committee process. Those special meetings begin next month.