Drop 'gender identity or expression' from equality bill?

City Council likely to vote on amendment in 2 weeks

Published On: Jun 13 2012 03:43:54 PM EDT   Updated On: Jun 14 2012 06:43:28 AM EDT

In two weeks, Jacksonville's City Council may vote on a controversial bill amendment that would ban discrimination against gays and lesbians.

But by the time it comes up for a vote, the bill may be missing some key words from when it was first introduced, which has some supporters worried about who it will be protecting.

Councilman Warren Jones proposed bill 2012-296 in May. His proposal would add the words "sexual orientation, gender identity or expression" to the city's Equal Opportunity Ordinance, which already prohibits discrimination against religion, race, age, marital status and disability.

To get the bill passed though, Jones said the last four words "gender identity or expression" may have to be dropped.

Justin Scruggs is a 27-year-old transgendered man. He began taking female hormones seven months ago, and he says some people at his last job didn't like that.

"I guess the word got out about who I was and going to be," Scruggs said. "I lost hours. Nobody talked to me."

Scruggs admits when it comes to the new law, it's hard to explain the difference between "sexual orientation" and "gender identity."

"It's a pretty big spectrum. It covers a lot of different people, a lot of different ways of how they express themselves, how they come out, where they come out at," Scruggs said.

To get the bill passed, City Council members may drop the last four words. The proposal aims to protect anyone from being discriminated against based on their sexuality.

"When you start getting into behavior and other things, you get into unintended consequences," City Council President Stephen Joost said.

Joost believes if the council held a vote right now, the bill would receive nine or 10 in favor of it. The bill needs 10 to become law. Joost believes if the last four words are dropped, the proposal will pick up four or five more supporters.

Joost said he will not vote for the bill as it's currently worded. He believes "gender identity" is too broad.

"My customers have to feel comfortable when they're shopping in my stores, period," Joost said. "So when I've got a man dressed as a woman, say, behind the cash register, that's not going to go over with Joe Q. Public very well."

Jimmy Midyette, of the Jacksonville Committee for Equality, defines the wording this way:

"Sexual orientation is in our heart. Gender identity is in our head. It's how we think of ourselves and gender expression is how we present ourselves to the world," Midyette said. "Unless he happens to be holding the hand of another guy or something, you may not know that he's gay. A lot of people don't realize or think that I'm gay. It's probably something to do with that gender expression."

Joost and Jones believe a vote will be held in two weeks.