Atlantic Beach to discuss human rights ordinance

City commission to hold workshop at 6:30 p.m.; vote set next week


ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Atlantic Beach could be one step closer to becoming the first city in Northeast Florida to adopt a human rights ordinance with protections for sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.

The city commission is holding a workshop on the amended ordinance Monday.

It includes protections for residents when it comes to employment, housing, and public accommodations.

They'll be a chance for public comment and then a final reading of the ordinance.

It's an ordinance supporters said would be groundbreaking for Northeast Florida, and one that is long overdue.

"As it is, somebody could be fired from their job, denied employment, asked to leave a public accommodation, denied housing just because they were gay or lesbian or transgender and they would have no recourse," said Dan Merkan, Chair of the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality steering committee.

Merkan said discrimination is real and that the amended Human Rights Ordinance proposed in Atlantic Beach will help combat it.

"All they have is something around housing, so they don't really have language in there about public accommodation or employment and so this is actually expanding protections for everybody," said Merkan.

If passed, Merkan said Atlantic Beach would be the first city in Northeast Florida that has a Human Rights ordinance with protections to explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity.

After a failed attempt in 2012 to pass an amended human rights ordinance in Jacksonville, the group has been pushing for a revamped ordinance in Atlantic Beach since November 2013.

"Ultimately, I think the arguments have made the bill stronger and it will actually do what needs to be done which is protect people from discrimination," said Merkan.

The meeting will give people a chance to give feedback through a public hearing, and then there will be a final reading of the ordinance.

It could move forward as is, or be amended. Either way, Merkan said it's progress.

"What Atlantic Beach is doing is a really great step forward for this area," said Markan.

The first vote in June passed three to two. The final vote is expected to happen on August 11th.

A simple majority on that vote is required for the ordinance to become law.

Monday's meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. and the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality is encouraging supporters to wear red, and take part in the public hearing.