JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The once controversial human rights ordinance is back as a topic of discussion in Jacksonville. Mayor Lenny Curry hosted his first town hall on the subject that would add a layer of protection for the LGBT community in hiring and housing.
The issue was brought up and failed as an ordinance in the City Council a few years ago. It came back up in the race for mayor when Curry said he would consider the issue and engage with the community on it. Now, that begins.
"I think it's very significant in that Jacksonville is the largest city in the country that's never ever passed any pro-LGBT legislation. It would be a big step forward for this community to have the protections from discrimination around sexual orientation, identity, and expression," said Dan Merken with the Jacksonville Equality Coalition.
Tuesday night was the first community meeting. The meeting was packed with people on both sides of the issue.
Curry said he's started the meetings to open up the conversation and learn more about what it would mean to Jacksonville.
The debate was intense among people who favor and oppose the ordinance. The meeting was run by a panel of about half a dozen people selected by the mayor, and the panel included both sides of the debate.
News4Jax spoke with numerous people, including a firefighter, who said he's gay and a local minister.
"My team worked to find people to speak to the issue and that wasn't easy," Curry said. "There's people on both sides that are passionate but not willing to talk about that publicly."
"To me, tonight was about lifting the veil of ignorance and fear about a very courageous conversation, and I believe what I want is that conversation to continue in the workplace, churches and homes," said Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters Lt. Mark Rowley.
"The problem is I don't want to see, and Biblicist church folks -- there's a lot of them, thousands of them -- don't want to see a special interest group be given special status when rights are already in effect for everybody," Coral Ridge Ministries Pastor Jeff Burnsed said.
There will be two more public forums on the human rights ordinance. The next one will be held Dec. 3 at the Milne Auditorium on the campus of Edward Waters College (1658 kings road) at 6 p.m. There will also be one Dec. 15 at Jacksonville University's Policy Institute (2800 University Blvd. north) at 6 p.m.