FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. – A human rights ordinance moved forward in Fernandina Beach ahead of the first Pride Parade and Festival in the small beach town.
A second reading of the ordinance -- which would prohibit discriminatory conduct in employment and housing based on race, religion, gender, disability and sexual orientation -- passed unanimously. City commissioners all agree the human rights ordinance is needed to protect all people from any form of discrimination.
Dr. Theresa Sparks, a clinical psychologist who helped get the ordinance in place, said a large part of her clients are military members and they will be covered.
"One of the biggest problems that has been reported in this area are active duty-military where people don’t want to sell them homes because they will move soon and they seem like transient sort of folks. It’s a real problem with renting or buying," Sparks said. "And one of the things I’ve found is when people tell employers they are veterans, they are often given a, 'Wonder if you’re one of those who could go off the deep end or do something crazy?' So our veterans have really suffered with even just getting employment."
Fernandina Beach Mayor Johnny Miller said he didn’t realize there was such a big problem until hearing from those affected.
"A group of people formed up and started a workshop and talked about different issues with the LGBT community and I went to one of those workshops and realized we had issues with our human rights ordinance -- housing, employment discrimination," Miller said.
Genece Minshew, president of Fernandina Beach’s Pride chapter, is spearheading the first-ever Pride Parade and Festival this weekend in Fernandina Beach.
"LGBTQ people are still a discriminated class. You can be fired with no other reason, denied housing. So we are celebrating our right to be here and acknowledging that we are here and need to be included in the community," Minshew said. "I have been in a long-term relationship with my partner for 35 years and we were recently, in 2013, able to get married. So it’s a great day for both of us."
The Pride Parade was actually sparked by a controversial Pride flag that the mayor decided to fly last year at City Hall. There was pushback from the community, so commissioners decided to take it down.
"During that meeting, it was suggested by one of the other commissioners, 'Why don’t you have a Pride Parade and day?' And I didn’t even hear it because I was so intent on keeping the flag, but the community heard it and that’s what they took away from that meeting," Miller said.
There are some people in Fernandina Beach who are not happy about the Pride Parade, but no one with that opinion wanted to speak with News4Jax on camera.
The mayor said they are prepared for protestors.
"We have a very strong police force here and we think love will win," Miller said.
The Fernandina Pride Parade will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday. The parade follows the traditional route downtown from Central Park down Ash Street and Centre Street. There will be groups of people walking, decorated cars and, of course, floats. The festival begins at 11 a.m.
On Sunday, Fernandina Pride will hold a special, multifaith worship service at 8:30 a.m. at the gazebo at Main Beach. Members from the local faith community will participate and the community is welcome. Admission to the event is free for all ages.
As for the ordinance, there will be a final reading in July before it becomes official.