Debate continues on expanding Jacksonville's HRO

Dozens voice opinions at 'Questions and Concerns' meeting

By Kent Justice - Anchor/reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The debate on the proposed expansion to Jacksonville's Human Rights Ordinance continued Thursday with a “Questions and Concerns” meeting at City Hall.

The City Council is currently considering an amendment that would extend legal protections to Jacksonville's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents.

A handful of council members attended the meeting, hearing from people in the community and offering some of their own opinions.

For now, the City Council looks to be on schedule to vote in just under two weeks on whether to expand the ordinance.

For the HRO to pass, 10 out of 19 council members will have to vote in favor, and it's likely to be a tight vote. That’s why so many people are speaking up to win over the council members.

Last week, about 1,000 people showed up for a marathon City Council meeting that had to stretch into a second day to allow everyone to be heard.

Dozens of people showed up Thursday, most of them vocal in their opposition to the proposed HRO expansion.

“This is wrong to force this upon people who don't want it here in Jacksonville,” said the Rev. Charlene Cothran. “The majority of people know that this is not about discrimination. It's not a bill that should pass here or an ordinance that should pass in the city.”

Cothran said she is frustrated to hear the issue being discussed as a civil right.

“First of all, I'm an African-American. That's the first thing you see about me, so even when I was gay I was outraged as an African-American that they would claim that they would hijack the civil rights movement and claim discrimination,” Cothran said. “How can you do that? You've never been relegated to the back of the bus.”

Attorneys and some business owners spoke against the ordinance, talking about costs.

Others spoke about evidence, saying there isn’t any concerning discrimination based on gender identity or sexual preference.

Some concern arose about the length and language of the bill, criticizing its construction.

At the end of the meeting, one of the things that stood out was the discussion over whether council should put the issue on the ballot and let voters decide.

“If the people of Jacksonville are already for it, which is what homosexuals claim -- that everybody recognizes there should be non-discrimination laws ... if that's the case then put it on the ballot and let the people decide,” Cothran said. “If your data proves that the people are going to support you, then let the people support you in the voting booth.”

Jennifer Wolfe is a supporter of expanding the HRO and made sure the audience heard her frustration.

“The notion that any community would be discriminated against and that we can use a referendum to enforce that discrimination, it's just wrong,” said Jennifer Wolfe, who support the HRO amendment. “The pressure is on for our Council to take a stand for justice, and now is when they need to do it, not the cowardly way out, which is to throw it to a referendum.”

Wolfe said not expanding the HRO would be an injustice.

“To discriminate against our gay community, it's outrageous, and I'm going to stand up for justice,” she said.

Many council members have publicly voiced their support of the amendment, saying it’s time for Jacksonville to modernize and level the playing field with other major cities in America.

The meeting, which lasted two hours, wasn’t long enough for some of the people who wanted to speak.

When Councilman Bill Gulliford announced that the meeting was adjourned, he heard some boos, and someone shouted, “Shame on you for not letting others speak.”

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