In the evening hours of Valentine’s Day, the Jacksonville City Council voted to approve an expansion of the city’s human rights ordinance to include protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The vote marks the end of a lengthy battle on behalf of the Jacksonville LGBTQ+ community and its allies.
The expansion bill was reintroduced at the beginning of the year by Councilman Tommy Hazouri, who had also introduced last year’s bill that was eventually withdrawn.
It’s been a hotly debated issue each time it’s come up. The most recent public hearing on the bill went late into the night and into the next morning, with hundreds of residents making their voices heard.
The council’s chambers were over capacity, with lines spilling out onto the streets. It was also being streamed live in the library and online.
Despite attempts by Councilman Gulliford to obstruct the bill’s passage, the vote went 12-6 in favor of passage.
The bill’s ability to pass through a council that was ready to reject it last year is thanks in large part to the local business leaders who have come out in support of expanding the ordinance.
Jacksonville was previously one of the few major American cities to not have laws on the books protecting LGBTQ+ residents against discrimination. Those in favor of the HRO expansion argued that not having these laws in place could make the city less attractive to businesses looking to expand.
The bill is not without its flaws. It allows for exemptions from these discrimination rules for employers with under a specified number of employees.
The specified number was originally to be 15, in accordance with federal standards, but will now instead be set at 50 after an amendment was made to the bill during the committee process.
It also exempts all religious institutions, as well as schools or nonprofit organizations associated with a religious institution. This exception was added to avoid inevitable attempts at obstructing the bill by religious leaders.
Ultimately, despite its flaws, the bill is a victory for Jacksonville’s thriving LGBTQ+ community and its allies. It also helps Jacksonville be seen as a more attractive, welcoming destination for new residents and businesses.