Every moment that Jacksonville goes without an LGBT-inclusive Human Rights Ordinance is a moment that LGBT residents are left open to some of the most heinous forms of discrimination if they live openly—so many of them don’t.
Tricia Russell vividly recalls the first time she was ostracized because of her gender identity. She was a small child when she and her parents came to the realization that she thought of herself as a girl, not a boy. Sadly, her parents were not accepting of this, and they let her know, in no uncertain terms, how they felt about it.
“Their reactions—including my father’s verbal, emotional and periodic physical abuse—they taught me to see myself as unnatural, unacceptable, and—to use my mother’s words—‘an insult to God,’” she said. “That way of thinking really controlled the way I viewed myself and lived my life well into my 50’s.”
Then, five years ago, Tricia reached her breaking point. After carrying around her parents’ negative perceptions for nearly fifty years, and not being able to live openly, she was in a dark place mentally. Living openly, however, scared her too.
“I feared what would come next if I continued trying to hide who I really am,” she said. “But the alternative didn’t seem much better—if I came out as transgender I would risk losing my job, family, friends, acceptance within my faith community and expose myself to an array of potential abuse.”
Jacksonville’s lack of non-discrimination protections for LGBT people mean Tricia has no recourse to protect herself from this treatment. But updating the city’s Human Rights Ordinance could change that. It would give her a legal leg to stand on if something so humiliating as losing her job because of her gender identity were to happen.
“The abuse that goes on with discrimination against LGBT people, and well beyond that, people of any minority group, know this feeling of being on the outside looking in. Of being treated the way no human being should be. If this HRO passes I would feel relief, and I would feel safe, or at least safer.”
One place Tricia does feel safe currently is actually at her job. Her employer, Bank of America, has as corporate policy prohibiting discrimination against LGBT workers. She says they were absolutely great during her transition, providing health insurance that covered her medical bills and treating her with respect. But, she says, not everyone has the luxury of a great employer. That’s why passing the HRO is critical.
Tricia has been involved in the fight to pass the HRO ever since a similar effort in 2012 failed. She says she will keep speaking out, “representing the ‘T’ in LGBT,” until the HRO passes. This commitment comes from a realization she had the day she started living openly as a woman.
“I decided it was the last time I would ever hide who I was, and that I would do everything I could to educate and advocate for people like me. I realized not only had I cheated myself out of a lot of living, but I also missed opportunities to help others like me, and to educate people not like me.”