It’s a historic day in Jacksonville. Moments ago, the City Council passed the #JaxHRO—long-awaited updates to Jacksonville’s human rights ordinance (HRO) that ensure LGBT people are protected from discrimination. The ordinance is now law of the land in Jacksonville.
The HRO establishes protections in housing, employment and public accommodations, such as restaurants, stores, and entertainment venues, for people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. Jacksonville’s current HRO already protects people from discrimination based on other factors like race and gender.
This is a tremendous victory this is for fairness and equality—as well as every single person who worked so hard to bring about this moment, according to Dan Merkan, chair of the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality.
“This is an historic moment for Jacksonville and for everyone who believes in equality under the law. For the first time, most people living in or visiting Jacksonville will be protected from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. We hope that this measure will not only protect the LGBT community, but that it will be a sign to the rest of the country that Jacksonville is an open and welcoming place for everyone.”
Hundreds of supporters attended the City Council’s first public meeting on the proposed HRO in January—so many that some local reporters said was the most-attended council meeting in recent memory. Advocates for the HRO brought that energy again last night, as hundreds packed City Hall to provide testimony or simply make their presence known as council members deliberated.
Cheers erupted in the council chambers as the vote came down: 12-6 in favor of passage. The vote capped a breathless debate, during which council members considered and defeated a number of amendments to the HRO.
In the end the City Council passed one amendment to allow religious exemptions that could set apart LGBT people from the HRO’s other protected classes. This amendment isn’t ideal—but the HRO still fulfills the promise that has always guided our work: protecting LGBT people in Jacksonville.
Merkan reiterated that point.
“While the measure is not perfect, it is a critical step to ensuring that everyone in Jacksonville can live, work and visit without having to constantly fear discrimination.”
For years, a growing coalition of local businesses, faith leaders, advocates and public officials have been calling for these much-needed protections, not only because they are simply the right thing to do but because of these economic concerns.
Since last February, when the City Council considered a similar ordinance but ultimately did not advance it, this coalition has grown exponentially. It now includes 700+ local businesses, 200+ faith leaders, and thousands of community members who have, in the last month alone, sent more than 60,000 letters of support to City Council members.
Today, we’ve shown that Jacksonville is the city we’ve always known it to be: An open, welcoming community that we’re proud to call home.