Looking back on 2016, it’s nothing short of remarkable what we have accomplished.
It seems like every month we realized another victory in the fight to ensure LGBT people are fully protected from discrimination in Jacksonville—a series of events that built unbeatable momentum and led us to this moment, where we are on the cusp of seeing the City Council introduce a fully inclusive HRO in the first weeks of 2017.
This year is a testament to what our movement can achieve when we build a broad coalition of local civic and business leaders, people of faith, community activists and LGBT people and allies across our great city. With all of us working hard, there will be many more victories ahead—but first, let’s celebrate our top moments from 2016.
Our movement realized a big victory right off the bat this year when Mayor Lenny Curry signed an executive order in January that extended the city government’s protections against employment discrimination to LGBT workers.
— Jax Equality (@JaxEquality) February 24, 2016
The Mayor’s decision came after we hosted three “Community Conversations” on the topic of discrimination in late 2015. This executive order brought the city of Jacksonville in line with federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission standards, which have recently been interpreted to include sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination under the umbrella of sex discrimination.
Additionally, the Mayor’s order stated all those who contract with the city must also protect their employees on the same standard—a move that expanded these critical protections to even more than the 10% of Jacksonville workers who are local government employees.
In August we celebrated a major coalition-building milestone: More than 600 local businesses officially pledged their support for the #JaxHRO.
This group included Jacksonville’s largest employers and leading business voices—including Bank of America, Wells Fargo and the Jax Chamber. More recent additions to the always-growing list of businesses publicly supporting passage of an updated HRO include Moxie, Holland & Knight and Yoga for Change.
— Jax Equality (@JaxEquality) September 26, 2016
— Jax Equality (@JaxEquality) September 1, 2016
Local businesses have always been a key source of support for the #JaxHRO, but in the latter half of 2016 the rate at which businesses signed on to our pledge of support was greater than we had ever seen before.
“Businesses and nonprofit organizations are joining with us at a faster pace than we have ever experienced before—more than 100 small and large companies and organizations have signed our pledge of support since the middle of June. It’s gratifying to see all of these businesses, along with a growing coalition of more than 140 faith leaders, Democrats, Republicans, LGBT people and allies, unite behind the core belief that our city is stronger when our laws ensure that everyone is protected from discrimination.” —Dan Merkan, JCE Campaign Chair
As we near the end of the year, this list is approaching 700 members. We’ll be sure to let the world know when it does—we’re sure it won’t be long.
— Jax Equality (@JaxEquality) November 3, 2016
Business weren’t the only group whose support for the #JaxHRO grew exponentially in 2016. The very next month, in September, our faith coalition officially reached 150 members—and then quickly blew past that figure.
The coalition includes faith leaders from diverse backgrounds and traditions who stand united with one goal: passing LGBT non-discrimination protections because of, not in spite of, their faith.
— Jax Equality (@JaxEquality) September 8, 2016
— Jax Equality (@JaxEquality) September 21, 2016
— Jax Equality (@JaxEquality) November 30, 2016
The coalition also participated in several events, including a training hosted by GLAAD and the organization Faith in Public Life. The training provided resources for local faith leaders who are committed to speaking out publicly about their support for the #JaxHRO. One JAX also hosted a “Faith Matters” radio program, and dedicated a whole show to discussing the need to update the local HRO
Currently the coalition includes more than 190 members.
In September the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, the Jacksonville Aviation Authority, JEA, Jacksonville Port Authority and Jacksonville Transportation Authority announced they would update their employment and hiring policies to protect LGBT workers from discrimination.
The JCE had reached out to all of these authorities and encouraged them to follow the example set by Mayor Curry in January. The move toward LGBT-inclusive employment policies from local government agencies means more workers than ever before are protected from employment discrimination in Jacksonville.
— Jax Equality (@JaxEquality) October 18, 2016
But the good effects from these changes were even wider-reaching. When the Human Rights Campaign released Jacksonville’s Municipal Equality Index (MEI) 2016 score this Fall it had nearly doubled from the previous year in large part due to the directives issued by these organizations and Mayor Curry.
In May the University of North Florida Public Opinion Research Laboratory released their 2016 “Jax Speaks” poll, which showed that a strong 64% majority of Jacksonville residents support expanding the #JaxHRO to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Support has remained steady for the last three years. In that time, UNF has consistently found that around 60% or more of respondents support an LGBT-inclusive #JaxHRO.
This year, for the first time ever, a bipartisan group of city council members teamed up to co-sponsor an LGBT-inclusive #JaxHRO.
— Jax Equality (@JaxEquality) February 24, 2016
In January, Democratic councilman Tommy Hazouri and Republican councilmen Aaron Bowman and Jim Love emerged as champions for equality by sponsoring a bill that would have updated our city’s nondiscrimination policies to protect the LGBT people.
— Jax Equality (@JaxEquality) April 1, 2016
Unfortunately the council withdrew this bill in February. But they also withdrew another bill that would have put LGBT rights up for a popular vote on the August primary ballot—an unacceptable outcome that we proudly fought to avoid. The Jacksonville Coalition for Equality’s position has always been that our elected officials should decide the issue of updating the HRO. We were pleased to see that bill withdrawn.
— Jax Equality (@JaxEquality) February 19, 2016
— Jax Equality (@JaxEquality) December 20, 2016
Our allies on the City Council have already confirmed that they’re pushing hard to introduce an LGBT-inclusive Human Rights Ordinance in January, and have committed to filing it, at the latest, sometime in the first quarter of 2017.
Our coalition—including our 10,000 grassroots supporters—will be there, fighting just as hard as we did a year ago.
— Jax Equality (@JaxEquality) December 5, 2016
— Jax Equality (@JaxEquality) September 14, 2016
Other highlights throughout the year: