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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Jan. 11, 201712:00 PM EST

Public debate on new anti-discrimination ordinance more calm than before

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

City Council convened at 5 p.m. Tuesday with a prayer for “peace and blessings to all” and a petition to “give us the wisdom to do the right thing.”

It adjourned about 8:45 p.m. with an expression of appreciation for decorum.

In between was the first public hearing for new legislation that would expand Jacksonville’s human rights ordinance to include protection for the LGBTQ community.

After about an hour of public comment and after the last speaker was called to the podium, council President Lori Boyer said she appreciated the way representatives from the two sides of the issue behaved during their presentations.

“Everyone was civil and respectful of one another,” she said. “I’m very proud of you.”

Public comment on the ordinance was scheduled for the latter part of the meeting, after all other business was concluded.

Boyer directed staff to divide the speaker cards into three groups: those in favor of the ordinance, those against and those who are undecided.

Names were called alternating the viewpoint with each speaker until about 8:30 p.m., when the remaining speakers all were in favor of the bill.

Many of the same arguments were presented Tuesday that were heard in the two previous attempts to expand the regulations.

Several speakers in favor of the ordinance quoted from the U.S. Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Pledge of Allegiance.

One speaker cited the inscription on the Liberty Bell –– that its ringing proclaims liberty to all.

Another proponent said expanding protection is “the right thing to do” and “the next step in becoming the city we need to be.”

Quite a bit of scripture was quoted by those on the opposing side.

One person challenged council members to decide whether to “stand with men and answer to God or stand with God and answer to men.”

As in the first two debates over expanding the local protection, fear also came up during several comments against the bill.

One speaker said Jacksonville’s restrooms remain in jeopardy and asked, “What if a 250-pound man who’s feeling his feminine side walks in on your wife or your daughter or your granddaughter?”

Darnell Smith, chair of the JAX Chamber, spoke in support of the ordinance representing the business community.

“All people should be protected from discrimination” and “it’s time to update the civil rights laws,” he said.

A couple of speakers called for a referendum on the issue to let the public decide whether the LGBTQ community should be specifically protected by law.

In addition to praising the speakers and audience for its decorum, Boyer pointed out that council members have email addresses and encouraged the public to let elected officials know where they stand on the issue.

Council will have the next public hearing on the ordinance at its Jan. 24 meeting. The proposal could come up for a vote as soon as Feb. 14.

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