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Jax Daily Record Friday, Sep. 2, 201612:00 PM EST

Tommy Hazouri hoping for support for fall HRO legislation

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by: David Chapman

City Council member Tommy Hazouri saw firsthand how people with ideological and political differences could come together to drive change.

He served on the finance team for Yes for Jacksonville, which helped make Tuesday’s pension sales-tax referendum an overwhelming success at the polls.

He’s now hoping for a similar show of support and success for a social issue he’s long advocated.

In March, Hazouri withdrew his legislation to expand the city’s anti-discrimination law to include protection for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

He didn’t have the political support at the time. There also was a narrow focus in City Hall on selling pension reform.

Hazouri is gearing up for another run “sometime this fall” though he’d like to have it done sooner.

He said he’s talked with people at the JAX Chamber and Jacksonville Coalition for Equality, who will have even bigger roles in seeking support when he files the legislation.

That bill will likely include tighter definitions for gender identity and further explanation of exemptions for small businesses and churches.

Hazouri said there are discussions about an individual or group of business and nonprofit leaders being the point people to meet with council members and explain the issue and answer questions.

That would help answer questions well before any vote without the need to have a long list of public meetings.

“I don’t want this to be a busy bill signifying nothing,” he said.

As for the typically discussed “bathroom” issue for the transgender community, Hazouri calls it a red herring. Other communities and the Duval County School Board in 2008 passed similar protections without issues.

He points to other cities like Tampa, Miami and West Palm Beach as being examples leading on the issue.

“If Jackson, Miss., can pass a bill, Jacksonville can pass a bill,” he said of the Mississippi city council passing protection laws days after the Pulse nightclub shooting in June.

He said Jacksonville doesn’t need to be “short-changed” like North Carolina, which has lost business expansion and sports opportunities because of the state’s inability to offer anti-discrimination protections to all people.

The LGBT community is “beyond ready” for movement on this front, said Jimmy Midyette, legislative director for the local equality coalition.

Midyette said with pension being a focus in recent months, he understands why passing a human rights ordinance was put on hold.

“It is a big deal to have the pension vote settled. It’s a big win for the city … but it’s now in the rear view,” he said.

As the vote drew nearer, Midyette said proponents for change had again begun to become more active on social media. Calls and emails started to pick up again as to when something will happen.

He hopes by the end of the year, too.

The November general election featuring a vote for president could end up being a distraction for some, but he’d like to believe work could happen leading up to it.

Midyette saw the positive support for pension and believes momentum could transfer forward now that people typically in different political spheres have worked together.

“It gave them the opportunity to work on something big,” said Midyette of the sales tax for pension.

Hazouri said it will take a campaign to pass an HRO, but not one that will cost more than $2 million like pension did.

Instead, it will just need more support — he and many others are working on it.

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