FIGHTIN' WORDS

HRO: An ECONOMIC Issue

This time, the case will be made on economic, not moral, grounds

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I recently wrote a piece on the latest effort to expand Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to protect LGBT citizens from discrimination in which I used the cute throwaway lede, “Will the third time be the charm?”

I soon enough saw that phrase replicated in a couple of other reports on the topic, which signaled to me a certain journalistic weariness of covering Jacksonville again attempting to bring its own ordinances in line with those in other comparable big cities and many smaller cities of a more progressive bent.

It’s understandable.

For media people, this issue should’ve been resolved years ago. We know enough to know that in Orlando and Tampa, this issue was resolved years, even decades ago, and somehow the sky didn’t fall. Nor did Lot’s wife turn into a pillar of salt on I-4 when she looked in the rearview mirror.

The law passed, the churches and the public moralists sat down and shut up, and life moved on.

Jacksonville is different. Of course.

Our local politics are plagued with the influence of so-called social conservatives — read: a few dozen kooks with a few hundred fellow travelers who try to cow the 19 people on the city council during public comment with dubious interpretations of the New Testament.

Will they derail the HRO this time around?

It could go either way.

Sitting down with an activist last week, we did an informal vote count. The activist was more optimistic than I was, seeing 14 potential yes votes, whereas I saw 11 in favor of the fully expansive piece of legislation.

Both would pass. But the difference between a simple majority of 10 or more in favor of the legislation, and a supermajority of 13 or more, is significant.

Thirteen votes remove any political pressure on Mayor Lenny Curry to sign or veto the bill; 10 puts the decision on the mayor’s desk. Curry has pledged, both in backchannel conversations with advocates and on the record via his comms staff, to stay out of it.

By that, we mean emissaries from his office won’t be twisting the arms of council members on behalf of thirsty pastors who never actually read the bill, and relied on Inmate-Designate Ken Adkins to tell them what the bill meant.

However, should HRO expansion — and we have been assured, repeatedly, that the only option acceptable to advocates includes the T part of the LGBT coalition — pass with a 10-9 vote, the pressure is going to come down on the mayor like a ton of bricks.

This raises the question: Does Tim Grover, whose affirmational bromides Mayor Curry likes to quote on Twitter, have any 140 character insights on resisting the evangelical moralists and bringing Jacksonville in line with the rest of the nation’s real cities?

Time will tell on this.

In this third iteration of the bill, moves have been made to polish the presentation.

Aaron Bowman, the councilman from the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and a Republican, is carrying the bill this time as the primary introducer. This is key because the city council is a Republican-dominated body, and Bowman — who once commanded Mayport locally — has the gravitas and the ability to make the business case for the HRO.

And, let’s be clear: If this bill passes, the business case is going to be what carries it.

The last two attempts to expand the HRO declined into pools of fervid emotionalism. Advocates, especially the transgender and intersex members of the community, spotlighted the very real impacts of discrimination on their lives. Opponents told them their life experiences were meaningless, but Jesus loved them anyway, even if they would be consigned to Hellfire for all eternity.

In other words, the discussion became one of identity politics on both sides.

The preachers may not have the stroke they once did. Consider that on the referendum to authorize slot machines for bestbet, which passed in November by a comfortable but not overwhelming margin, the preachers had very little to say about the politically connected gambling business adding slots. They didn’t fight it, even though if they had, they might’ve been able to move enough votes to the No column to spike the bill.

The case for slots was economic: job creation and another entertainment option for those who believe they can beat the odds. The case for HRO expansion will have to be made, likewise, on economic grounds.

Tampa and Orlando have a big talking point when it comes to bringing corporations to Jacksonville, and specifically corporate headquarters. Their mayors can say, “Don’t go to Jacksonville; it’s a hick town that doesn’t even have a consensus on human rights.”

They are using it. And Lenny Curry — even if he thinks “legislation isn’t prudent” and that “Jacksonville doesn’t discriminate” — knows it.

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