THE COWARD’S WAY OUT

News galore on the HRO expansion front, with competing bills from competing councilmen being the first two official measures of the 2016 legislative cycle of the Jacksonville City Council.

The first, on Wednesday, Dec. 16 — just a day after the last Community Conversation — was from Councilman Bill Gulliford.

“As a courtesy, I waited until after Mayor [Lenny] Curry’s final community conversation event on this topic before acting,” Gulliford wrote in a statement that cited “irreconcilable differences between both sides of this issue which now appear to be more intractable than before.”

“During the time I have spent on the City Council, I have never seen an issue that brings out more passion and responses than this one. In 2012, we were overwhelmed with emails, letters, calls and constituent visits. This time, they are starting out with even a stronger response from both sides, even without any legislation being considered as of yet,” Gulliford noted.

It’s as if he’s unaware of why there’s such a strong response. Then again, this is the same Council that had its equivalent of the Lincoln/Douglas debates over the right to back a car into a driveway, so we shouldn’t be surprised.

Gulliford then undermined the very point of Council, which theoretically should feel as empowered to change the Charter to include the LGBT community as it does authorizing a capital improvement budget: “Is it right that as few as 10 people could decide the outcome of this very contentious issue without knowing the sentiment of the majority of citizens? In short, with the depth of participation already demonstrated, should citizens have a say on this beyond just public forums? Or, do we vote on it as councilmembers somewhat influenced by our conscience, personal bias or intense lobbying?”

Gulliford then said he has already “received numerous emails requesting a referendum from citizens of Jacksonville.”

Indeed, those emails. Most of them have church-driven talking points, from what I’ve seen. And the vast majority of them speak to a fundamental ignorance of what the law would do: extend protections to the LGBT community in housing, employment, and public accommodations. The emails throw around phrases like “Sodom and Gomorrah” and “bathroom bill,” and speak to a fundamental failure of local schools to teach basic reading comprehension.

Is that too honest? Is it wrong to say that most of those in opposition start from a baseline of having no clue what they’re actually talking about, relative to the modest aims of this movement? The opposition’s blissful ignorance of the real world consequences of discrimination; their framing of sexuality as a consumer choice; their inability to see that even advocates of an expanded HRO are happy to include exemptions for churches, small businesses, and landlords renting out apartments on their residential properties: These are attempts to confuse the issue.

Meanwhile, on the heels of Gulliford’s bill, Councilman Tommy Hazouri filed a bill on Thursday to expand the HRO to cover the LGBT community.

The Hazouri bill would expand equal protections under the law, including housing and employment, as well as public accommodations, to people regardless of sexual orientation (real or perceived), gender identity, or gender expression.

In filing the bill, Hazouri’s office issued a statement decrying Gulliford’s bill, saying that a “referendum would lead to months and months of hateful rhetoric that would fully divide our city. Outside groups on both sides would come in with staff, and money would pour in from outside sources.”

“All this would do is divide and cause ruin to a city that [Hazouri] grew up in, loves, and has served in,” the statement continued.

“Like the majority of other major cities in the country that have put this issue behind them, that’s what you want to do … as it should have been done four years ago,” the statement concluded.

The issue isn’t as simple as Republican vs Democrat. Chamber Republicans are on board; certain Democrats will not be, and will push for the referendum option.

And that begs the question: Why in the hell run for office if you’re too gutless to vote on the issues of the day?

If you believe in prejudice, believe in homophobia, believe that those who are not heterosexual should face more pressures and the right to encounter bias that materially affects their lives, then by all means say so.

Don’t hide behind that “Oh, it’s the will of the people” bit.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was not a referendum. It couldn’t have been. And implementation of that was not easy or clean, but it was the right thing to do.

If you lack the guts to cast an up-and-down vote because your biases can’t be revealed to the public discourse, then you are the problem. Not the LGBT community, which seeks only the same protections to which other minorities are entitled.

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