On Saturday, Feb. 13, many around Jacksonville were shocked by the news that Councilman Tommy Hazouri was going to voluntarily withdraw his human rights ordinance expansion bill. Hazouri, through a spokesperson, says that his withdrawal of the bill, which would protect LGBTQ people from workplace, public accommodation and housing discrimination, is temporary, and he plans to resubmit it to the council in a matter of months.
For the time being, legalized discrimination against LGBTQ people in Jacksonville remains the law of the land.
Hazouri telegraphed his disappointment with his fellow councilmembers and Mayor Lenny Curry Saturday afternoon, writing, “I believe that passing this legislation, 2016-002, is imperative if we are truly to be One City — One Jacksonville. It defines who we are as a city — a city that is inclusive and competitive. Today, we are stuck in the past, frozen in time, when it comes to human rights.”
Many are asking why Hazouri is withdrawing the bill if it’s so important.
The answer is simple: Mayor Curry, in a series of behind-the-scenes moves, possibly through a proxy to avoid Sunshine Law’s regulations, convinced several members of City Council to agree to vote to withdraw the legislation, reportedly by promising them funding for capital and other projects in their districts. This is according to numerous sources close to the matter who asked not to be named.
The councilmembers, whom these sources independently named, are Reginald Brown, District 10; Katrina Brown, District 9; Garrett Dennis, District 8; and Anna Lopez-Brosche, At Large Group One.
All four of these councilmembers are on record with The Florida Times-Union supporting HRO expansion during their campaigns last year. Unsuprisingly, all four categorically deny the allegations. Katrina Brown further said via email that she hadn’t taken a position supporting HRO; when FWM asked in a follow-up if the T-U incorrectly quotedher as saying “yes” when asked whether she supported HRO expansion in its Meet the Candidates feature last year, she gave the sort of sputtering, non-answer typical of politicians.
The mayor, through his spokesperson, also denied that he had influenced council in any way, calling the allegations “absurd.” But Hazouri insists he withdrew the legislation because the opposition had enough votes to kill it.
Jimmy Midyette, legislative director of the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality, responded to Hazouri’s decision in a written statement, saying, “This is a setback to be sure, but by no means a defeat. Councilman Hazouri has been a steadfast champion for equality and we know that he remains committed to passing a fully-inclusive amendment to our human rights ordinance … Today’s news should serve as a clarion call to the LGBT and allied community in Jacksonville that our work continues. We must continue to hold our leaders accountable to the commitments they’ve made.”
But what good is rallying the community if the establishment is willing to go to any lengths to oppose HRO expansion? How can you expect people to keep showing up for community conversation circuses and public comment debacles if the process is rigged against them by a mayor who will resort to any means necessary to get what he wants, which apparently is no expansion of HRO while he is in office?
Mayor Curry stalled and hemmed and hawed about HRO expansion from the moment he was elected until January 29, when he finally admitted what most of us already knew: He doesn’t believe Jacksonville needs to expand the HRO. It was a disappointment for some, but those who have been listening to Curry since the mayoral debates — when he said with a straight face that he doesn’t think the good people of Jacksonville would evah deign to discriminate against another person. He even wrote a letter to the T-U explaining his position on HRO thusly, “our city’s people are loving and inclusive.”
(P.S. Mr. Mayor: please Google “Ax Handle Saturday” for an example of just how “loving and inclusive” those ‘good people’ can be.)
As a consolation prize, Mayor Curry cheerily issued a departmental directive requiring City Hall and vendors who do business with the city to stop discriminating against LGBTQ folk in hiring and firing, apparently out of the goodness of his heart — if you are to believe most press coverage.
Clearly it is better for at least some LGBTQ workers to be protected from discrimination. But was it really an altruistic move, a demonstration of the mayor’s “commitment to defending individual rights and promoting respect and equality in our workplace,” as he told the T-U? Nope.
See, boys and girls, here’s the thing: The city has to comply with Equal Employment Opportunity laws prohibiting discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. Because if it doesn’t, the federal government could deny Jacksonville’s funding. (The mayor denies this, saying through his spokesperson that his decision to comply with EEO requirements was based on community conversations and, further, that the city was never out of compliance, which plainly isn’t true.)
Either way, we know Mayor Curry, the accountant, is motivated by dollar dollar bills, ya’ll. By refusing to endorse HRO expansion, he made it clear he doesn’t really care about equal rights for LGBTQ people. If Hazouri is to be believed, neither does a majority of the city council, campaign promises notwithstanding.