United We Stand

Campaign highlights straight allies of LGBT equality


Nancy Hogshead-Makar, Olympic gold medalist
 and civil rights attorney, came out.

So did Haskell Company CEO Steve Halverson and Florida Blue CEO Patrick Geraghty. And Rachel Vitti, wife of Duval County Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, came out just a few weeks ago.

No, they haven't re-evaluated their sexual identities. Each has come out as a straight ally for LGBT equality as part of an awareness campaign created by Chevara Orrin, Dan Bagan and Laura Riggs.

The idea is to change minds by introducing people who might share common ground with others in the community. The ads appear on the group's website and social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest. The organizers have plans to launch billboards and print versions.

The campaign also has a more pointed purpose: passing an amendment to Jacksonville's Human Rights Ordinance (HRO) that would add protection for sexual orientation and gender identity in addition to banning discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, marital status, national origin, age or disability.

In August 2012, the Jacksonville City Council rejected 10-9 a bill that would have protected gays and lesbians. After that failed, the council voted 17-2 against the original bill, which included protection for gender identity and gender expression classes.

That's around the time Orrin and her husband moved to Jacksonville from North Carolina where she had been heavily involved in LGBT rights. In 2008, she co-founded the first Gay-Straight Student Alliance at Winston-Salem State University. Seven months later, the board of trustees at that historically black university unanimously passed a non-discrimination policy inclusive of sexual orientation. She also helped organize a march there for the We Do Campaign in which LGBT couples request marriage licenses in their hometowns across the South to call for full equality under federal law as part of the Campaign for Southern Equality.

When she saw the Jacksonville City Council reject the HRO amendment, she wondered, "Where have we moved again?"

But she also wondered, "How might I be 
of service?"

Orrin was born into a family of those who served their communities. Her father, James L. Bevel, was a charismatic Baptist preacher who advised Martin Luther King Jr. and spurred the 1963 "children's crusade" in Birmingham, Ala., that helped rally much of the American public to the side of the civil rights movement. He died in 2008. Her mother, Susanne, is a white, Jewish, civil and human rights, social justice and women's liberation activist.

As a daughter of a mixed-race couple, Orrin said she has deep connections to issues of equality — civil rights, women's rights and LGBT rights. She quickly became involved with the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality as an extension of her previous work for the Human Rights Campaign. She also worked with JAX2025, the Museum of Science & History's "Race: Are We So Different?" exhibition and TEDxJacksonville.

We Are Straight Allies puts Orrin's beliefs directly to work in an "engagement campaign." Organizers are meeting with elected officials such as Sen. Bill Nelson and City Council President Bill Gulliford, inviting people to sign pledges, and supporting grassroots movements to pass other human rights bills such as one in Atlantic Beach.

She knows it's a tough sell in this conservative enclave. But she said change can happen when people get to know each other on a more personal level. Orrin, who works in development and alumni affairs at Edward Waters College, enlisted people from faith and minority communities to appear in the ads because they might help change minds.

Many of the people featured came to the campaign somewhat serendipitously. Halverson spoke in favor of the HRO amendment at the OneJax Humanitarian Awards Dinner this year. Orrin saw 7-year-old Johanna Cordova, whose parents are raising her to be a straight ally, featured in the Jacksonville Coming Out Monologues. Geraghty volunteered. Hogshead-Makar messaged the group on Facebook asking how she could help. Orrin met one of her Springfield neighbors, retired Army officer Ronald Breaker, who agreed to participate. She found Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky of the Jacksonville Jewish Center at a Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Network (JASMYN) breakfast. She befriended Vitti, the mother of biracial children, and asked her to take part. John Delaney, president of the University of North Florida and a former Republican mayor, will be featured in a future ad.

Delaney helped gather support for the HRO amendment from the Jax Chamber and other business leaders. They all knew that the city's lack of these protections hurt economic development and the ability to attract major companies to Jacksonville.

"Even though it failed, people know each other a little better," Orrin said. "People went before Council and shared their stories — no matter where they stood. Having that dialogue is always useful."

And one failure doesn't end the fight, Orrin said. The civil rights movement faced many barriers, but they kept marching and strategizing until they found success.

"I'm not at all doubtful that it will pass in Jacksonville," she said.

She learned that resilience from her own challenging journey. As one of Bevel's 16 children by 10 mothers, Orrin realized he sexually molested her and several sisters. Bevel was convicted of one count of molesting Orrin's sister when she was 15 years old and sentenced to 15 years in 2008. He died later that year.

"A big part of what motivates and moves me are all my lived experiences," she said.

As someone who's broken barriers her entire life, Orrin said there's no magic bullet when it comes to changing minds about equality — of any kind. Statistics won't do it, and though she supports an HRO amendment, she said no bill will do it.

What will work? Learning more about each other and finding the common ground.

"We are all inextricably bound to each other," she said. "I can't separate my freedom from the lack of freedom that other people have in this community." 

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Had to edit the previous post. It would improve the user friendliness of this site if you had an edit and/or delete feature. Thank you.

I was asked to participate in the Coalition for Equality. Last year those of us who were tracking the process, either as individuals or professionals, learned that the previous group for Equality had withheld knowledge that City Council member, Warren Jones had introduced a watered down amended version of the bill 2012-296, omitting the full inclusive language of gender identity and expression with Sexual Orientation. This year, the coalition group meetings seemed to be operating with another hidden agenda. Agendas were submitted at the last minute, excluding the rest of us from contributing and given us very little time to review and respond to items. Some of us were concerned that gate keeping was taking place behind the scenes. I lost faith. Having run operations in the past, I realized that the floor was not communicating with the committees to the fullest extent possible. I left this group because of hidden agendas. I was part of a transgender group for education. My background is serving as an activist, educator, photojournalist and humanitarian. I have contributed to programs in this community as well as across the nation as a philanthropist; I care what happens to humanity, but I also want to know if I will be protected as a gender queer. I was disappointed when it was obvious that the transgender persons at the table were less valued than the straight allies or LGB. We were passed over. Insulting at best and unforgiving that those of us who warned of the fallacies in censoring language that would help educate the public at large, us would end up harassed and told we were antagonistic and angry. Historically, internalized oppression is not unusual, however, to have our own leadership and the allies partake in this practice was unacceptable to those of us who have felt the oppression, experienced the pain of living under the constraints of the majority who fail to honor all citizens. It became evident after sitting through a very difficult session with one of the key leaders in the community, that our concerns were dismissed. Since when do allies have to come out? Have they been hiding? We would know an ally. We would see allies put to practice what they preach. To have people step up and say they are an ally is not good enough. What has an ally done to demonstrate that they are against discrimination and oppression? The two are vastly different. Making the statement alone is not enough. Last year we heard LGB say to transgender people that they were all for gender identity and expression, but had absolutely no difficulties in accepting the watered down version of the bill. Assuming roles of leadership and authority and equating these to liberating an oppressed group is patronizing. The oppressed group will liberate themselves. If someone could, for once, get out of the way and give the platform back to the LGBT, many who are experienced activists, leaders, professionals and philanthropists, we would not need the misappropriated term on our behalf "Coming Out As An Ally", shoved in our face as a goodwill statement. Something we never asked for or needed. What we need are allies who can demonstrate good allyship by not tolerating oppression, not participating in the acts of oppression and who do not support discrimination. Why is all the focus on those with the most privilege? White allies were not the face of the civil rights movement for people of color anymore than men were the face of the feminist movement.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013|Report this


Jacksonville Committee for Equality ·..

Please Share this message widely:

Dear Friends,

On Monday, November 25, at 6:30 PM, a Human Rights Ordinance is scheduled to be introduced at the Atlantic Beach City Commission Workshop meeting. The Commission meets in the Commission Chamber at 800 Seminole Road in Atlantic Beach. The phone number is (904) 247-5809.

The Human Rights Ordinance includes protection against discrimination based on age, race, color, religion, national origin, disability, marital status, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or veteran’s status, in housing, employment and places of public accommodation.

We hope that you can show your support for this ordinance by:

• attending the meeting on 11/25 at 6:30,

• emailing or calling all commissioners,

• finding other citizens and businesses in Atlantic Beach and the surrounding, communities to show support for this important initiative and

• forwarding this email to like minded people.

Please find contact information for the current City Commissioners. Contact me if you have any questions or input. Included as an attachment is a sample script with talking points. Thank you.


James Eddy

Jacksonville Coalition for Equality

Incoming Mayor and Commissioners

To reach all commissioners at once: electedofficials@coab.us

Carolyn Woods (incoming mayor, current council member) cwoods@coab.us (904) 241-8973

Maria Mark (Commissioner/bill sponsor) mmark@coab.us (904) 707-3584

Mark Beckenbach (Commissioner) mbeckenbach@coab.us (904) 536-5355

Jonathan Daugherty (Commissioner) jdaugherty@coab.us (904) 859-2469

Jimmy Hill (Commissioner on 11/12) jhill@coab.us (904) 859-2469

What should I say when I contact the commissions in Atlantic Beach?

Talking Points for the Human Rights Ordinance in Atlantic Beach

General information: Commissioners Woods, Mark, Daugherty and Beckenbach have expressed enthusiastic support for the Human Rights Ordinance. You may want to leave your address, email address, profession, community involvement and or phone number so the commissioner can contact you.

Please be polite and respectful during all communications.

Phone Calls:

Hello, my name is___________. I am calling to encourage you to please support the Human Rights Ordinance in Atlantic Beach. It will prohibit discrimination against residents based on their veteran’s status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. These are groups which are not currently covered in Jacksonville’s statutes. Currently residents may be fired from a job, denied housing and access to public accommodation simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression or because of their status as a veteran. I hope I can count on you to support this important ordinance. Thank you for taking time to speak with me.


Tips for email:

Please keep it short and simple, the council members receive lots of email. You can email all of the commissioners at once at electedofficials@coab.us. Ask others you know especially those who live in Atlantic Beach to send the commissioners an email or forward this email to them.

Below is a template email. You can personalize it or create your own

My name is _____________and I live in Atlantic Beach at (Address). I am writing to encourage you to support a Human Rights Ordinance that includes protection from discrimination based on veteran’s status, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

No one should be fired from a job, denied housing or access to public accommodation because of their veteran’s status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.

Share a personal story if you have one or why this matters to you.

Please support the Human Rights Ordinance in Atlantic Beach. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.


Your name, Your address, and your phone Wednesday, November 20, 2013|Report this