"After dismantling Apartheid, when we sat down to write our Constitution, we quite deliberately ensured that gays, lesbians and bisexuals were included in South Africa's Constitution.
"Having ourselves suffered terribly, we did not want to inflict discrimination on any group that lived within our borders and we explicitly stated this for the world to know that we have learned the lessons taught by our unforgettable and regrettable history."
- Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in a letter to Jacksonville City Council, 21 June, 2012
Human rights should not be controversial.
And yet, the ability of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people to live, work, access services and otherwise co-exist continues to be painted as the end of civilization, in several current struggles to pass inclusive legislation throughout North America. And each one is like its own microcosm, oblivious to the several other instances where basic human rights have already been extended to people without the mass catastrophe predicted by the naysayers.
The city of Jacksonville, Florida continues to struggle to pass proposed Human Rights Ordinance 296, which (in its original wording) seeks to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This ordinance was postponed on a couple occasions, allowing the Rules Committee to experience some changes in personnel. It is currently in committee, where changes may still be made to it.
The fundamental premise of human rights is that all people should be considered equals and judged by their individual actions, and not by characteristics. The very panic and invalidation that opponents are resorting to (with arguments already proven unfounded by similar existing legislation elsewhere, sometimes spanning decades) itself shows an intent to discriminate, and a clear need for the provisions.
In the case of a civic ordinance, protections are not as far reaching as state protections, but still cover civic facilities and practices, especially regarding employment, hiring and housing. In many of these -- like Jacksonville's -- an exemption is provided to religious properties and organizations.
Harriet H provides a bit of background on the situation in Jacksonville/Duval County:
In terms of land mass, Jacksonville is the largest city in the US... The SPLC has identified as many as 30 distinct hate groups active in Jacksonville, including the Florida Family Council, the KKK, & the Aryan Brotherhood...
Florida is very much a "right to work' state, meaning technically that an employer can let let you go for nearly any reason, including being trans or gay. As a result most folks in this state are afraid to "come out" in the workplace, for fear of losing their job. You can also be tossed out of a place of public accommodation or rental property for being GLBT...
The GLBT community here is fragmented and largely frightened at being outed. Most members of the community keep to themselves, trying to live as safely as possibly. There are gay clubs which are the so-called havens for our community. Beyond those places in our "ghetto," we have nothing to say to one another unless someone is cruising. Resources for the trans community are lacking in terms of competent psychiatric help, competent medical resources, and reliable electrologists offering more than just thermolysis and who don't see us as a walking ATM...
Not all of the influence of faith groups and personalities has been in opposition to the bill, but people like John Delaney, president of the University of North Florida and a former mayor of Jacksonville, are still far between, in their support of the ordinance:
I am with Ronald Reagan's ideological tutor, Sen. Barry Goldwater regarding homosexuality: Live and let live.
The Constitution states that all of us are entitled to equal protection under the law and authorizes our government to pass laws to ensure that all of us are treated equally...
It is no more onerous of a regulation than a notice of an overdue library book; it does not create a right to sue an employer. And it does not force a religious person to stop practicing any religious belief.
While Jacksonville has several valued resources for LGBT people -- such as the youth resource JASMYN, Equality Florida, and more -- people are still largely afraid to be visibly active, and there have been concerns with how communication with members of the community is being done (a common problem in closeted and underresourced cities).
The bill's sponsor offered at one point to a remove "gender identity or expression" from the proposal, but it's uncertain if this will happen. At last report it hasn't, and at least a few LGBT organizations have stated their opposition to doing so. Advocates speculate that this would not make any significant difference in trying to pass the HR 12-296.
The opposition is not so hidden:
The opposition is overwhelming, including an Evangelical group which seeks to tie the bill to prayer in school. They all wear tee shirts that say"no sex in the city"- whatever that means.
Several weeks ago a representative from Florida Family Council made a statement linking trans folks and crossdressers to child molesters - that was met with "the reading of the riot act" because so many folks were outraged about it...
The baptists are largely saying the bill is not needed and creates a superclass, similar to what they say non discrimination legislation did for African-Americans.
People who wish to voice their support can do so via a form set up by the folks at Equality Florida. If you oppose dropping gender identity from the ordinance, you can state this in your letter as well. As with all things political, be clear about what you're asking, but also be civil.