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A shot of the audience before the HRO “community conversation” began. Clearly, some of us are happier than others. Photo Credit: Natalie Cordova

Yesterday’s city “community conversation” about expanding the Human Rights Ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity/expression and how it relates to “supporting the needs and well-being of families” was certainly interesting.

The event began with a moderator who described creating a more inclusive HRO as a “difficult issue.” While I understand why the moderator might have felt obligated to say this to appear impartial, it’s honestly amazing to me that this is still a “difficult issue” for some in 2015. The people on the panel, who spent most of the time in conversation between themselves, included someone from the Liberty Counsel, a “hate group” as labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center. He suggested that external factors don’t cause suicides, used scare tactics and fear-mongering phrases about safety and child predators to make outdated and shortsighted points, people clapped when he talked about how private landlords can discriminate if they want to and he eventually got around to tossing in the “religious freedoms” buzz phrase. Oh and he also used his kid, who he said had cancer, to prove a point.

As I sat there and listened, some questions came to mind for those opposing this measure, including these:

What’s your number? 

Multiple people described instances in which they were discriminated in Jacksonville specifically because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. Additionally, when asked who in the room had experienced discrimination in Jacksonville based on their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression, dozens of audience members raised their hands.

Yet each time, anti-equality panelists would talk about how it was just one case or how we didn’t know the facts or they’d find some other thing they thought was a technicality and essentially dismiss the discrimination claim. Those same people would then cite truly isolated incidents in other cities and states and essentially blame the area’s non-discrimination laws for allowing the incident to happen in an apparent effort to show that being a more inclusive city is “dangerous.”

So I ask: What’s your number? How many LGBT discrimination cases do you have to hear before you finally believe it’s happening? And how do you propose we report these when you’re advocating that we don’t create a mechanism for reporting such things? You say we don’t have evidence that this is needed, but you don’t want to create a way for us to report discrimination when it happens. How much discrimination does there need to be?

What about the other protected classes? 

Anti-equality panelists repeatedly talked about how a measure like this wasn’t needed because LGBT people are protected by other laws already in place. They talked about how we didn’t need anything “special” in our community to protect LGBT people. The ever-popular “religious freedoms” buzz phrase was even brought up.

So what about the protected classes in our existing Human Rights Ordinance: Race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age and disability? Certainly, all of these groups are protected by other laws, whether on a local, state or national level, yet our local HRO also includes them.

It is always fascinating to me how people talk about losing their religious freedoms and not providing “special” laws for the LGBT community when they are already part of the very same “special” law that protects them from discrimination. And don’t even get me started on whether or not I feel refusing to protect your fellow community members when they tell you that they are being discriminated against is the “Christian” thing to do. That’s for another blog post. But a hint: I don’t think it is.

While people were given the chance to speak, a relative few had the chance to do so and they had to be worded in the form of a question. I had prepared something just in case, but decided not to even try, given my somewhat late arrival and the structure. But I thought I’d share it here:

Mayor Curry and others. Thank you for this opportunity.

Billy Graham once said, “The family is the most important institution of the world. If the home goes, the nation is going to go.”  

Now more than ever, we need our families to be as strong and as supported as possible. And it starts locally. If we allow our families to be compromised by people forcing their own agenda and their own beliefs onto us, what happens next? How do we explain this to our children? We have to set an example.

How, you ask? We expand the city’s Human Rights Ordinance to include sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. This will allow us to better protect individuals from discrimination in some critically important areas like jobs, housing and public accommodations. Protecting individuals protects families and helps make sure they have the best possible chance to succeed and give back to our community. And LGBT families are families.

Researchers at Columbia Law have found that out of the 77 scholarly articles that mention the wellbeing of children in same-sex families, 73 found these children do just as well as their peers.

In addition, the professional groups that support same-sex couples and families include:

  • The American Academies of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Family Physicians, Pediatrics
  • The American Medical Association, Psychiatric Association, Psychological Association, Psychoanalytic Association
  • The National Association of Social Workers
  • The American Bar Association
  • The Child Welfare League of America
  • The National Adoption Center
  • The North American Council on Adoptable Children
  • The Voice for Adoption

All of these organizations — filled with doctors, researchers, scientists, psychologists, psychiatrists — filled with people like you and me who have families — all say same-sex families are, indeed, families…and that there is absolutely no reason to think they are somehow inferior to families with opposite-sex parents.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, straight — we are all overwhelmingly similar and frankly underwhelmingly different.

If you’re still sitting there saying it’s “us” versus “them,” listen to the words of one of my favorite local clergy members — the Very Reverend Kate Moorehead from St. John’s Cathedral:

We are a family of God. And we are bound together by our faith and our relationships with God and one another. Once you are baptized, your life belongs to something larger than just yourself. You are part of a living entity, a life larger than your own.  

Jesus asks us to love God first and love our neighbor as ourselves, because everything that we do, we do in relationship. Jesus’ Great Commandment is all about relationships. We are bound to one another and to God.” 

My name is Kyle Sieg. I was raised by a dad and a mom and a wonderful family right here in town. I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church just down the street. I believe in family values. I believe in relationships. I believe in monogamy and making marriage last. I am loved. And…I’m gay. I certainly don’t deserve to be treated any differently because of it. I do, however, deserve to be treated equally. And an expanded non-discrimination ordinance in town is certainly a step in the right direction.

Thank you.

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