I thought I’d take this Sunday to ask — sincerely ask — all of my Jacksonville friends to help make our city a better place to live and work for all of us. Here’s how:
I need you to go from accepting to advocating.
For those of you who don’t know, Jacksonville does not have a Human Rights Ordinance that includes sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. The current HRO, which focuses on the key areas of housing, employment and public accommodations, includes race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age and disability.
Jacksonville is the largest city in the Southeast that does not have basic human rights protections for the LGBT community.
You can read a more detailed account of why that matters here, but basically:
- Right now, people can be denied housing because they are LGBT.
- Right now, people can be kicked out of a restaurant because they are LGBT.
- Right now, people can be fired because they are LGBT.
This expansion of our HRO has the support of many people in our community, including some of the city’s most influential civic and business leaders. As with other issues, however, it seems the loudest and most consistent voices come from opponents.
So, we need you. Yes, you.
At the last “community conversation” about this issue, I sat there as many, many people raised their hands to indicate they had been subjected to discrimination in Jacksonville because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. I sat there as opponents clapped when a panelist, who draws his paycheck from a hate group, stated that landlords could discriminate based on sexual orientation. I sat there as he suggested that suicides, including those in the LGBT community, were not influenced by external factors, such as discrimination, inequality or teasing.
So how can you help?
Write your city council member, literally. You’d be amazed at the impact of a handwritten letter. It shows you put time and effort into it. It shows you cared enough to make your hand cramp up, which, let’s be honest, sucks.
Write about who you are. Write about why you love Jacksonville. Write about why you think the city needs to include ‘LGBT’ as part of its existing Human Rights Ordinance. Write about your experiences. Write about why your faith demands everyone be treated equally, without discrimination, if you feel it does.
Encourage them to support an LGBT-inclusive HRO. Encourage them to encourage their colleagues to do so, as well. Encourage them to get to know LGBT individuals and families. Encourage them to be bold and courageous and not give in to fear-mongering, false narratives and slippery slope arguments. Encourage them. Don’t know who they are or how to contact them? Here you go.
Encourage your friends and family to write their city council member. As much as one handwritten letter means to a city council member, a whole heaping stack of them means even more. If your friends or family don’t understand why this is important, explain it. If they think it’s not necessary, tell them why it is. If they think being LGBT is sinful and against God, explain to them that this isn’t about that — it’s about treating everyone equally. It’s about not allowing discrimination. It’s about “loving the sinner,” not “hating the sin.”
Call your city council member. I learned something new last week: Many of the people who answer the phones for our local leaders keep tallies of the calls they get — how many people say they’re supporting this or opposing that. So, in addition to writing your local city council member, call them. It doesn’t have to be anything grand. Just tell them you’re a concerned resident of their district and you want them to know that you support a Human Rights Ordinance inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. That’s it.
Encourage your friends and family to call their city council member. This is the same as a handwritten letter. One call is amazing. Getting others to call is even better. Imagine what that tally sheet would look like if you got all of your supportive friends and family to make those calls, too!
Talk about this. Don’t hide. This isn’t a scary thing. This is all about making Jacksonville a more inclusive place to live, work and play. This isn’t about endorsing what some call a “lifestyle.” This is about supporting fairness and equality. Don’t be afraid to tell others that you do so. Even if you’re not living as an LGBT person in this community, you’re a human in this community. So are we.
Discuss this with your faith community. As an observer, it appears to me that a vast majority, if not all of the opponents of this measure, are opponents because they believe their faith demands it. They may mask this by making claims that this is a “special” protection, but they conveniently leave out that it is a protection they themselves already have in our existing HRO. These opponents show up in droves. They take church busses to meetings. They use their pulpits to tell their entire congregations to do the same things I’m asking you to do here. And their followers listen.
I know there are many Christian friends and family out there who believe something different than these people. Rather than clinging to fear, they listen to the Bible when it says, “Fear not!” Rather than clinging to exclusion, they cling to the message of Jesus himself:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’…’Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:30 – 31 (NIV)
What better way to show love than to make sure everyone is treated equally, as best you can?
Show up. As I mentioned, the opposition is motivated, perhaps more than ever. They see that history is being made across the country as we become a more inclusive society. They see that more people are beginning to understand which side will be the so-called “right side of history” and which one will be the wrong one. Faith leaders are recognizing this, too. So those who oppose this are angry. They see their fear-filled and slippery slope arguments working less and less.
Just as there are people keeping tallies of support and opposition based on phone calls and letters, you can bet they are also keeping track of who is physically showing up, whether it’s to these “community conversations” or to the eventual city council meetings.
Honestly, it’s tough to sit in a room with a whole bunch of people when they not only oppose this inclusive expansion of the law, but you know they don’t support your very existence. It’s tough to hear them clap at some of the things that are said. Even if their numbers may be gradually shrinking and the overall shift of society is in our favor, it still hurts, especially in your own hometown. So if I can do it, you can do it. Not sure when or where these meetings are? Here you go.
Will an LGBT-inclusive HRO end discrimination in Jacksonville? No. Will it help? Absolutely.