JACKSONVILLE - Despite a lawsuit filed by the Christian law firm, Liberty Counsel, seeking to block an ordinance that protects gay and transgender individuals in Jacksonville, LGBTQ advocates remain confident that everyone’s rights will be protected.
The Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit in Duval County Court trying to block the Human Rights Ordinance (HRO) approved by Jacksonville city leaders last month.
The HRO adds sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories under Jacksonville law. According to the lawsuit, the authors and sponsors of the ordinance intentionally left out language required by state and local law in an attempt to deceive the public of its true contents and scope.
“This lawsuit aims to rescind an ordinance that has overwhelming support from all corners of our community,” Amber Paoloemilio, field director at Equality Florida Action, Inc., told the Florida Record.
"Not only is The Human Rights Ordinance the right thing for Jacksonville, it also moves our city to align with other big cities, like Orlando, Tampa, and Miami. LGBTQ protections have been on the books around our country for more than 30 years and now more than 60 percent of Floridians live in a place with equal treatment for LGBTQ people. Despite this effort to rescind life-saving protections for gay and transgender people, Equality Florida [is] confident Jacksonville and the state of Florida will continue to move in the right direction and provide equal opportunities and protections for the LGBTQ community.”
During the last five years, Equality Florida Action worked alongside small business owners, faith leaders, and thousands of members of the community to make a vital change to the Jacksonville Human Rights Ordinance. Paoloemilio said it ensures that all people, be they gay or transgender, have the opportunities to earn a living and provide for their families.
“Every single Floridian should be able to earn a living and provide for their families, without the threat of discrimination," Paoloemilio said. "This ordinance provides the same protections for LGBTQ people that already existed, before the update passed, based on race, sex, religion, and marital status. Working at Equality Florida, I have heard from hundreds of LGBTQ people who have reported discrimination in the workplace, housing, or public accommodations. While most businesses will always do the right thing, this ordinance provides protections for LGBTQ people in the cases where judgment breaks down and discrimination occurs.”
Paoloemilio encouraged supporters to speak out.
“There has never been a more important time for LGBTQ and allied Floridians to share their personal stories to their legislators, their neighbors, and their families,” she said. “Change only happens when we speak up and demand it. Equality Florida fights every single day for the rights of LGBTQ individuals, and it is through our network of thousands of grassroots volunteers contacting their legislators, rallying, and showing up that we truly create a safer world for all Floridians.”
The plaintiff in the suit is John Parsons, being represented by attorney Mat Staver. Staver and his fellow conservative attorneys rose to fame representing anti-gay Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, who refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. More recently, the conservative Christian law firm made news for being scolded by the U.S. Supreme Court for opposing transgender student Gavin Grimm.