Though later repealed thanks to Anita Bryant, Florida’s first ordinance protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination passed in Miami 35 years ago. Yet such a law still eludes Jacksonville, Florida’s largest city.
In August, after stripping gender identity provisions from an antidiscrimination bill, the Jacksonville City Council failed to pass even the watered-down legislation, which would only have covered sexual orientation. The legislation went down 10-9 after City Council member Johnny Gaffney rejected the bill after voting for it in committee. Gaffney, who declined to comment for this story, told The Florida Times-Union after the vote that he had been “confused.”
Jacksonville isn’t the only big city to reject such legislation — voters in Anchorage, Alaska, said no to a similar law in April. While separated by 4,600 miles, the two cities are both stocked with religious conservatives who claim pro-gay bills will force them to host commitment ceremonies.
To make matters worse, the City Council “is dominated by a church antagonistic to gay interests,” says Jimmy Midyette, cochair of the Jacksonville Committee for Equality.
The Florida Policy Council, a local antigay organization, also told Christians the ordinance would lead to an unraveling of the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
“It’s hard to stand up and say, ‘They’re lying,’ ” Midyette admits.
The Committee for Equality thought it would find success by building a broad coalition that supported the bill. The group is now working to sway the current mayor, but more important is getting the community to see through the FPC’s lies.
“We need to reach conservative African-Americans,” he says. “We have to meet with groups that should be with us. It’s a challenge everywhere.”