Move Afoot to Upgrade Human Rights Code; Gay Rights Advocates Meet Business Leaders in City Forum, Say Anti-Discrimination Is Good Business

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Byline: DEIRDRE CONNER

Advocacy efforts to update Jacksonville's human rights ordinance got a kick-start Thursday at a forum sponsored by the recently formed Jacksonville Committee for Equality.

Business leaders and gay rights advocates gathered to discuss how to add sexual orientation and gender identity into the ordinance.

The ordinance now prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations on the basis of race, religion, disability, sex, marital status, national origin, color and age.

Jacksonville is the only major metropolitan area in Florida that does not cover sexual orientation.

"Not only is it the right thing to do, economically, it's the smart thing to do," said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, which advocates for the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

That's because, she said, a growing chorus of businesses have begun including sexual orientation their own company anti-discrimination policies and advocating for municipalities to do the same.

"I would like to see it passed. As a large employer, it would be very helpful to us," said Randy Kammer, vice president of regulatory affairs and public policy for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, which is the largest private employer in Jacksonville.

CITY NEEDS TO SHOW PROGRESS

Offering those protections citywide - instead of just within the company's walls - would do even more to show outsiders that Jacksonville is making progress, she said.

Right now, though, no legislation has been proposed.

"I think the Human Rights Commission need to move on it, and then the City Council needs to move on it, and we need to get things done," said Jimmy Midyette, co-chair of the committee, which was created to press for changes to the ordinance. …