'Gender Identity' Language an Obstacle; City Legislation's Sponsor Says It Could Be Dropped in Effort to Win Votes

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Byline: Steve Patterson

In a political scrum to ban discrimination in Jacksonville based on sexual orientation, protection that has become increasingly common elsewhere may be dropped to win votes.

City Councilman Warren Jones said he wants to remove protection for "gender identity or expression" from the legislation he filed because he worries it can't pass as he first proposed it.

"If we want to get some protection passed by council, our more realistic route is to get it passed without that language," Jones said this week.

He had also earlier proposed other changes, some that would restore references to the U.S. Constitution that were dropped earlier, and limit the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission's role to handling voluntary "conciliation" meetings.

With those changes, "it's likely the bill will gain additional supporters on City Council," Councilman Robin Lumb said by email, adding that members may want stay clear of the bill otherwise.

"In its present form," Lumb wrote, "it is sufficiently controversial that the most appropriate measure would be to put the matter before the voters as a ballot question this November."

The bill bans discrimination in hiring or promotion based on sexual orientation and also bans bigoted acts in housing and access to public accommodations such as restaurants and hotels.

But many advocates for the bill argue that identity should be one of the essential areas for protection, because bias and persecution often start with broad-brushing people because of a walk, a hand gesture, or an inflection.

"Because we're part of the LGBT community, we believe strongly that the bill should continue on with [references to] gender identity," said Jimmy Midyette, a lawyer who co-chairs of the Jacksonville Committee for Equality, a group that has championed the bill.

"We're not experts on the politics, but I am an expert on the harms we're trying to correct."

Gender identity has been a lightning rod for criticism, partly because the term seems vague and open to interpretation. Supporters read into it minor personal characteristics, such as effeminate speech among men or rough, mannish behavior among women. …