THE RIGHT TO REFUSE
Mayor Next Level sat on his hands during the HRO debate, serving up a big 'F you' to the LGBT community
Kudos to the city of Neptune Beach for passing a resolution last month to encourage the Florida State legislature to take action against discrimination against the LGBT community (though there is still work to be done on these issues). This brings to mind a moment when the Jacksonville City Council failed on similar grounds;
Two years ago, we witnessed one of the most embarrassing episodes in Jacksonville political history when, despite bipartisan support from many community leaders, including former Mayor John Delaney, the Council failed to pass a bill to expand the city's Human Rights Ordinance.
The expansion of the HRO would have guaranteed the LGBT community equal protection under the law. It failed to pass in two iterations. The original and more stringent was smacked down 17-2. A compromise failed 10-9.
Local political watchers remember vividly the switcheroo that Councilman Johnny Gaffney pulled. After riding the fence, even teasing support, Gaffney twerked at the last minute, claiming to have been "confused" and powerless to resist a tidal surge of constituent opposition. At least Gaffney had a position — maybe two. That's still better than the impotent Alvin Brown.
Mayor Next Level sat on his hands during the whole debate, serving up a big "F you" to the LGBT community that mobilized on behalf of his campaign, only to find that he didn't feel inclined to pay them back for support he hadn't courted in the first place. Why take a stand on anything more controversial than a Paul McCartney concert?
Gutless and vacuous. That's a big reason why Peter Rummell's money will work against the mayor next year, not for him. Rummell cited Brown's diffidence on the HRO as a reason he has broken with the mayor he did so much to install, in favor of state GOP chairman and rumored mayoral wannabe Lenny Curry.
For career pols, human rights are but mere abstract concerns; for real-life gays and lesbians, these leaders' failure to lead has real-life consequences.
Consider the case of local musician Alex E — known for her involvement in Tomboi, Wild Life Society, PRZM and Ritual Union — who posted on Facebook recently that a Westside thrift store had "just profiled me in their store and kicked me out, because I'm gay."
"I definitely was thrown out," Alex says. "My friend and I were walking around the store looking for clothes" when an employee approached (with two enforcers not too far behind) and "said we needed to leave. I asked why. She said they have the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason."
The reason, according to Alex: She and her friend, who is biracial, were showing affection for one another — kissing and holding hands. And the people who asked her to leave were white. She figured that might have something to do with it. That and homophobia.
Even assuming everything Alex alleges is true, it's not illegal — not under state or Jacksonville law. This isn't the first time she's faced harassment on account of her sexual orientation, either. "I've been followed to my car with girls, spat on, called faggot, chased [and have heard] rape threats," she says. "I'm comfortable with who I am. Unfortunately, the rest of the world isn't the same."
Discrimination against people perceived to be gay is a Duval County tradition. Faded scenesters from the Einstein A-Go-Go days may remember the rednecks driving by the Jax Beach club back in the Reagan-Bush era yelling "faggot" from their truck windows at the goth kids out front.
Jarring as that was for the targets of the harassment, we've come to assume that we are past that. Clearly, we are not. Clearly, there are people who cling to atavistic hatreds. Elsewhere, other cities are willing to enforce the expectations of a truly civil society. Clearly, we're not there yet.