News Column

Atlantic Beach sets LGBT rights vote for Aug. 11

July 15, 2014

By Teresa Stepzinski, The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville



July 15--ATLANTIC BEACH -- The Atlantic Beach City Commission will vote next month on a proposed Human Rights Ordinance banning discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the city.

If enacted, Atlantic Beach will become the first Northeast Florida community mandating equal treatment when LGBT people apply for jobs, homes and loans.

On Monday, the commission voting 3-2 approved moving the measure forward to a second reading and public hearing at its Aug. 11 regular meeting. At that time, the commission could vote to enact the ordinance.

The ordinance is intended "to promote a city where individuals are free from discrimination based upon race, color, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression."

Mayor Carolyn Woods and Commissioners Maria Mark and Mark Beckenbach voted to move the measure forward for a vote. Dissenting were Commissioners Jimmy Hill and Jonathan Daughtery.

Mark said she would be very proud if Atlantic Beach ultimately enacts the ordinance.

"If you have never experienced discrimination, then these anti-discrimination laws are going to be transparent to you. You won't have to do it," Mark said. "But to the groups of people that these laws afford these protections, they will feel it immensely. And they will be given the true freedom to live, work, play, spend their money, whatever in our town."

Hill said the ordinance has very serious flaws, and will lead to frivolous lawsuits against businesses in the city. Hill also said it was the role of the federal government to pass and enforce human rights laws, not the city of Atlantic Beach.

Exempt are religious organizations, businesses with 15 or fewer employees, and landlords with four of less rooms or homes for rent.

Commissioners voted following a lengthy and at times emotional discussion. About 36 people including city residents and LGBT rights advocates spoke in favor of the ordinance, saying it is the right thing to do to protect people from discrimination.

However, about five people urged the commission to reject the ordinance, saying it was unnecessary and would cause more problems than it would solve.

Once enacted, people who believe they're the victim of such discrimination have 60 days to file a complaint with the Atlantic Beach city clerk and request a hearing before a special magistrate, who will determine whether discrimination occurred.

The magistrate will have the authority to order the discrimination stopped, may issue a temporary or permanent injunction, a temporary restraining order or order monetary damages to the victim. Both parties may appeal the magistrate's decision by filing a civil action in court, according to the ordinance.

Teresa Stepzinski: (904) 359-4075

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(c)2014 The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.)

Visit The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.) at www.jacksonville.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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Source: Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, FL)


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