Gay backers questioning mayor's word
Published by Florida Times-Union on May 4, 2012.
Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown won't take a position on City Council legislation banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, although supporters remember candidate Brown strongly favoring such a bill.
Brown refused to comment Thursday night because he said he hasn't seen the recently introduced ordinance.
"It's such an important issue I don't want to speculate or assume anything, " Brown said during a brief conversation following an appearance at a parade for the Jacksonville Giants.
When provided a description of the bill - it expands the list of protected classes by six words - Brown said that wasn't enough for him to form an opinion.
"It's got to come to council, " he said. "I haven't seen it. I don't want to speculate."
But some of those who supported Brown's campaign last year remember a much different answer when he was asked on the trail about expanding the anti-discrimination ordinance.
"That's the reason I voted for him, one of the main reasons, " said Jack Slaughter, who played host to a Brown fundraiser attended mainly by gay and lesbian supporters. "As a supporter that gave him money, I think it's a big deal."
Slaughter's nephew, Adam Beaugh, has similar memories, both of the fundraiser and of earlier conversations.
Beaugh worked for mayoral candidate Audrey Moran, and when she lost in the first round of voting, met with Brown's campaign. Beaugh said he asked about the ordinance right off the bat and was told Brown supported it.
"He straight up said it would be a priority for his administration, " Beaugh said. "He made it sound like he'd go to the City Council members and try to convince them to support it."
They are not alone in those memories. In a blog post about the impact lesbian, gay and bisexual voters had on Brown's victory, Equality Florida Field Director Joe Saunders singles out the candidate's support of the issue as a reason Brown won.
"Brown's position supporting an inclusive human rights ordinance banning discrimination against LGBT's was a motivating clarion call, " he writes.
The bill filed Wednesday updates the city's anti-discrimination laws by adding the phrase "sexual orientation, gender identity or expression" to the list of things - race, gender, age religion, nationality - that are specifically forbidden as grounds for discrimination. It would protect people in situations involving employment, housing and service at places like restaurants and hotels.
It is strongly supported by a series of former elected officials and current business executives.
Moran herself, one of those championing the legislation, remembers Brown supporting it at a campaign event. Now, she said, she thinks he will reiterate that position.
"We feel his pro-business stance bodes very well for his support of this legislation, " she said.
But Brown remembers the campaign event, hosted by the Urban League, differently.
He said Thursday he was trying to express that "I don't support racism or discrimination and we don't need to do another study on diversity nor discrimination."
Brown was first asked about his position on the legislation shortly before a National Day of Prayer ceremony at City Hall at noon Thursday.
He declined then to discuss the issue. "I'm getting ready for this, " he said, gesturing at the gathering crowd.
Brown urged a reporter to set up a meeting later where he said he'd be willing to discuss the issue, but there was not time on his calendar Thursday afternoon.
City Councilman Warren Jones, who filed the bill, said earlier the legislation was significant to attract businesses and was "a matter of conscience" aimed at discrimination generally.
On Monday, Jones said, Brown called and expressed concerns that were mostly about the bill's timing. He said the mayor had told advocates he wanted to be sure there was a bipartisan consensus before trying to change the law.
He said Brown was surprised to learn Jones planned to file the legislation and expressed "disappointment" he hadn't been told earlier. The mayor reiterated that disappointment Thursday.
"Not one leader, no one has called me about it, " he said. "An issue of this magnitude and no one called me."
Earlier this week, former Mayor John Delaney said an assistant had reached out to Brown to set up a time to talk. Brown said Thursday that if Delaney had called, he would call him back.
Brown might have more interlocutors show up in the days ahead. Adding their support to the legislation Thursday were 12 former chairs of the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce, as well as the current chair and chair-elect.