Featured image created by and copyright of Varick Rosete

I am a Navy Veteran who has lived in Jacksonville for over eleven years. When I joined the service and swore the oath, I raised my right hand, and I did so in the service and protection of EVERY American. That said, I am standing in support of a fully-inclusive Human Rights Ordinance because I believe that all Americans should be afforded the same opportunities regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

I’m not speaking to you now on behalf of the Navy, but as a Veteran of the service who chose to remain in Jacksonville when I was honorably discharged. I enlisted while Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was the law of the land, and I am proud to have witnessed its demise before my exit from Active Duty. In June of 2015, during the Defense Department’s first officially sanctioned LGBT Pride Month, the Pentagon added sexual orientation as a protected class under the Military Equal Opportunity Policy. Additionally, in June of 2016, the ban on transgender service members was lifted and gender identity was added as a protected class under the Military Equal Opportunity Policy. However, LGBT service members attached to NAS Jacksonville and Naval Station Mayport live in a constant state of fear.

For while LGBT service members are protected from discrimination on base, they are not protected once they pass through the gate and head into Jacksonville. In all actuality, there are Status of Forces Agreements (SOFA) with other countries that could effectively treat service members with a higher regard. Given the high tempo way of life that most service members are accustomed to, it is wrong for the city government to burden them with the added stress of potentially losing their homes, the income of their spouse, or being refused service at establishments across the city.

LGBT service members, and the LGBT residents and visitors of Duval County, deserve to be treated fairly and without discrimination. Jacksonville is one of the last major cities in our nation without legal protection for its gay community. Frankly, we are far behind the curve. This fact has attributed to the lack of growth in the business sector since companies, looking to locate here, cannot guarantee their employees’ protection under law, which is very similar to the stresses faced by service members.

To unite as One City and continue to prosper, it is imperative to include ALL constituents. I implore you to vote for an expanded Human Rights Ordinance and to set the example that Jacksonville prides itself on treating all citizens equally and with respect.

For further reading about my involvement with LGBT Equality in the Bold City, please head over to the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality website.