The absence of six words in Jacksonville’s human rights ordinance gives business owners the right to refuse service to a gay man, allows a landlord to not rent to a transgender person, or give the freedom to a boss to fire his lesbian employee.
These six words, “sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression,” sent a filmmaker on a mission to make sure that everyone knew that these protections were not in place.
“Everybody thinks there’s a law somewhere that protects gay people — that there’s something in federal law, there’s something in state law, there’s a city ordinance. But in many places in the United States, there isn’t anything,” said Bill Retherford, the writer and producer of “Six Words.”
The documentary was released in 2015 and was widely seen in Jacksonville and was even a finalist for the prestigious James Batten Award by the Society of Professional Journalists Florida Pro chapter.
Florida does not have any protections in place for LGBT people. Jacksonville is the largest city in the Sunshine State that does not provide these protections, and the second largest city nationwide.
And the state is in the majority — according to Pride @ Work, 47 percent of LGBT people live in a state prohibiting employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression. There are three states that actually have laws on the books that bar nondiscrimination laws from being passed or enforced — Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina.
The inspiration for the documentary came to Retherford when he was working on a film about race relations in his hometown of Jacksonville. During an interview, a subject informed the filmmaker that the city had no anti-discrimination protections in place for LGBT people.
“I had no idea,” Retherford said. “As soon as I got over my amazement, in the back of my mind I thought, ‘This is my next documentary.’”
The idea was shelved for a while as he attended graduate school at Columbia University in New York. After graduation, he spent the next year interviewing local LGBT people, advocates, politicians, religious leaders, and business owners on the topic of adding the six words to the city’s human rights ordinance.
In the documentary, Retherford disputes five major arguments made by those who did not want the human rights ordinance to be amended in Jacksonville, from anecdotes of a man who was fired because he was gay to an examination of the popular Leviticus passage many cite as being proof that homosexuality is a sin.
An effort to expand the ordinance failed by one vote in 2012.
The argument is also made that the ordinance should be passed to avoid a boycott from consumers — to avoid turning into Indiana.
The state made waves in 2015 when Gov. Mike Pence — the vice presidential candidate who won the election alongside Donald Trump on the Republican ticket — signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law, giving private businesses the right to not accommodate LGBT people based on their religious beliefs.
While the religious right was pleased, many corporations withdrew their businesses from Indiana, including Yelp and Angie’s List. Others spoke out against the law, including Apple, the NCAA, and the Indiana Pacers.
Shortly after the outrage, Pence signed into law an amended version of the law.
“[Indiana] was ridiculed nationwide after it was passed,” Retherford said. “The state of Indiana could have lost a great deal of investment money in the millions of dollars. The same can happen to Jacksonville.”
“It is just very horrific thought that you live in a city where you are by any definition subhuman. You do not have the same protections that everyone else in the city has,” Retherford said. “Jacksonville is my hometown. I think it’s a sad situation for that city to appear so backward … it’s sad, it’s backward, it’s an embarrassment to the city, and it can have tragic ramifications for those people who are affected by the lack of protection in the city.