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About 750 people packed a gymnasium at Edward Waters College for the second of three “Community Conversations” on a proposed human rights ordinance for the city of Jacksonville.

Attendees went through heightened security, with a metal detector and bag search, presumably because there was a bomb threat after the first meeting Nov. 17.

The discussion primarily focused on religious freedom, with a panel of four on both sides of the issue speaking and answering questions – two faith leaders for and a faith leader and an attorney against the HRO. The attorney speaking for the anti-gay side was Roger Gannam, who traveled to Jacksonville from Longwood to represent Liberty Counsel, designated an official hate group by Southern Poverty Law Center. Liberty Counsel recently made headlines representing Kim Davis, the Kentucky Clerk who refused to issue legal marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

According to Richard Salkin, a volunteer with the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality, the crowd was split about 60/40 in favor of the HRO.
Salkin says he almost didn’t attend the meeting because he didn’t want to “sit through another round of deranged, logic-defying insults from religious zealots who crave certainty on issues of faith,” but he was pleasantly surprised.

“Stupid things were said, to be sure, but they were said in retreat, almost with resignation. At least that’s the vibe I was getting. I was also pleasantly surprised to note nobody trotted out the Bathroom Boogeyman this evening. Not even once. Opposition forces get kudos for that,” Salkin wrote in a recap posted to Facebook.

Salkin added that one topic was continually repeated and shot down: The myth that an HRO would force churches to perform same-sex weddings or to hire LGBTs.

In the afternoon leading up to the meeting, a group of Jacksonville faith leaders met at Friendship Fountain to release a letter signed by 80 area faith leaders in support of the HRO.

“As leaders representing a wide variety of spiritual expression in northeast Florida, we strongly support the full civil rights, including protections from discrimination in the areas of housing, employment, and public accommodations based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. We see such support as being very consistent with our spiritual belief,” the letter reads.

Mayor Lenny Curry scheduled the Community Conversations and a bill is expected to be filed with the city council in early 2016. The third and final Community Conversation on the HRO is 6 p.m. Dec. 15 at Jacksonville University’s Public Policy Institute. That discussion’s focus will be on the legal and business impacts of the proposed HRO.