Metro Weekly

Survey: 75% of LGBTQ people in Northeast Florida say they have experienced “everyday discrimination”

Despite an inclusive Human Rights Ordinance in Jacksonville, there's still work to do to change attitudes in Northeast Florida

Skyline of Jacksonville, Fla. – Photo: Jonathan Zander, via Wikimedia.

A survey of LGBTQI adults from Northeast Florida finds that three-quarters of respondents have experienced “everyday discrimination” in the past 12 months, including being disrespected, threatened, or harassed.

Of those respondents who reported that they experienced everyday discrimination, 53% said that the discrimination was due to their sexual orientation, while one-third said it was due to their sex and more than 1 in 4 said it was due to their age.

About one-fifth of the survey respondents say they’ve been fired from a job due to their sexual orientation at some point in their lives, while more than 1 in 3 say they’ve not been hired because of their sexual orientation.

About 1 in 6 say they’ve been denied a promotion at some point in their lives, while 10% say they’ve been denied a bank loan, and almost 14% said they’ve been stopped, searched, questioned, threatened, or physically assaulted by police at some point.

The percentage of overall respondents who experienced various forms of discrimination in the past year is relatively low, but African-Americans are more likely to have experienced such mistreatment than their white counterparts, despite only comprising 13.5% of respondents.

The survey was conducted by The Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA School of Law that specializes in studying and analyzing LGBTQ issues between August and November of 2017.

On the positive side, the survey found that 78% of sexual minority respondents, including those who reported having same-gender partners, reported being “out” to all of their LGBTQI friends. A similarly high 69% reported being out to their immediate family. But more than one-fifth of respondents admitted they were not yet out to their current boss, members of their faith community, or their personal health care provider.

Among those who were out, a substantial majority of them reported that they experienced acceptance from all, most, or some of the people in their lives. Reported rates of acceptance were generally higher among health care providers, bosses, or LGBTQI friends, and lower among co-workers, fellow religious believers, and non-LGBTQI friends.

Among African-Americans, only 61% were out to even their LGBTQI friends, and fewer than half reported being out to their immediate family.

In terms of attitudes toward the LGBTQI community, 73% of respondents said they felt there was either a great deal or some acceptance in the city or town where they live. Only 29% of respondents agreed that Jacksonville is a city that embraces diversity, and only 17% say Northeast Florida, as a region, embraces diversity.

The city of Jacksonville has a human rights ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but there are no statewide laws in Florida that protect LGBTQI people from being discriminated against. Understandably, about half of respondents said they do not believe that the laws in Jacksonville and Northeast Florida adequately protect LGBTQI people from discrimination.

Taylor Brown, a project manager at the Williams Institute and a principal investigator of the study, notes that the study distinguishes from “everyday discrimination,” which includes slights, microaggressions, and smaller harassment, and larger instances of discrimination, such as being denied a job or housing due to sexual orientation.

Brown says that due to the small number of gender minorities, including transgender folks, it is hard to draw any concrete conclusions, but noted that gender minorities, on average, reported being threatened or harassed in their daily lives more than a few times a year. Additionally, 40% of gender minorities said they came into contact with law enforcement in the past year. Of those, 1 in 3 reported being treated unfairly by the police.

Brown says it would be nice to find additional data on LGBTQI people in Northeast Florida, as there have been very few studies focusing on that community.

“Williams is always trying to encourage additional data collection on LGBTQI people, and there hasn’t been a lot in Jacksonville, to speak of,” he says. “We’d like to provide folks in community with more information so they can have a baseline understanding of what’s going on.”

Michael Meyers, the president of the LGBT Community Fund for Northeast Florida, says the intent of the survey was to gather information about LGBTQI adults in Northeast Florida, as the little data that exists on sexual and gender minorities is primarily youth-centric, and drawn from the national Youth Risk Behavioral Survey. 

“I would say, from my perspective, there were a few things that jumped out at me. One is when you look at the demographics of the population in Northeast Florida, it’s a pretty vibrant, diverse group,” he says. “And that three-quarters of the respondents report feelings of daily discrimination says there’s a mismatch between what our community is doing in Northeast Florida, and how they feel about it.”

When asked whether he thought Northeast Florida was welcoming, Meyers says that the survey indicates that most people, even if they enjoy a great degree of acceptance in their personal interactions, do not believe that Northeast Florida and the Jacksonville area are friendly to LGBTQI people.

“Broadly, in the community, we need to do a better job of making LGBT people feel welcome and worthwhile, and like they’re contributing parts of our community,” he says.

When asked about a recent spate of anti-transgender attacks in Jacksonville, and how that might be influencing people’s perceptions, Meyers says it’s clear from the survey results that gender minorities, and transgender people specifically, 

“I think that hostility to trans people is certainly part of Northeast Florida, but I also think it’s an issue across the country,” he says. “What it says to me is we have a large amount of education to do to get [cisgender] people to be more comfortable with something that is unfamiliar to them.”

Gina Duncan, the director of transgender equality at Equality Florida, notes that the LGBTQ rights organization has been working tirelessly to pass LGBTQ-inclusive human rights ordinances in 40 municipalities covering about three-fifths of the state’s population, as well as the Competitive Workforce Act, a bill that has been introduced in the state legislature in Tallahassee for the past 10 years, which would cement LGBTQ protections into state statute.

While Duncan says that both of those legislative routes could help change the landscape for LGBTQ people in terms of policy, the don’t necessarily change people’s attitudes. She notes that some geographic regions of the state lag behind others in embracing LGBTQ rights.

“We have found that rural areas are slower to move forward in adopting inclusive policies. There are parts of Florida — the Panhandle, Southwest Florida, and pockets of the state like Brevard County, Seminole County — that have been slow to progress to inclusivity and embracing diversity,” says Duncan.

“I think it’s a combination of factors. It’s certainly cultural, in that North Florida is part of the south. That part of the state is also quite conservative, quite Republican, and so there’s an ideological movement that needs to take place there, where we’re reaching out to like-minded people where we can, where we’re trying to appeal to shared values, that everyone should be treated equally under law, where everyone is entitled to carve out their piece of the American Dream, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation,” she says.

Duncan notes that Jacksonville provides a good example of a place where Equality Florida and local community groups had to go through a lengthy process of forming relationships and slowly changing cultural expectations before a fully-inclusive human rights ordinance could be passed.

“Even though Jacksonville passed the Human Rights Ordinance, it doesn’t mean people’s ideologies and beliefs change overnight,” she says. “So in Jacksonville we’re seeing that some parts of society are moving quicker than others. Since the [transgender] murders started in February, we’ve seen the media progress in reference to how they report on transgender victims, but we see that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has been slow to move forward to embrace 21st-century policing and transgender policy and protocol, that was basically issued by DOJ in 2016.

“It’s a cultural shift that will take some time, but we think we’re making progress,” Duncan says. “It’s definitely a marathon, not a sprint.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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