Tag Archives: Jacksonville Human Rights Ordinance

Thank you, Allies!

Good morning, ALLIES!

Words cannot express the deep appreciation and respect we feel towards each of you for participating in this movement. As we’ve listened to your stories and  connected with your positive, powerful energy, we are reminded yet again that our freedoms are inextricably bound. Earlier this year, Chevara Orrin was asked to serve as the keynote speaker for Black History Month for MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station). The theme was “We are Standing at the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality.” She shared her personal connection to the Civil Rights Movement – her white, Jewish civil and human rights, women’s liberation activist mother, and her father, James Bevel, a fiery orator and strategist who served as one of Dr. King’s top lieutenants, who was a driving force of the civil rights campaigns of the 1960’s, including the Birmingham Children’s Crusade.

She reminded them that history often repeats itself. A century after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, the struggle for equality manifested into the 1963 March On Washington, a rally for jobs, economic equality and freedom. Fifty years later, we are yet again standing at the crossroads of freedom and equality.  When our City Council voted 10-9 to reject a bill expanding the city’s human rights ordinance to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination, we were in that standing room only crowd of about 500 people. As we watched the votes of council members appear on the digital board, we thought of Bayard Rustin, the chief organizer of the March on Washington. It was Bayard Rustin who first brought Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance protest techniques to the attention of Dr. King. It was Bayard Rustin who helped mold Dr. King into an international symbol of peace and nonviolence. It was Bayard Rustin who stood teetering precariously at the intersection of race and sexual orientation at a time, not much different than now, when discrimination and homophobia runs rampant in our community.

Chevara thought of Fannie Lou Hamer, Harry Belafonte, Harriet Tubman, Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner, Emmitt Till, Jimmie Lee Jackson, Father Popieluszko and Harvey Milk. And then, about her own sons and the world that they will inherit from us.  Last October, a documentary, Messenger of the Truth, was screened at the Jacksonville Film Festival. It is the true story of a Roman Catholic priest who fought for social justice in Poland in the 1980’s. As images of Father Jerzy Popieluszko’s battered, bloated body pulled from the Vistula River in Poland in 1984, it was reminiscent of Emmett Till’s mutilated corpse floating in the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi in 1955.

Abolitionist Movement. Eastern European Liberation Movement. Civil Rights Movement. Women’s Suffrage Movement. Feminist Movement. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Movement. Lives lost and transformed through struggle for human rights, social justice, and political and religious freedoms. Connections that are deeper than symbols. Millions of slaves emancipated. 300,000 freedom fighters marching on Washington. 100,000 Polish Catholics celebrating the life and mourning the death of Father Jerzy Popieluszko, hands raised in a fist, the index and middle fingers extended. The “V” sign for victory….for peace.

The Black Power salute, arm outstretched with clenched fist, made in protest by African-American athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, during their medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. Thousands standing in silent solidarity attending a candlelight vigil in San Francisco honoring Harvey Milk or being attacked by state and local police with billy clubs and tear gas while marching across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama. Peaceful protests, violent confrontations, brilliant and charismatic leadership, strategy, all for the belief in freedom.

What does all of this have to do with us? Or any of you?  Well, the history of Jacksonville, and our great nation, demands that we make deliberate, intentional efforts to draw connections that bring us closer to one another so that we are no longer standing at the crossroads of freedom and equality.  In 2006, then-Senator Barack Obama delivered these words at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Martin Luther King, Jr. monument:

“We have not yet arrived at this longed-for place. For all the progress we have made, there are times when the land of our dreams recedes from us — when we are lost, wandering spirits, content with our suspicions and our angers, our long-held grudges and petty disputes, our frantic diversions and tribal allegiances.”

We are hopeful that we can attain the dreams and goals set forth by those who came before us. Today, we celebrate the convergence of the lives of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., A. Philip Randolph, and Bayard Rustin.  A. Philip Randolph once said, “A community is democratic only when the humblest and weakest person can enjoy the highest civil, economic, and social rights that the biggest and most powerful possess.” And from a tiny jail cell in Birmingham, King wrote, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

It is our collective responsibility to begin … again … this work — NOW! The road to freedom is long and arduous, but as Tracy Chapman sings, “If not now, then when?

Thank you for your time and commitment. We look forward to sharing our work with the world.

Much love to you all (to those of you we have met and have still to meet)

Chevara, Dan, and Laura

***We’ve included a link for the 2005 Academy award-winning short documentary, Mighty Times: The Children’s March. This film was co-produced by the Soutern Poverty Law Center and HBO, and tells the story of the Birmingham civil rights marches. The Children’s Crusade was initiated and organized by Chevara’s father, James Bevel.

For four days in May, 1963, thousands of school students marched in peaceful nonviolent protest to desegregate the city. They were beaten, hosed, attacked by dogs and arrested. This pivotal campaign promoted President John F. Kennedy to publicly fully support racial equality and led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


Straight Allies’ Letter to City Council

On August 26th, We Are Straight Allies sent this letter to city council – we encourage each of you to contact the city council member of your district and let them know that you support the LGBT community and the passing of a new Human Rights Ordinance in Jacksonville – inclusive of sexual orientation or gender identity:

Good evening:

For the past several years, I have served as an active and “out” straight ally working towards equality with the LGBT community. In 2008, I co-founded the first-ever Gay-Straight Student Alliance at Winston-Salem State University, an HBCU after hearing devastating stories from gay and lesbian students about on-going bias & discrimination, physical & emotional abuse, and abandonment by their families. Seven months later, the board of trustees unanimously passed the first-ever non-discrimination policy inclusive of sexual orientation. This work caught the attention of the White House Office of Public Engagement and led to one of our students, Michael Evans, president of the GSSA, being invited to stand with President Obama at a historic signing of the HBCU initiative. 

While in NC, I also worked with Donna Payne and Karin Quimby of the HRC, Brian Bond with the White House Office of Public Engagement, Sharon Lettman-Hicks with the NBJC and Jasmine Beach-Ferrara with the Campaign for Southern Equality. I stood shoulder to shoulder with nine gay and lesbian couples as we marched from my downtown loft and art gallery to the Office of the Deeds where they applied for and were denied marriage licenses, and I worked with a dedicated, diverse group of community members to ensure a more inclusive policy for family memberships at a local YMCA.

You may be wondering why I have chosen to become involved in LGBT advocacy. The answer is both simple and complex. My mother, Susanne is a white, Jewish civil & human rights, social justice, and women’s liberation activist. My father, Rev. James Luther Bevel was a “fiery top lieutenant of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and a force behind many of the pivotal civil rights campaigns of the 1960s.” I am painfully aware that it has only been several decades since laws banning “race-mixing” were enforced in certain U.S. states. My parents’ legacy has informed much of my life and my decision to advocate for marginalized groups of people – women, those in poverty, victims of sexual violence and the criminal justice complex, people of color, etc.  My earliest memory of activism was as a three-year-old, sleeping in concrete building tubes in the park across the street from the White House, eating rice and drinking water in support of the Bangladesh Liberation War and  protesting famine in Pakistan. 

When I was five, we moved to Memphis, TN. Our tiny, weary legs carried me and my sister to the Lorraine Motel – long before it was transformed into the National Civil Rights Museum in 1991. Back then, it an hourly-rate, seedy franchise with prostitutes and a dilapidated swimming pool near the balcony where Dr. King was assassinated. We sang freedom songs and listened to civil rights giants Andrew Young, John Lewis, Ralph David Abernathy and Jesse Jackson recount the horrors and joys of the movement. Stories of The Poor People’s Campaign, the resistance against the war in Vietnam, and the Memphis Sanitation Strike resonated in my soul and inspired me to become a freedom fighter.

Fifty years ago, my father initiated and orchestrated the Birmingham “Children’s Crusade” that helped revive the Movement and was the turning point that  prompted President John F. Kennedy to publicly fully support racial equality and led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Thousands of children were beaten, hosed, attacked by dogs and arrested as they peacefully protested for human rights. Once again, we are standing at the crossroads of freedom and equality. In the spirit of his memory and all of the other foot soldiers who stood, fought and died for justice, I proudly stand in support of a comprehensive Human Rights Ordinance.

When I think about the vast and diverse group of people who have influenced and impacted my life, I am deeply appreciative that the list includes women, men, transgendered, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, white, Black, Latino, mixed-race, Asian, Democrats, Republicans, gay and straight. From a tiny jail cell in Birmingham, Dr. King wrote, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

Since arriving in Jacksonville last fall, I have become involved with a myriad of organizations and initiatives working to help move this community forward – JAX2025, Race: Are We So Different? exhibition, TEDxJacksonville, etc. I have also joined the Jacksonville Committee for Equality. Several weeks ago, I, along with Dan Bagan and Laura Riggs, created a straight ally ad campaign. We look forward to speaking with each of you as we work to find common ground upon which to stand. 


Chevara Orrin


Ally Profile: Rachel Vitti

Rachel Vitti is the wife of Dr. Nikolai Vitti, Superintendent of Duval County Schools, mother of four, daughter, sister, sister-in-law, niece, grand-daughter, friend, teacher, education and social justice advocate.  She is a former public school teacher who served students in Winston-Salem, NC and Harlem, NY.  Rachel has spent the last ten years dedicated to nurturing and educating her four children ages 4-10.  Aside from focusing on their development, she has also served as an advocate for exceptional-student issues within the public school system – namely students with specific learning disabilities. She has empowered parents with information and strategies to navigate the education system and improve access to appropriate resources for their children. Rachel holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Wake Forest University and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Salem College.

In her own words, Rachel describes why we must come out as allies in order to get the Human Rights Ordinance passed in Jacksonville:

The sobering fact is that less than 50 years ago, without the voice of allies, I would have been arrested and jailed for displaying my human right to love a man, who shares my heart, brings me to a poignant pause.  Less than 50 years ago, without the voice of allies, my four bi-racial children would have been deemed to be illegitimate and would not have been given the protections and privileges afforded to the children of lawfully wedded parents.

Less than 50 years ago, allies stood to bring a voice to Mildred and Richard Loving and their three children, so they too could benefit from America’s Promise. The 1967 Supreme Court Case of Loving v. Virginia was a pivotal civil rights decision that invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage. That decision was a culmination of collaborative efforts of people around the nation.

Today, on the shoulders of those who have stood tall, and those still standing, I am coming out as a Straight Ally to expand the Jacksonville Human Rights Ordinance to include our LGBT families. As a mother raising four young citizens, it is essential that I exhibit a civic duty to ensure that all people can be open, honest, and safe in their home, school, work, and community, without fear.  It is important to help victims of intolerance and hate, fight for their basic human rights.

Although I am a new member of this city, I expect Jacksonville to live-up to the motto of “The Bold New City of the South” and move towards full equality for everyone. To me, this matter is quite simple; afford the same justices and dignity to your neighbors for the betterment of our community. My responsibility to my community and to my family includes supporting those families that may not look like mine, worship the same as mine, or speak the same language as mine.

I challenge the greater Jacksonville community to reach out, join the coalition, and support their neighbors, regardless of race, gender, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital or familial status, pregnancy or ancestry, AND sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression. In the words of Mildred Loving, “that’s what Loving, and loving are all about.”

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