Written by: Morgan Baker, Jacksonville Media Intern
Jacksonville’s Annual One Spark Crowdfunding festival has ended but the team is still revelling in their success after gaining a whopping 6,700 signatures for an all-inclusive HRO.
One Spark is an annual 6-day festival that allows vendors to showcase their ideas, inventions and social causes. The Jacksonville Coalition for Equality was among the 527 vendors present. We enjoyed working with the massive crowd of attendees.
The festival owners estimate that a record-breaking number of over 320,000 people attended the festival over the duration of the week, and our 45 volunteers made their best effort to engage as many attendees as possible. Many volunteers stayed long after their scheduled shifts and we even had attendees that visited the booth ask to become a part of our volunteer squad. These inspired individuals grabbed T-shirts and clipboards and went off to collect votes and signatures.
The crowd was diverse in many ways. We came across people of all origins, religions, ages and lifestyles. The most common response that we received as we educated the crowd was one of shock. It became very obvious that most of the residents of Jacksonville live in areas that are uneducated on LGBT discrimination. We were able to take this shock and transform it into support, adding to our list of allies.
Jacksonville is the largest city in terms of land mass, meaning that reaching and informing all residents is a difficult task. Some people aren’t able to see the effects of the LGBT community being discriminated against by being denied housing, jobs and basic rights. It is our pleasure and responsibility to educate and inform this group. Jacksonville is the last major city in Florida that does not have a protecting HRO for the LGBT community.
The majority of those who hadn’t yet heard about the campaign were happy to sign on to an all-inclusive ordinance to protect the livelihood of hundreds of their neighbors and friends who are living under circumstances of blatant discrimination.
As our crew roamed the crowd with great purpose, we came across many inspirational individuals that gave us greater reason to continue our fight for equality.
One woman shared her story of growing up Southern Baptist and the struggle that her brother faced as a gay man in a small town. This man was alienated from his family because of his sexual orientation. His sister was greatly saddened that people weren’t able to overlook the fact that he was gay and to see what an amazing person he is.
One of our volunteers, Claire, met with a veteran who admitted that he had never been politically supportive of the LGBT community in the past. After years serving in the US Army, this gentleman developed a new understanding of the word freedom. He wanted everyone to know that he fought for the freedom of all US citizens regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression, as it is a foundational principle of this country.
One woman told us that her friends often question why she feels the need to hold back on applying for certain jobs. The fact of the matter is that, as a transwoman, she fears discrimination upon arriving to an interview. Her fear in a community that doesn’t wholly accept her holds her back from opportunities that most people take for granted.
Not all encounters were pleasant. A few of our volunteers had to endure blatant discrimination as they put their efforts into fighting for Jacksonville equality. We have heard stories ranging from religious judgment and offensive name calling all the way to harassment.
Despite experiencing inappropriate and ironic discrimination in the field, our team was able to keep spirits high to spread our message with positivity and promote acceptance. Our volunteers were brave enough to share their own personal stories with strangers throughout the day to underline the importance of passing this HRO. Through intense heat and pouring rain during the twelve-hour days, this group refused to give up. Without the amazing volunteer turnout, we never could have made such a great outcome of this event!
JCE Chairman Dan Merkin and Field Director Jess Osborn were out every day to ensure the most organized efforts of execution. The JCE efforts at OneSpark impacted the lives of every individual that we worked alongside and met out in the field.
Our goal at this festival was to win overwhelming crowd support for a city-wide ordinance that will protect the LGBT community from discrimination in the workplace, housing and use of public accommodation.
We were even able to put on a flash mob performance during the peak of the festival’s busiest time. The Diamond Squad danced with purpose and caught the attention of a large group of attendees.
The team was high-spirited up until the last moments of OneSpark. At the closing ceremony, our team worked for the attention of the MC and was awarded time on stage to discuss our mission. Field Director, Jess Osborn was invited to speak on stage to discuss the HRO and the goals of the JCE. While on stage, Osborn received roaring support from the crowd of fellow vendors and their teams.
The Coalition was awarded $1,249.57 for having the third highest number of votes in the social good category and received the sixth highest number of votes out of all vendors. On top of the reward from the OneSpark creators, attendees had the ability to contribute directly to participants. Through this system, we received over $400 of donation. What an amazing accomplishment!
Jacksonville is far behind other cities as far as LGBT equality is concerned in Florida. We have much more work to do in this city, but One Spark was a gigantic stepping stone of progress. 28 other municipalities have passed an all-inclusive HRO, we are on our way to adding Jacksonville to this list.
We would like to thank our generous and supportive sponsors; you provided the ability for our crew to make a great impact in Jacksonville. We are now one giant step closer to passing this HRO! Great thanks to JASMYN, We are Straight Allies, Jacksonville NOW Chapter, OneJax, PFLAG, UNF LGBT Center and the HRC. Also, a special thanks to our host venue, Chamblin’s Uptown Café and their manager Jennifer O’Connell for being more than generous.
Stay tuned for more news on the progress of the Human Right Ordinance in Jacksonville. Visit www.jaxequality.org