Like the ones I'd attended before, the meeting began with a prayer. Even though this was not my first time listening to a church worthy prayer (in length and vocabulary) within the walls of government, it still shocked me when the council member asked that "everything we do tonight be for your glory God" and ended with "in Jesus name, Amen." The woman who'd arrived late and squeezed into my row, wearing a bright yellow ACLU T-shirt and matching hat, groaned quietly when councilman Yarborough ended with "in Jesus' name."
The prayer was immediately followed by the pledge.
At the end of the pledge, something powerful happened. Half of the room repeated the last two words of the ending phrase, "with liberty and justice for all." The words "for all" echoed through the chambers, and sent a chill running down my spine.
"We're about to begin, but before we do," said councilman Bishop, "I'd like to remind everyone that we all know how many emotions are involved on both sides. But please be respectful and allow us to speak, without outbreak or interruption."
It took about 20 minutes to get through the first four pages of the agenda, and to the bill that everyone had crowded the chambers to hear.
All eyes in the chamber went from the 19 council members sitting behind their large mahogany platform in front of us, to the giant television screens suspended from the ceiling above. The screen went to black and the council members names, in bold bright font, filled the televisions.
No one said a word as the names of the members who voted "no" quickly changed to a bright, angry red. The "no" votes came in fast, and soon the screen was swimming in crimson. Just as half the hearts in the room started to sink, the green "yes" votes trickled in. It took a couple of seconds, that felt like minutes, for the realization to sink in that the red outweighed the green. By one vote.
The silence was pierced by a woman's shout of joy from the back of the room. Followed by an uproar of yells and cheers.
Each time the Lord's name was claimed by someone standing in the back, or middle, or front of the room, I shivered, feeling anger and pain radiating through my body.
"None of that!" shouted the Council member leading the meeting, who was banging his gavel. "We won't have any of that!"
His correction did little to quell the uproar of clapping, cheering and joy that had seemed to consume the chambers.
He banged the gavel again, harder. "We still need to vote on the original bill."
I turned my eyes, which had gone immediately from the glaring red screen to my lap, so as to avoid having to look at anyone celebrating nearby, to the people sitting around me. Dejected, painful, shocked, hurt, sorrowful -- those were the looks on the faces of the people who just moments before, I had been joking around with happily.
The teenage boy next to me had not moved, or taken his eyes off the screen since the vote rolled in. He looked as if he hadn't taken a breath either. Unlike everyone else around me, it seemed that he had not given up, and still held onto the shred of hope that maybe, just maybe, the council would vote to pass the original bill.
The screen cleared and yet again, the names of the council members who were voting no flashed crimson before us. Only this time, there was barely a blip of green to counter. The original bill failed, by a vote of 17-2. Only two council members had thought that the full bill, which provided protection against discrimination in employment and public places for Jacksonville's LGBT citizens, was worth passing.
This time, the celebration was nearly instantaneous, as everyone could see clearly that we'd been defeated. As soon as the screen bled red, the teenager next to me jumped up, and with a look like he might be sick, fled the chambers. In one motion, half of the people who'd moments ago sat with bated breath, hopeful they'd leave with a victory, stood up, and shuffled toward the door.
"Let's take a five minute recess!" Said the council member with the gavel, shouting above the noise.
The yelling, clapping, and cheering in God's name continued, the whole time that the LGBT community and it's allies slowly exited. A young girl in front of me, who couldn't have been more than 19 years old, had tears streaming down her face, and I watched as a woman in her 60s, wearing a red "Yes" sticker, put her hand on her shoulder and gave her a comforting smile. I watched as the girl walked by a man, who was jumping up and down with his hands in the air, praising the Lord.
I willed myself to look up from my feet, and make eye contact with the people who hadn't stopped cheering. Fighting back the hot, angry tears threatening to spill from my own eyes, I looked into the eyes of the people who were celebrating my pain. There was no sympathy, no concern, no remorse in the face of the sorrow they were witnessing. Just joy and furious victory. They still looked angry, their eyes unkind and judgmental, but now their gazes were fueled with vindication. We were wrong, and they were right. I suspected that they were celebrating both that they had won, and that we were leaving. The city was theirs again, it belonged to the "good" Christians.
The faggots were not welcome. And they knew it.
This is an excerpt from Emily Timbol's spiritual memoir, 'Leaving The Religious Lifestyle,' about her journey from religious fundamentalism to loving and faith centered encouragement for gay rights. She is currently seeking representation.
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