Inside Report: LGBT ordinance has high-profile backers

The Baton Rouge Metro Council is — yet again — set to vote on a controversial fairness ordinance this month, which would bar discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.

This is not the first time that the Baton Rouge Metro Council has been asked to weigh in on issues for gay, lesbian and transgender people.

But this most recent effort already seems to be different. There appears to be some organization behind the movement from grassroots supporters.

Advocates have coined a new slogan called “Be Fair, Baton Rouge” — putting distance between this ordinance and failed attempts in the past to pass a similar but weaker resolution known as “One Baton Rouge.”

A Facebook page for the apparent campaign went live on June 27, and within five days, the page had gained 750 likes.

Administrators for the page posted a PDF of easily digestible “fairness facts” enumerating the reasons to support the ordinance.

The fact sheet provides a breakdown of what the ordinance will do, how it will be enforced and what exemptions are allowed. It notes that 200 other cities in the country have adopted similar ordinances.

Supporters also hosted an event on July 1 at City Pork Deli and Charcuterie to promote the ordinance.

The gathering was hosted by Jeanne McCollister McNeil, an event director for the Baton Rouge Business Report and 225 Magazine; John Carpenter, director of donor services for the Baton Rouge Area Foundation; Eric Dexter, President of Forum 35; Elizabeth Querbes Sammons, a senior vice president for Merrill Lynch and community activist; Chris Odinet, a Baton Rouge lawyer; John Jackson, president of Launch Media, who started the Baton Rouge Art Melt; and Chase Lyons, co-owner of City Pork.

Another person associated with the campaign is Paul West, an attorney with Baker Donelson and a former Baton Rouge Area Foundation board member and president of the Shaw Center and Rotary Club.

West said in an email that for years, he has been a part of several efforts and conversations concerning “how we can best move forward and demonstrate to all that Baton Rouge is a welcoming and inclusive community.”

He said he’s currently working with a diverse group that includes Forum 35, the Capital City Alliance, Equality Louisiana and community leaders including Jennifer Eplett Reilly, who cofounded City Year and New Schools for Baton Rouge and is married to Sean Reilly, CEO of Lamar Advertising.

Many of these people are considered well-connected community leaders with deep pockets who could wield some influence with several of the Metro Council members who are no doubt struggling over what will be an emotional and highly contentious vote.

Earlier this year, Metro Council members John Delgado and Ryan Heck attempted to pass a resolution supporting a bill in the Legislature that would have removed an outdated anti-sodomy law from the books. The law, which has been ruled unconstitutional, was used by the Sheriff’s Office to arrest gay men in public parks who were targeted in stings.

The non-binding resolution, which was seen as a measure of good faith for the LGBT community, was overwhelmingly rejected by the Metro Council. Local LGBT groups said they weren’t even consulted ahead of the vote by the Metro Council.

In February, weeks before the vote on the non-binding resolution, Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle initially placed the fairness ordinance on the council agenda. The item was quietly deleted after being deferred for several weeks because she said she needed time to tweak it.

This time, she says she feels confident she has the backing of the business community, and feels like more council members will support it.

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter @rebekahallen. For more coverage of city-parish government, follow City Hall Buzz blog at blogs.theadvocate.com/cityhallbuzz/