Baton Rouge’s municipal leaders and local laws ranked among the lowest scoring in a nationwide survey of cities with gay and transgender friendly policies conducted by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization.
Baton Rouge received 2 points out of a possible score of 100, tying it with Cheyenne, Wyo., as the fourth least LGBT friendly city, according to the survey.
New Orleans, the only other Louisiana city included in the study, received 79 points, placing it among the top quarter of high-scoring cities.
Only Montgomery, Ala.; Frankfort, Ky.; and Jefferson City, Mo., with scores of 0, performed worse than Baton Rouge.
“We’re doing pretty badly, but none of this is a surprise,” said Matt Patterson, chair of education and advocacy for the Capital City Alliance, Baton Rouge’s LGBT organization. “We don’t have most legal protections that most people expect nowadays. It puts it all in black and white, and pretty accurately, how far we have to go.”
The inaugural report evaluated 137 cities, which included the 50 state capitals, the 50 largest cities per the 2010 Census, and small, mid-size and large cities with high numbers of same-sex couples, according to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.
The cities were given points based on criteria that included whether a city has laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in areas of employment, housing and public accommodations.
It also awarded points for cities that have a domestic partner registry, employed an LGBT mayoral liaison and provided leadership in public positions regarding equality, including equality in policy efforts.
Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden declined an interview, but his aide, Scott Dyer, said Holden has a record of reaching out to the LGBT community.
“On May 1, 2006, Mayor Holden revised the City-Parish’s Equal Employment Opportunity policy to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation,” Dyer said. “The change also reaffirmed the city-parish’s commitment to maintain a work environment free of all forms of discrimination and harassment.”
He also said Holden provides an annual proclamation recognizing the efforts of the CCA.
Bruce Parker, managing director of the CCA, said he feels the survey may have missed some opportunities to award points to Baton Rouge, considering Holden’s efforts.
Joe Traigle, a gay advocate and local businessman, said the city-parish leaders haven’t gone far enough in passing laws that protect all Baton Rouge residents, not just municipal employees.
“It starts with leadership. It starts with the mayor working the council and (the Baton Rouge Area Chamber), getting them on board,” Traigle said. “It’s time to say that we, Baton Rouge, are better than our past.”
Traigle along with two religious leaders spearheaded the One Baton Rouge resolution, which was a nonbinding piece of local legislation that expressed tolerance toward the LGBT community among other groups who have been discriminated against.
The Metro Council in 2007 rejected the One Baton Rouge resolution. In 2010 the new Metro Council brought it up for reconsideration, but its sponsors, Mike Walker and Alison Gary, withdrew the proposal before it was voted on because it lacked the votes for approval and ignited a firestorm from religious leaders who opposed it.
Traigle said reviving One Baton Rouge is “completely out of date” at this point.
“What Baton Rouge needs to do is leapfrog on this issue,” Traigle said. “We need an actual ordinance which prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and credit.”
Elaine Maccio, an LSU associate professor who studies LGBT issues, said the perception that Baton Rouge is not gay-friendly could hurt it economically.
“The mayor and other folks went to Nashville, Austin and Portland to see what those cities are doing that we’re not, and all of those cities welcome people from all sorts of backgrounds,” Maccio said. “Mayor Holden wants us to be the next great American city, and we could be except for a vocal minority that wants to hold us back.”
East Baton Rouge Parish Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards said she is among some of the members of the Metro Council who would not support another version of the One Baton Rouge resolution.
Edwards, who had a nephew killed in recent years because of his sexuality, said the item is “so polarizing” to Baton Rouge residents that it could have a harmful impact to the LGBT community.
“Other offline conversations need to take place before it’s considered,” she said.
Kenny Tucker, co-political director for the Forum for Equality Louisiana, said New Orleans’ high score is the product of years of working with local leaders to promote LGBT awareness.
He said in recent years Baton Rouge’s LGBT community has become increasingly more organized, adding that he thinks in “five to 10 years” studies will reflect that Baton Rouge has made changes favoring tolerance.
“This highlights where we currently are, but it doesn’t indicate that it’s a lost cause,” Tucker said of the survey’s results. “No cause worth fighting for is a lost cause.”
Gene Mills, president of the Louisiana Family Forum, which has opposed pro-gay legislation statewide, did not return a message left at his office Thursday.
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