Sheriff works to mend fences, meets with LGBT leaders

East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux continued to mend fences Wednesday when he welcomed advocates with the LGBT community to his office in the wake of a controversy over arrests his deputies have made using an unconstitutional anti-sodomy law.

Both sides described the meeting as a productive first step in repairing a relationship that has been heavily strained amid claims that a Sheriff’s Office task force unfairly targeted gay men visiting a local park.

The arrests, made during sting operations designed to combat lewd activity, ensnared men who had agreed to have consensual sex with undercover deputies — usually at a private residence.

Gautreaux apologized this week for at least a dozen arrests made in recent years under Louisiana’s invalidated “crime against nature” statute, cases that were refused by the District Attorney’s Office.

“I think that he really regrets that this has happened, and he seems to be genuinely wanting to work to make it better moving forward,” said Bruce Parker, of Capital City Alliance, the Baton Rouge advocacy organization for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. “He was very apologetic.”

Gautreaux said during the meeting that he would ask the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association to circulate a statement among sheriff’s departments across the state to ensure they are aware that important portions of the crime against nature statute were rendered unenforceable by a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision 10 years ago.

Gautreaux also has contacted lawmakers and other officials this week in a push to have the language repealed from the state’s law books.

“We discussed working to help those wrongfully arrested to file for expungement, and my office has offered to cover any court fees not waived,” Gautreaux said in a statement.

According to Capital City Alliance, the sheriff has agreed to begin reporting hate crimes to the FBI, including those based on sexual orientation.

“Until now, Baton Rouge had not reported annual statistics on hate crime incidents,” the organization said in a statement.

Gautreaux is also expected to have an LGBT liaison in his office to help improve relations. This week, the Sheriff’s Office revised its anti-discrimination policies to “provide protection for sexual orientation,” said Casey Rayborn Hicks, Gautreaux’s spokeswoman.

CCA said Gautreaux agreed to look into adding gender identity to the agency’s equal opportunity statement, and agreed to “incorporate training curriculum informed by research and best practices in reference to fairness and equality for the LGBT community.”

“I think he was sincere in his statement in that this was a mistake that should not have happened and that he wants to set straight,” said Matt Patterson of CCA. “Obviously this is going to be the first of many meetings. This isn’t all going to happen in a day.”

In its statement, the CCA said it “does not think that calling for the resignation of the sheriff is in the best interest of East Baton Rouge Parish, given his cooperation and commitment to working with the LGBT community moving forward.”

While Gautreaux has begun a campaign to have the anti-sodomy law repealed, he has declined interview requests and limited his public comments to statements issued by his public information officer.

Hicks’ release Wednesday said, “In closing, I feel that we have said all that we can say in relation to these cases. By the advice of our legal counsel we will not make further statements in regard to these cases.”