Inside Report: East Baton Rouge still without gay nondiscrimination law

By Rebekah Allen

rallen@theadvocate.com

After East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Councilman John Delgado announced last month he will seek an ordinance to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination, several of his colleagues on the council asked whether such a local law is necessary.

Louisiana does not have a statewide law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

But many other states do, such as California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

In many states that have no such statewide nondiscrimination laws, some cities and counties have imposed local laws on the matter.

In Louisiana, only New Orleans has a nondiscrimination ordinance that covers both sexual orientation and gender identity that affects private employers.

In 2004, then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco signed an executive order forbidding state government and businesses contracting with the state from discriminating against gay and lesbian employees.

But when Gov. Bobby Jindal took office, he allowed the executive order to lapse. He made the same argument that many East Baton Rouge Parish leaders have made when asked if they would support an ordinance to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

“Existing laws are strong and they protect people so that there is not a need to create a special class for protections,” Jindal said in 2008.

While state and federal laws prohibit discrimination in areas such as employment and housing on the basis of race, religion, gender, national origin and disabilities, there are few protections in Louisiana for LGBT people.

In 2009, the Shreveport City Council adopted an ordinance protecting city workers and employees of city contractors from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and disability. But the ordinance does not extend to private businesses unless they contract with the city.

Similarly, Mayor-President Kip Holden in East Baton Rouge Parish, and Bobby Simpson before him, signed executive orders to protect gays and lesbians who work for the city-parish.

In fact, almost every city selected as a canvass city by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and parish officials has a discrimination ordinance that protects residents based on sexual orientation and gender identity, including Austin, Texas; Nashville, Tenn.; Portland, Ore.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; and Louisville, Ky.

Canvass cities are selected by local leaders as great cities Baton Rouge can learn from.

Delgado has said he’s not sure exactly what the language of his proposed ordinance will be. He said he thinks it should prohibit all private employers from discriminating, but he would at a minimum like the ordinance to cover city-parish employees and businesses that contract with the city.

Holden was clear he does not tolerate discrimination against gays and lesbians.

“Maybe we should take a page from the pope,” he said. “You have the leader of the Catholics saying he doesn’t think it’s his place to pass judgment on a priest that’s gay, and yet we have people here who think they are in the judgment seat.”

Asked if there is a need for an ordinance to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination, Holden said, “It’s already in our law,” referring to his executive order.

Rebekah Allen covers East Baton Rouge city-parish government for The Advocate. Contact her at rallen@theadvocate.com or follow her on Twitter @rebekahallen.