Shreveport passes LGBT law, some in BR ask: When is our turn?

Shreveport 2nd Louisiana city after N.O. to approve LGBT law

“Shreveport, a city smaller than Baton Rouge, with an African-American mayor and majority council, can work together for two years and pass a fairness resolution by a 6 to 1 vote, but Baton Rouge has been unable to pass a nonbinding One Baton Rouge resolution over the past five years. Baton Rouge, being our capital, should be the leader — not the caboose on the train.” Joe Traigle, businessman

Shreveport has become the second Louisiana city after New Orleans to pass an ordinance protecting lesbian, gay and transgender residents from discrimination, prompting some advocates in Baton Rouge to wonder when the Capital City will do the same.

The Shreveport City Council, by a vote of 6-1, passed the local legislation on Dec. 10 in front of a packed house. The ordinance bans discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in employment, housing and public spaces.

In Baton Rouge, protections for LGBT people have been a touchy subject, especially for members of the Metro Council.

A previous Metro Council voted in 2007 against a resolution — “One Baton Rouge” — that was a nonbinding agreement merely expressing tolerance for people of all “colors, religions, sexual orientations, nationalities, and people of all walks of life.”

The Family Forum and other conservative Christian groups voiced strong opposition to the resolution, and the Metro Council rejected it. A move to revive it in 2010 was withdrawn before ever making it to a vote when it became clear it lacked sufficient support.

Councilman John Delgado said in July he was calling for a parishwide ordinance to prevent discrimination against LGBT people but has yet to place the proposal on the council’s agenda.

Delgado’s comments came after Sheriff Sid Gautreaux apologized for the wrongful arrests of 12 men, based on an anti-sodomy law, a story uncovered by The Advocate that drew national attention.

Joe Traigle, a gay businessman involved with the original One Baton Rouge resolution effort, said he is embarrassed by Baton Rouge’s lack of progress.

“Shreveport, a city smaller than Baton Rouge, with an African-American mayor and majority council, can work together for two years and pass a fairness resolution by a 6 to 1 vote, but Baton Rouge has been unable to pass a nonbinding One Baton Rouge resolution over the past five years,” Traigle said. “Baton Rouge, being our capital, should be the leader — not the caboose on the train.”

A victory for LGBT rights in Shreveport is a victory for the state and helps pave the way for other cities, said Carrie Wooten, board member for the Capital City Alliance, a nonprofit that supports LGBT rights.

“It demonstrates that this sort of accomplishment and achievement can happen in a place like Louisiana that is thought of as hostile to LGBT rights,” Wooten said. “Shreveport has shown us it’s not an insurmountable obstacle. We’re encouraged by their success.”

Despite opposition by elected officials to passing fairness laws, Wooten said, new poll data commissioned by the CCA, Equality Louisiana and Louisiana Progress show public support for it.

Some 89 percent of respondents in the statewide poll, conducted by the LSU Public Policy Research Lab, said Louisiana residents should not be fired from their job, evicted from their home or harassed or bullied because they are gay or transgender.

“It is clear that the citizens of Louisiana are in favor of equality and fairness, and now we have the numbers to prove it,” said Tim West, Equality Louisiana president, in a statement. “The people of Shreveport have taken a stand with the Be Fair Shreveport Campaign. The rest of us need to make it clear to our elected officials that we support the fair treatment of all people and we expect the same from them.”

Delgado said he still firmly believes Baton Rouge should have an ordinance to protect gay and transgender people.

He said Shreveport’s move recognizes that “when it comes to tourism and business it is better to be an inclusive city than an exclusionary and unwelcoming place to do business,” he said.

Delgado said he hasn’t placed an ordinance on the council agenda because he doesn’t yet have support from a majority of council members.

“If more people in Baton Rouge would ask for it more vocally, then it might move some of my colleagues and show them this is something we all believe in,” he said.

Among the vocal supporters of the Shreveport ordinance was the local Chamber of Commerce. The Baton Rouge Area Chamber has been reluctant to speak out on LGBT issues in the capital city, but BRAC’s spokeswoman said in an email that the agency has addressed the issue in its strategic plan.

“The most vibrant economies in the U.S. increasingly are those that have learned to embrace diversity and maintain an optimistic, inclusive vision for their community, while always remaining receptive to change,” the plan states. “Moreover, discrimination can have an adverse effect on community growth.”

Mayor-President Kip Holden has signed executive orders protecting city employees from discrimination, and BRAC believes it should be codified into an ordinance.

But spokeswoman Lauren Hatcher said BRAC does not have a policy on whether it would support an ordinance like Shreveport’s which more broadly protects LGBT people outside of those who work for the city.

Elaine Maccio, an LSU associate professor who studies LGBT issues, said she would like to see the Metro Council take on its own fairness laws again, but noted that “timing is everything.”

“You can only go into this knowing you have a shot, otherwise you’re just poking a hornets nest again,” she said, recalling the 2007 meeting which she describes as painful and difficult to endure as a gay woman. “But at some point we’ll overcome, and we’ll have our own Shreveport moment.”