BR businessman calls on city/parish to revisit LGBT issues

Prominent gay businessman Joe Traigle criticized Baton Rouge’s political and business leaders Monday for failing to recognize the importance of passing an ordinance to protect gay and lesbian rights.

Traigle told the Baton Rouge Press Club that the city has long been run by the “Baton Rouge establishment,” a group he said includes the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, the Mayor-President’s Office and the Metro Council.

He said these leaders operate in an echo chamber where “the same ideas and beliefs have been recycled for years, uninterrupted by fresh perspective.”

That mind-set against gay and lesbian rights, Traigle said, contributes to impeding growth and economic development and keeps the city from being a desirable destination for young and talented professionals who seek openness and tolerance.

“This afternoon in Baton Rouge, you can be fired because you are gay,” Traigle said. “The message should be loud and clear, ‘The Baton Rouge establishment is on the wrong side of history when it comes to equality for all Americans.’ ”

Traigle was one of the co-writers of the twice-failed “One Baton Rouge” resolution, a nonbinding agreement expressing tolerance for people of all “colors, religions, sexual orientations, nationalities, and people of all walks of life.”

The Metro Council voted in 2007 against the resolution after the Family Forum and other conservative Christian groups voiced opposition to the it.

A move to revive it in 2010 was withdrawn before it made it to a vote when it became clear it lacked sufficient support on the council.

Traigle said the Shreveport City Council passed a nondiscrimination ordinance in December with a vote of 6 to 1. The measure drew support from the city’s black mayor and majority black City Council. Shreveport’s chamber of commerce also was vocal in its support.

“Great cities do not chase the curve, they set the curve,” Traigle said. “We need leadership that will take our game to a new level.”

Traigle applauded efforts by Councilman John Delgado, who was in attendance Monday, for offering to propose a fairness ordinance like Shreveport’s. But Delgado said he won’t put it up for a vote if he knows it will fail.

BRAC President Adam Knapp said in a telephone interview that the chamber would support an ordinance protecting city-parish employees from being fired for their sexual orientation. Mayor-President Kip Holden has signed an executive order to that effect, but an ordinance would protect the rule from lapsing under a new mayor.

Knapp said that while his board has not yet been asked to consider a more broad ordinance like Shreveport’s, BRAC generally agrees that a tolerant community is good for economic development.

“I don’t think anybody can say that discrimination is a good idea,” he said, adding that he thinks most employers are volunteering to put nondiscrimination clauses into their own employee manuals.

Asked if BRAC would take a more active role in supporting an ordinance, Knapp suggested Traigle direct his concerns to the Metro Council and the Mayor’s Office.

Neither Holden nor William Daniel, chief administrative officer to Holden, responded to requests for comment Monday. Traigle called out Daniel for promising to attend the meeting but failing to show up.

Traigle said the following suggestions would help move Baton Rouge forward on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues:

Have Baton Rouge’s civic clubs invite speakers from “outside the Baton Rouge bubble,” including young people, people of different races and LGBT people.

Have the Baton Rouge Area Chamber sponsor a luncheon focused on equality issues in Baton Rouge where its membership could discuss taking a stronger role of support on a fairness ordinance.

Have the mayor form a task force with the police chief, the human resources director and other officials and ask the task force to make improvements that are influenced by the Human Rights Campaign’s most recent scorecard, which ranked Baton Rouge as the seventh-worst midsize city in the country for openness and tolerance.

Have the mayor and Metro Council take an active role to develop a program addressing Baton Rouge’s HIV/AIDS crisis to educate, prevent and provide medical attention for those affected.