Documentary draws attention to Baton Rouge LGBT issues

Dozens of Baton Rouge’s elected officials and business and religious leaders will soon receive the same DVD in the mail: an 18-minute excerpt of a documentary titled “The Inclusion Illusion — One Baton Rouge.”

The excerpt is from the hour-long documentary created by two Baton Rouge filmmakers hoping to draw attention to challenges they see facing the city but not being talked about by city-parish officials.

The documentary takes on three topics: the local government’s relationship with the gay and lesbian community, the high rate of HIV/AIDS in the parish, and the loss of young professionals who are moving out of the city.

“Baton Rouge is a great place to live, but there are some things you see in the news that are not being addressed,” said Phil Smith, a local business owner and the executive producer of the film. “The problems are well documented, but nothing is documented in terms of what policies we have to address these issues.”

Smith, who created the documentary with co-producer and director Cleve Bailey, said the DVD was mailed Friday to officials such as Mayor-President Kip Holden, the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber board, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation board, and local religious and business leaders.

The abbreviated video features officials from Forum 35, a young professionals organization; Elaine Maccio, an LSU social work professor and the board chair of the Capital City Alliance, an organization in support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community; Joe Traigle, a local businessman and LGBT activist; and Casey Phillips, who started the Baton Rouge Walls Project, which encourages the creation of murals on the walls of key downtown landmarks.

At the forefront of the video is a recap of a debate the two past Metro Councils have taken up over the One Baton Rouge resolution — a nonbinding resolution expressing tolerance of the community’s gay and lesbian residents.

The resolution failed in 2007 and then was reconsidered by a separate Metro Council in 2010 but was withdrawn by the sponsors for lack of support.

Both times, the resolution drew the opposition of groups such as the Louisiana Family Forum, which lobbied aggressively against the resolution.

Smith said tolerance resolutions are frequently found in progressive cities that draw young professionals.

“When you talk about diversity and equality for all people, you’re talking about our LGBT community, who are people that are our doctors, our bankers, our neighbors and our friends,” Smith said. “It’s a reality of our community.”

In the video, Maccio recounts her experience sitting in the Metro Council chambers as the One Baton Rouge resolution was being debated.

“I felt very unwelcomed. I felt as if people would have been just as happy if I packed my bags that night, today, tomorrow, and left because they don’t want people like me here,” Maccio said in the video interview. “I came to Louisiana because I thought Louisiana wanted the talents and gifts I had to offer by serving LSU. Nothing is making me feel more unwelcomed than to hear people say, ‘no’ to a nonbinding resolution.”

Smith said he’s not specifically trying to revive the One Baton Rouge resolution by distributing the video to local leaders, but he does want to ensure that people continue to talk about the issues.

Traigle, who was one of the people who spearheaded the One Baton Rouge resolution in the past, said he hopes the DVD is a “great road map for us as a city to start open and productive community conversations.”

“The conversations are needed but will amount to zero if they are not followed by action steps,” Traigle said. “Notice I said action steps, not happy talk, actual action steps that when taken will improve our city.”

Asked if he would pursue another resolution, Traigle said he’d prefer to see the formation of a “fresh new public group” to take on the issues.

Smith said the full documentary will be submitted to the Louisiana Film Festival in April. He also said he and Bailey are seeking donations for a public showing of the full film at the Manship Theatre on May 3 and May 4.