EBR council to revisit issue of discrimination against gays

The Baton Rouge Metro Council is poised to revisit the issue of banning discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, only a few months after a majority on the council indicated a reluctance to support LGBT issues.

Metro Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle is proposing a local law to ban discrimination in employment, public accommodations and housing on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, age, disability, sex, veteran’s status, gender identity and sexual orientation.

Marcelle proposed a similar ordinance earlier this year, but quietly withdrew it before it came to a vote because, she said, it needed more work.

“It’s just about fairness. I just want to be fair to everybody,” she said. “As African-Americans, we were discriminated against for many years, and we didn’t like it.”

Marcelle said this time she thinks more council members will favor the item, adding that she has reached out to the business community and expects its support.

The earlier version of the ordinance would have created a Human Rights Commission to enforced the proposed law with fines. But the most recent version removes the role of the commission. Enforcement instead would be handled through the courts, in the form of lawsuits.

Marcelle said she feels strongly that people should be hired based on merit, and not discriminated against based on factors such as sexual orientation or race.

Generally, state and federal laws offer protections for almost all of the classes listed in the ordinance except for gender identity and sexual orientation, which are unprotected in the state of Louisiana. In December, Shreveport became only the second city in Louisiana after New Orleans to pass an ordinance to protect LGBT residents from discrimination.

In past years, previous Metro Councils twice took on a similar, but non-binding, ordinance called One Baton Rouge that expressed tolerance for LGBT people. The proposal drew intense opposition from conservative churches and groups like the Family Forum, which heavily lobbied the council to kill it.

The resolution failed in 2007 and then was reconsidered by a separate council in 2010 but was withdrawn by the sponsors for lack of support.

In February, the Metro Council also killed another symbolic gesture which would have expressed support of a bill in the Legislature that would have struck unconstitutional anti-sodomy laws from the state statutes.

The vote was ultimately framed by opponents as an endorsement of lesbians and gays in the community, and the council voted 7-3 to oppose it.

The bill in the legislature was also rejected, which attracted some unflattering national attention. The laws became a hot button issue locally after The Advocate reported that the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office had been using the outdated laws to arrest gay men in sting operations at public parks.

Marcelle’s bill will be introduced at next week’s council meeting and voted on in July.

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter @rebekahallen. For more coverage of city-parish government, follow City Hall Buzz blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/cityhallbuzz .