Despite progress in New Orleans for gays and lesbians, Louisiana has precious few legal protections against discrimination in much of the rest of the state.
A recent national survey rated the state’s capital city at a dismal 2 on a scale of 100 — making Baton Rouge one of the nation’s cities least-friendly to gay and lesbian residents.
New Orleans received 79 points in the same survey.
The inaugural report from the Human Rights Campaign evaluated 137 cities, which included the 50 state capitals, the 50 largest cities in the 2010 Census, and small, mid-size and large cities with high numbers of same-sex couples, according to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.
The cities were given points based on criteria that included whether a city has laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in areas of employment, housing and public accommodations.
It also awarded points for cities that had a domestic partner registry, employed a mayoral liaison to the gay community, and provided leadership in public positions regarding equality, including equality in policy efforts.
The poor rating for Baton Rouge should be a cause of concern. First of all, of course, because of the unfairness and discrimination that might ensue from the absence of legal protections that straight people take for granted.
Fortunately, at Baton Rouge’s city hall, two mayor-presidents have pushed for job protection for gay and lesbian employees, Republican Bobby Simpson and incumbent Democrat Kip Holden. Many private companies also explicitly protect employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
However, the extension of job protection to state employees and to workers generally in Louisiana’s private sector has stalled, either because of official inaction or business lobbies opposing anti-discrimination bills in the Legislature. As the New Orleans ordinances have demonstrated, as well as experience in other states, the argument that these laws are magnets for frivolous discrimination lawsuits is not justified.
Gov. Bobby Jindal declined to provide the same kind of job discrimination protection for state employees by executive order that were adopted by his predecessor, Kathleen Blanco.
It’s a fundamental matter of fairness, as we have long argued, that people should not be at risk of being fired from their jobs for purely private and legal behavior.
Baton Rouge businessman Joe Traigle has been an advocate for greater recognition of the gay community, but he said the time for merely symbolic statements is past. “We need an actual ordinance which prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and credit,” Traigle said in response to the HRC survey.
What the HRC survey also says: As a business proposition, the status quo is a loser.
We agree with Elaine Maccio, an LSU associate professor who studies lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender issues, that the perception that Baton Rouge is not gay-friendly could hurt it economically.
“The mayor and other folks went to Nashville, Austin and Portland to see what those cities are doing that we’re not, and all of those cities welcome people from all sorts of backgrounds,” Maccio said. “Mayor Holden wants us to be the next great American city, and we could be, except for a vocal minority that wants to hold us back.”
How is Baton Rouge going to retain and attract the college-educated young people who will fuel the economic engines of tomorrow’s economy? This kind of rating in the HRC survey gets noticed, particularly as young people — as demonstrated in the last presidential election — are increasingly at odds with anti-gay attitudes.
Louisiana is fortunate that New Orleans, home to a burgeoning tech sector, is more progressive. But that the capital city lags so far behind is a poor indicator for the region’s economic prospects.