Our Views: For growth, tolerance

As a business proposition, there are few things easier and more productive for the long-term future of Baton Rouge than the “fairness ordinance” against anti-gay discrimination in employment and housing.

But when politics gets into the mix, we doubt that the new ordinance before the Metro Council will get the unanimous support it deserves.

The proposal by Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle would ban discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability, sex, veteran status, gender identity or sexual orientation — a long list, but the political reality is that anti-gay prejudices are the heart of the political issue.

After all, the ordinance is filled with exceptions for religious groups, private clubs and restrooms. Those who violate the law would be given a “good faith” one-time pass before alleged victims of discrimination could bring a lawsuit in district court.

This is extremely moderate by comparison with similar ordinances across the country and in New Orleans and Shreveport. Yet more than a few Metro Council members are wobbly about the basic equality of their fellow citizens.

“I think that those are already protected in several different ways,” said Tara Wicker, one of the members opposed to the ordinance. Fine, if you count holding a job or renting an apartment as optional; no law prevents discrimination in these matters against gay people.

Wicker was on the council when previous debates were held on nondiscrimination resolutions, so she saw firsthand the reckless public statements — and distortions — about the morals and values of gay people in the city. Her statement today exhibits a willful ignorance of the state of the law and the day-to-day experience of gay people in the capital region.

But leave aside those blind to the fairness issue. We see this as an economic question that is not a vote about gays or others, but about Baton Rouge’s willingness to grow in the 21st century. That is why the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation are showing far-sighted leadership in backing this ordinance.

As mountains of economic research have shown, a city’s future depends on the workforce it can produce.

Today, with the addition of technology giant IBM to the list of major employers, Baton Rouge is part of the diversification of the state’s economy by tech firms. In Shreveport, the growth of film and digital media companies led the business community to push for a fairness ordinance there.

Lafayette, where significant new industries in digital productions and tech services are located or coming in the near future, should also look to the same kind of ordinance for its future growth.

New and highly mobile companies are dependent on technology and talent, and talent — as development guru Richard Florida says — is dependent on tolerance. It is those three Ts that ought to be on the minds of Metro Council members.

The capital of Mississippi recently passed an anti-discrimination resolution, and a Jackson council member told The Advocate that the council does not want to see a “brain drain” from the South. “They are seeking cities that are more inclusive,” Councilman Melvin Priester said of the new generation of workers and leaders.

We hope that the Metro Council listens. As an economic proposition, as well as a social advance, this fairness ordinance is a no-brainer.