Sen. Barrow Peacock (R-Shreveport-Bossier) introduced a bill, SB 485, to directly attack the recently-passed “Be Fair Shreveport” ordinance, which brought Shreveport’s nondiscrimination policies in line with those of dozens of states and hundreds of cities around the country. The bill would have prohibited local governments from establishing protections against discrimination that are not already explicitly included in state law.
After receiving phone calls and emails from folks all over Louisiana, Sen. Peacock agreed to pull the bill!
Less than 24 hours after we activated our supporters, the LGBT community has seen our first win for the 2014 Legislative Session. This is a testament to what we can do when we all work together – to the power of building a statewide LGBT coalition.
This bill, however, was by no means unique. Since 2011, Tennessee, Montana, Nebraska, Michigan, and Oklahoma have all considered similar measures, almost all in response to major cities passing inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances. The legislative history of these things is not a secret – the authors have usually been more than happy to tell people that states need these kinds of laws to protect themselves against cities attempting to do right by their citizens. Only Tennessee has actually passed such a law so far; they have fizzled out everywhere else.
by Matt Patterson
Research and Policy Coordinator
In addition to our own 2014 legislative agenda, we’re excited to share with you a number of other pieces of legislation coming up this year that are aimed at moving Louisiana ahead without leaving any of its citizens behind.
Bills we support include:
1. Medicaid expansion: Louisiana currently is home to a shockingly high number of uninsured working adults. Accepting federal funds to expand our Medicaid program would give affordable health care to over 500,000 hard-working Louisiana citizens. People living with HIV/AIDS and LGBT people are disproportionately likely to live in poverty or have difficulty accessing health care, which is too often literally a matter of life or death.
2. Comprehensive sex education: Based on the results of a task force formed last year to study the effectiveness of Louisiana’s sexual health education programs, Rep. Pat Smith will be bringing bills to provide factual, comprehensive sex education to public school students, and to participate fully in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s nationwide Youth Risk Behavior Survey. In a state with one of the highest rates of new HIV infections, accurate data collection and education are critical for raising healthy and successful children.
3. Raising the minimum wage: Along with increasing access to health care through expanding Medicaid, raising the minimum wage is an immediate way the state can provide its citizens with some much-needed economic relief. Raising the minimum wage would give more people the ability to provide for themselves and their families, particularly people like many of our LGBT citizens who struggle to make ends meet.
4. Pay equity for women: In 2013 legislative session, after many years of trying, Sen. Ed Murray was able to pass a bill forbidding wage discrimination on the basis of sex in public-sector jobs. However, private-sector workers still do not enjoy the same protection, and it is still difficult for public-sector employees to share information about salaries without the risk of being fired. These additional measures should be added, because as a matter of basic fairness, nobody should be discriminated against in the form of reduced pay or benefits because of their sex.
5. Comprehensive nondiscrimination policies: Rep. Austin Badon has introduced HB 199, which would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” to a wide variety of laws that include other protected classes. All people deserve equal treatment under the law in every aspect of their lives, and we support the effort to enshrine this principle into law here.
2014 is going to be a big year not just for the LGBT community, but for all of Louisiana. Dedicated legislators are working hard to improve the quality of life for everyone in our state.
We are proud to stand in solidarity with elected officials and coalition partners who are working to ensure that everyone who calls Louisiana home has the freedom to work, live, and learn.
by Matthew Patterson
Research and Policy Coordinator
In the last year, we’ve seen a surprising amount of forward momentum and bipartisan support for a federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Everyone from Mary Landrieu to Orrin Hatch agrees – ensuring that LGBT people have equal opportunity to compete for good jobs is good for workers, good for business, and good for the economy. The business case for ENDA is totally clear – as a Hewlett Packard executive put it, instituting these policies is “not just a nice-to-do thing. It’s a requirement to be successful in the private sector.” But even for those of us not directly involved in hiring talent for private industry, it’s worth thinking about the ways in which a federal or state-level ENDA would directly serve to boost our state’s economy and aid a struggling segment of the population.
We have a serious poverty problem in Louisiana that mostly goes unnoticed at the Capitol. According to Census data, Louisiana has the second-highest poverty rate in the country, the third-highest rate of uninsured residents, and the fourth-lowest median income. Anyone privileged enough to read this blog post is probably not at the rock bottom of our income distribution, but you cannot help but notice that people are hurting here. You just can’t live in Louisiana and not see this on some level.
If we don’t pay enough attention to poverty overall in this state, it shouldn’t be a surprise at all that the economic problems that LGBT people face aren’t even a blip on the radar of most of our state lawmakers. Even members of our own community aren’t always aware that we often face economic hardships worse than our heterosexual, cisgender peers. According to a Williams Institute report, same-sex couples are significantly more likely to be poor than married heterosexual couples, children of same-sex couples are twice as likely to be poor as children of married heterosexual couples, and African-Americans and lesbians are much more likely to live in poverty than LGB white people or gay men.
In the transgender community, the figures are even more tragic. According to the recent National Transgender Discrimination Survey, transgender people are nearly four times more likely to live in extreme poverty than the general population, they experience twice the national unemployment rate, they almost universally experience discrimination at work, and 26% have been fired from a job just for being transgender or gender non-conforming.
Obviously, a large number of factors go into determining any individual person’s economic situation, but both the Williams Institute report and the NTDS identify structural anti-LGBT bias and racism in the workplace as major contributors to the high rates of poverty and joblessness in the LGBT community. Even in 2014, 29 states still have no state-level prohibitions on employment discrimination, and this year we have seen a disturbing number of bills introduced that would enshrine state-sanctioned discrimination into law. A significant number of LGBT people in the United States have to live and work in places where it is perfectly legal to fire them from their job because of who they are or whom they love, and the research shows that as long as this kind of discrimination is still legal, it will take its toll on our community.
Louisiana needs a state-level ENDA, plain and simple. For the economic freedom of our state’s LGBT community, for our business community to maintain its competitive edge, for the simple purpose of not repeating the mistakes of the past in enshrining discrimination into law – this bill must pass. Equality Louisiana is proud to support Rep. Karen St. Germain’s effort to ensure fair treatment for all LGBT employees in Louisiana.
Recently, House Bill 12, which aims to remove the unconstitutional portions of Louisiana’s “crimes against nature” statute, has been a focus in local media, but it is only one piece of legislation EQLA is pushing for this year.
Last Wednesday, I traveled to Houston, TX, with four other members of the Equality Louisiana leadership team to attend the National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change.
This year, over 4,000 people attended the conference. I feel so lucky to have been one of them. This was my first time to attend creating change, and all I can say is that it was inspiring and refreshing to look around and see so many people working for LGBT equality all over the country.
I sat in a room with thousands of others and heard Liebe Gadinsky, Board Co-Chair of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Foundation, call for a movement “from pride to power” and was proud of who I was.
I heard Laverne Cox, star of Orange is the New Black, tell us all, “The power of community is the power of knowing that you are loved,” and was reminded that caring for one another is the most important thing we can do.
I sat in a room and listened as Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, proclaimed, “The state of the movement is, in fact, strong.”
I could feel the pride, the power, the sense of community, the love, and the strength of all of the people around me. And I was thankful to be a part of it.
I had the opportunity to attend workshops with other communications professionals and to talk about how we can effectively create change using both online and offline communications. I engaged with other LGBT activists about how to effectively tell our stories, how we can express our lived experiences – both good and bad – in a way that makes change possible. I made some great connections with national and regional advocates and organizations.
Outside of skill development and networking, Creating Change did something else for me. It reinvigorated me and rekindled my hope that we can and will make positive changes and take steps toward full equality in Louisiana. I came back knowing that we need employment, housing and school protections for LGBT people. And perhaps more importantly, I came back ready to fight my hardest for those protections.
I can’t do it alone, and I can’t do it with just those four others who were in Houston with me. We need your help. You are a part of the movement for change just as much as I am.
Creating Change has ensured me that I am not alone, that there are so many people who are working to make our state and our country a better place. So for that I say thank you. Thank you to The Task Force, thank you to my friends and colleagues, thank you to my neighbors, thank you to everyone who believes we deserve more.
Now it’s time to get what we deserve.
by Micah Caswell
Pamela Raintree Speaks to Her Experiences Surrounding the Passage and Failed Repeal of the Shreveport Fairness Ordinance
A funny thing happened on the way from the forum. Going there? Not so funny.
On December 10, 2013, a monumental effort by P.A.C.E. (People Acting for Change and Equality) and Forum for Equality, culminated in the passage of the Shreveport Fairness Ordinance. Six of Shreveport’s seven City Council Members voted to end discrimination in the workplace, housing, and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It was a huge win, except for that one vote against equality.
Council Member Ron Webb used the Bible to justify homophobic ostracism and discrimination. However, aside from the term “abomination,” his rant was devoid of any actual Bible quotes. At the end of the day, Mister Webb stood alone, and I laughed all the way home from his forum.
There was nothing to laugh about though on the way back to speak against the repeal measure he introduced. His appeal to religious zeal had gone unchallenged and would be repeated, because even from his position of power, it is considered to be protected speech.
The logical flaw in Mister Webb’s position is that he professes Christianity, but uses the Old Testament Jewish law to support hateful behavior. Of the three passages associating homosexual acts with the word abomination, Leviticus, 20:13, is the only one that does so without qualification. That verse also makes it a capital offense. Invoking Old Testament law subjects the accuser to that law. Matthew 7:1-2 (King James Version): “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” My challenge for him to kill me demanded that he prove his religious convictions.
At his request, Mister Webb’s proposal was removed from the agenda after testimony on January 14, 2014. That wasn’t the end of the story though.
Annie Anderson’s report aired that night on KMSS Fox 33, focusing on my speech. The Advocate, an LGBT interest magazine, picked up the story, which went viral. At the time of this writing, Google reports 490,000 searches for the name Pamela Raintree. Several news outlets have contacted me for follow-up interviews, and people have reached out to me from all over the world, offering support and praise, but also sharing stories of the discrimination they face.
On January 15, the Shreveport Times noted Webb’s intentions to put bigotry back on the agenda at some point.
I don’t know how to help people in other counties, but in the United States, we can stop people like Ron Webb from blocking our access to inalienable constitutional rights by keeping them out of office. That’s why I’m encouraging everyone to promote a grassroots movement, a million voter march to #StoneTheVote” in November.
by Pamela Raintree
In October, Bruce Parker, our Coalition manager, wrote a blog post calling attention to how we continue to allow ourselves to be bullied by our state legislators and the Louisiana Family Forum. It is now a new year, and I want to ask all of you to make our home better for all of us.
We live in Louisiana. Many of us are here because we grew up here. Maybe we just want to be close to our lifelong family and friends. And some of us are here for school or work where we do our best to make positive contributions to our state.
Whatever the reason, Louisiana is our home.
This means we have quite a balancing act on our hands. We me must find a way to balance our feelings of discouraging frustration over the way things are now with our feelings of ceaseless hope for how things can be in the future.
For me, that meant getting involved in the movement for equality in Louisiana. I grew so tired of feeling defeated about the status quo, and I knew things didn’t have to be this way forever. Even now, as I watch other states make great strides forward I wish so desperately that things will get better for us here.
The thing is we can make things better.
We must hold those in political power to a higher standard. We must push LGBT equality to the forefront of their discussions.
We have been told over and over that Louisiana is a conservative state and that means everyone here, or at least the majority of people, are against equal treatment and protections for LGBT people. Well, the truth is we’ve been lied to.
Recent polling results actually show that nearly 90% of Louisiana citizens support fair employment and housing policies for LGBT people and believe LGBT kids should not be bullied in schools. Yet, we’ve been allowing ourselves to be bullied, in schools and in our adult lives.
If we want that to change, we have to show our legislators how many of us live, work, and love in Louisiana. Sounds impossible, right? Wrong.
We have started something called the Equality Corps so that even the busiest members of our community can help win equality in Louisiana.
Here’s how it works:
Sign up to be part of the Equality Corps, and we’ll connect you with a team of Corps members in your area who will teach you how to get in touch with legislators and what to say, so don’t worry about that! When critical votes are coming up at the Capitol, your team leader will contact you with the details you’ll need in order to reach out to legislators. Within 24 hours, call (or email) your legislators, and then let your team leader know the result of your call (if you spoke to someone, what they said, if you left a voicemail, etc.).
The Equality Corps is a comprised of people all around Louisiana who are willing to contact legislators by phone or email during the legislative session when our community’s well-being is on the line. It’s super easy, and we’ll teach you everything you need to know!
Join the Movement!
by Tucker Barry