Fair Housing Bill Coming up for a Vote

EQLA session sharable

One of the fair housing bills we’ve been working on, HB 804 by Representative Brossett, will be heard Monday, March 31, at 9:30am by the the House Commerce Committee at the State Capitol.

There’s still time to make a difference!

Please contact the House Commerce Committee members and ask that they support HB 804 by Rep. Brossett. Click here for a the committee members’ phone numbers and email addresses and a sample call or email script, or use this easy form from the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center to email all of the representatives at once.

Believe it or not, right now it is legal to deny LGBT people the opportunity to rent, buy, or sell housing because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or marital status. This bill would make that illegal and give LGBT people a fair shake at a stable and affordable place to live.

We are proud to work with Rep. Brossett and the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center to bring a bill before the Louisiana legislature that addresses the disparate treatment of LGBT people in the housing market. We need your help to make this bill a part of Louisiana law.

I can’t stress how necessary it is that these committee members hear from you about how important this bill is to Louisiana residents. Please, call or email each of them.

by Tucker Barry
Managing Director

I just supported Expand the Vote Louisiana! on @ThunderclapIt // @LaDemos

Louisiana “License to Discriminate” Bill Pulled

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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!

Thank Peacock Cover
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.

Joined by strong and active local allies like PACE and statewide partners like Louisiana Progress, we have proved once again that you and other fair-minded advocates for equality are unbeatable.

EQLA will continue to monitor the various pieces of legislation that affect LGBT people and provide updates like these. We rely on your support to continue the fight for LGBT equality in Louisiana.

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

Let’s Move Louisiana Forward

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

Why the 2014 ENDA Is Right for Louisiana

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.

We Deserve the Freedom to Work, Live, and Learn 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.

After traveling the state and talking to community members in 9 different cities around Louisiana, we have prioritized four different issues this year based on the needs of our LGBT community.
Our 2014 legislative agenda includes:
1. Employment protections: Rep. Karen St. Germaine and Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger will author a state-level employment nondiscrimination act (ENDA) sinceLGBT people are still not protected by federal law. The bill addresses employment in both the public and private sectors, which is a change from the employment bills introduced in Louisiana in the past. We are also working with other organizations, such as Louisiana Progress, to establish employment protections for the LGBT community in Louisiana.
2. Housing protections: Rep. Jared Brossett is working with EQLA and the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center to file a bill that would address discrimination in housing for LGBT people. Another housing bill will be introduced by Rep. Pat Smith and address housing discrimination faced by LGBT people as well as by felons, and we are actively working with Rep. Smith.
3. Removing unconstitutional language: Rep. Smith will carry a bill that would remove only unconstitutional language from Louisiana’s “crimes against nature” statute. The language the bill removes was declared unconstitutional over a decade ago, but it remains on the books in Louisiana.
4. School climate: Rep. Smith will again carry the anti-bullying and restorative justice discipline bill that failed on the House floor in 2013. She is working with the Juvenile Justice Project of LouisianaLouisiana Association of Educators, EQLA, and other organizations. Since our founding in 2011, EQLA has been committed to making schools safer for all children in Louisiana, and we continue that commitment. In order to make sense of the data already required by law to be collected, we are also working with Sen. J.P. Morrell to push a bill that clarifies how that data is reported and who sees the results. This will help to provide more useful content in bullying prevention professional development for teachers and administration.
As you can see, 2014 is going to be a big year for all of us. This is the most diverse slate of legislators to ever introduce LGBT inclusive bills in one year that we have ever seen.
We need your help. We all need to fight for the freedom to work, live, and learn in Louisiana because it is our home too.
Join the Equality Corps and share your stories to make 2014 the most successful legislative session for LGBT people yet.
by Tim S. West
President

EQLA works with Rep. Smith to repeal “crimes against nature”

EQLA works with Rep. Smith to repeal “crimes against nature”

This past summer, a storm of media coverage surrounded the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office.
It had come to light that at least a dozen gay men had been arrested for agreeing to have consensual sex with undercover law enforcement officers. The officers arrested the men citing the portion of the “crimes against nature” law that had been declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court over a decade ago.
Representative Patricia Haynes Smith is working with Equality Louisiana to introduce a bill to address the unconstitutional arrests that were uncovered in 2013.
The bill has been filed as House Bill 12. HB 12 only removes the unconstitutional parts of the statute from Louisiana law.
In addition to Rep. Smith, many other local and state elected officials have publicly stated the law needed to be corrected. The executive directors of both the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association and the Louisiana District Attorneys Association have said they support the repeal effort.
Many state representatives and state senators, both republicans and democrats, have also agreed that Louisiana law needed to be updated to reflect the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Despite this vocal support, Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum commented to a reporter that he did not think Rep. Smith would find support for her effort in the legislature and expressed his belief that the law should remain on the books.
Join the Equality Corps to become a part of our efforts in the state capitol and to help us pass HB 12! This year’s legislative session starts on March 10. It’s time to win.
by Micah Caswell
Communications Coordinator

From Pride to Power: Creating Change

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.

the crew task

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.

Laverne Cox CC14

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.”

Rea Carey CC14

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
Communications Coordinator

Donate to Equality Louisiana today!