EQLA Thanks Sen. Mary Landrieu for Sponsorship of Youth PROMISE Act

August 11, 2014

Equality Louisiana Supports the Youth PROMISE Act (S. 1307/ H.R. 1318)

Dear Senator Landrieu,

As a coalition of more than 25 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and allied organizations in the state of Louisiana, we express our support for the Youth PROMISE Act. Historically, Louisiana is known for one of the worst juvenile justice systems in the country, and this has disproportionately affected the LGBT community.

We know that LGBT youth are overrepresented in the criminal justice system in Louisiana, with one study published in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law saying that 15 percent of youth in prison identify as LGBT.[1] Higher rates of bullying, harassment, homelessness, policing and family rejection make LGBT youth more likely to be funneled out of schools and into prisons. When LGBT youth enter the prison system, they face increased physical, sexual and psychological abuse and harassment, increased isolation, a lack of services and a lack of understanding of their needs.[2]

We applaud your efforts to counter the school to prison pipeline by sponsoring the Youth PROMISE Act. We know that intervention programs work and decrease recidivism, youth arrests and delinquency. High incarceration rates have torn our community apart, and we commend your efforts to help solve this problem. Thank you once again for being the lead sponsor on the Youth PROMISE Act and for your hard work on this critical issue. We look forward to future correspondence with your office.

Sincerely,

Tucker Barry
Managing Director, Equality Louisiana

[1] Irvine, Angela. “We’ve Had Three of Them: Addressing the Invisibility of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Gender Non-Conforming Youths in the Juvenile Justice System .” Columbia Journal of Gender and Law 19: 675-701. http://www.nccdglobal.org/sites/default/files/content/weve-had-three-of-them.pdf

[2] Ware, Wesley. “Locked Up and Out: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth in Louisiana’s Juvenile Justice System.” Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana. http://jjpl.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/locked-up-and-out.pdf

LGBTQ specific needs in Obama’s upcoming Executive Order on Immigration

A Letter to the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus

Dear Congressional Equality Caucus Co-Chairs:

Over 50 other LGBTQ organizations have been mobilizing our groups this year for LGBTQ specific immigration policy needs. As the groups listed below we know that the White House is in motion to act on immigration and we are calling on the Equality Caucus to use its influence to advocate for the needs of LGBTQ immigrants. LGBTQ immigrants will be deeply affected by whatever President Obama decides. We are proud that our country has a congressional Equality Caucus and as LGBTQ people we understand its role is to represent our whole community. Ending deportations and other key issues outlined below are of equal importance to the LGBTQ community as issues such as employment and marriage.

We know President Obama has the legal authority to deliver Administrative Relief on immigration and to change current enforcement policies and practices by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The President can support the safety and equal treatment under the law for ALL our LGBTQ communities by expanding Deferred Action and other relief from deportation, ending the torture of solitary confinement (including against transgender and gender nonconforming immigrants), curtailing the caging of our communities through immigration detention, and stopping the use of ICE holds which encourage local police to even further target LGBTQ people of color for arrest and deportation.

As organizations who are made up of, and represent, immigrant LGBTQ people we understand that the best advocates on these issues are the people most directly affected by these policies and practices. We urge and call on you, and other Co-Chairs and members of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, to advocate for our communities’ by issuing a statement calling on President Obama to include these LGBTQ specific recommendations in regard to immigration:

  • Expand Deferred Action (DACA) to the fullest extent of the law
    According to the Williams Institute, there are more than 267,000 undocumented LGBTQ people living in the US. They all need relief regardless of age, criminal record, race, country of origin or parental status.
  • End all programs involving law enforcement and ICE collaboration
    When law enforcement and ICE collaborate, racial, gender and sexuality-based profiling regularly ensues. The way to end this kind of discrimination and not undermine the safety of local communities is to keep these entities separate.
  • Eliminate the use of Solitary Confinement
    Solitary Confinement is regularly used to supposedly “protect” Trans and LGB people while in detention. If ICE cannot guarantee LGBTQ people’s safety, they should not be detaining them. A practice that the UN classifies as torture is not acceptable for housing LGBTQ immigrants.
  • Expand protections to LGBTQ and other vulnerable populations  under police and ICE custody, in detention centers
    People who are HIV positive, pregnant and/or LGBTQ require critical health needs that cannot be met while in detention. These vulnerable populations deserve access to medical care and other special considerations immediately.

Given the timing of the White House’s motion on this issue, we are asking for a response to this letter by Tuesday, July 29, 2014. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

  • Southerners On New Ground (SONG)
  • Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement (TQLM)
  • Transgender Law Center (TLC)
  • National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR)
  • National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA)
  • GetEqual
  • Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) Network
  • Queer Detainee Empowerment Project (QDEP)
  • The Queer Network
  • Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center (LYRIC)
  • GSAFE (Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools)
  • PRYSM (Providence Rhode Island Youth Student Movement)
  • CAUSA
  • APALA (Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance)
  • Visibility Project
  • Equality New Mexico
  • Chinese for Affirmative Action
  • Louisiana Trans Advocates
  • Equality Louisiana (EQLA)

Louisiana Progress Highlights Issues of Poverty in the LGBT Community

Louisiana Progress Highlights Issues of Poverty in the LGBT Community

In the LGBT community and movement, the conversation often goes to the freedom to marry and to live our lives free of discrimination. Often, the conversation doesn’t go beyond that to address the very real effects of the discrimination in employment, housing, education, etc. that are experienced by so many in our community. This is the part of the conversation that Louisiana Progress, one of our coalition members, is highlighting with their blog post, “The Invisible Poor: LGBT People and Poverty.”

This month Louisiana Progress is bringing the issue of poverty to the forefront through their social media messaging, emails, blog posts and forums around the state. To learn more about what they are doing and how you can help, like them on Facebook and sign up to receive updates via email.

The Invisible Poor: LGBT People and Poverty

When we think of LGBT people’s rights in this country, we often immediately have conjured images of wedding cakes and rainbow flags. These more glamorous symbols of the LGBT rights movement in our country have meant that extreme issues of poverty have taken a backseat priority-wise. As Laura A. Hughes puts it in her article for the Huffington Post, “But for all the scrutiny, marriage has been the beginning and end of most discussions of either [political] party’s stance on LGBT issues. What has been overlooked…[is] that throughout the country, and particularly my own city of Detroit, poverty is very much an LGBT issue itself. The high numbers of LGBT homeless youth are one of the harshest consequences.” LGBT youth are at extreme risk for homelessness, due to the at times unstable nature of their family life. Kids who come out to their families may be kicked out of their homes with nowhere else to go. They may be allowed to stay in their homes, but face extreme emotional or physical abuse, and ultimately flee for their safety. This pushes these children into exceedingly dangerous circumstances, including being forced into sex work just to survive. 

Read more.

EQLA President Speaks at the 2014 Equality March

President Tim S. West addresses the 400+ people who gathered on the steps of the Louisiana State Capitol for the 2014 Equality March.

Release: Law Introduced to Correct Unconstitutional Anti-Gay Statute

Release: Law Introduced to Correct Unconstitutional Anti-Gay Statute

February 3, 2014

Representative Patricia Haynes Smith is working with Equality Louisiana (EQLA), the only statewide coalition of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations, to introduce a bill to address the unconstitutional arrests that were uncovered in 2013.

Smith’s bill (HB 12) would remove only the unconstitutional portions of the “crimes against nature” statute.

At least a dozen men in the last two years have been arrested by the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office using the anti-sodomy “crimes against nature” law. This part of the law was declared unconstitutional in 2003 by the U.S. Supreme Court and declared unenforceable by the Louisiana Attorney General shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision.

A decade later, this unconstitutional statute is still in Louisiana law until the state legislature passes a bill to repeal it.

Equality Louisiana worked with Capital City Alliance, one of their coalition members, to continue a constructive dialogue with the Sheriff’s Office and other state and local officials to address the issues brought to light by the unconstitutional arrests.

After days of public outcry, national media attention and support from local elected officials, the EBR Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney went on the record to say they supported taking the unconstitutional portions of the law of the state’s books.

In addition to support from EBR Sheriff Sid Gautreaux and District Attorney Hillar Moore, Michael Renatza, Executive Director of the Louisiana Sheriffs Association, and Pete Adams, Executive Director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, have both publicly stated their associations will support the repeal.

Both Republican and Democrat state legislators have publicly acknowledged the language of the statute needs to be corrected.

In comments given to the New Orleans Advocate regarding HB12, Gene Mills, President of the Louisiana Family Forum, said he believes the unconstitutional portions of the law should remain on the books and he expects Rep. Smith to find little support for her effort in the legislature.

“Gene Mills is choosing to live in his own reality. This bill is a common sense solution to a silly problem. It just makes sense to remove an unenforceable law from the books. The only reason for Mills’ belief is unambiguous discrimination,” said Tim S. West, President of Equality Louisiana.

Some have said the majority of Louisianans share Mills’ sentiments, but in fact, Mills represents a small minority of Louisiana citizens. A recent statewide poll shows that nearly 90 percent of Louisiana citizens believe gay and transgender people should not be discriminated against in employment, housing and schools.

West said he cannot imagine where Mills’ prediction of trouble ahead for Rep. Smith and her bill comes from, considering these recent polling results and the many elected officials who have come out in support of the repeal.

“The Louisiana Family Forum continues to promote hate and bigotry in their initiatives and in our state legislature. I sincerely hope our legislators will have the courage to stand up to the bullying of the Family Forum and do what they know is right for Louisiana,” said West.

West said he is very thankful for Rep. Smith’s continued support for all of her constituents and her willingness to listen to what it is they want and need.

Release: Shreveport Council Member Ron Webb Withdraws his Discriminatory Ordinance

Release: Shreveport Council Member Ron Webb Withdraws his Discriminatory Ordinance

January 15, 2014

The Shreveport Community packed the city council chambers to demonstrate their opposition to Council Member Ron Webb’s ordinance that would have repealed the recently passed Fairness Ordinance that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens in Shreveport, Louisiana.

The underwhelming support for his ordinance consisted of one individual who had spoken against the Fairness Ordinance previously. Shreveport citizens, religious leaders, business owners and representatives from community organizations spoke in opposition to this effort to repeal an ordinance that had strong bipartisan support from the Shreveport City Council.

Tim S. West, President of Equality Louisiana, said, “Council Member Webb has demonstrated cowardice and a lack of resolve throughout this entire process. If his ordinance was truly a moral issue as he claimed, why did he choose to not allow a vote? He failed to demonstrate any courage to stand up for the convictions he claims to hold. I am proud of the six Shreveport City Council Members who refused to listen to the bigotry and fear that Webb attempted to use to set the Shreveport community back.”

The Fairness Ordinance remains law and provides protections from discrimination in the workplace, housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity for people who live and work in Shreveport. The ordinance was a part of the Be Fair Shreveport Campaign organized by People for Change and Equality (PACE) and Forum For Equality.

Bruce Parker, Executive Director of Louisiana Progress and Coalition Manager of Equality Louisiana, said, “98.3% of Louisianans support employment protections for LGBT people. It is clear that Ron Webb is not representing Louisiana values or the concerns of his constituents.”

Parker quoted the numbers obtained in a statewide poll commissioned by Equality Louisiana, Capital City Alliance and Louisiana Progress to show that the Fairness Ordinance was not only good for Shreveport, but was supported by a majority of Louisiana citizens. The poll, which was conducted by the LSU Public Policy Research Lab, found that 89.3% of Louisianans support employment protections and 93.7% support housing protections for LGBT people, both of which are provided by the Shreveport Fairness Ordinance.

Parker went on to say, “This entire effort to repeal an ordinance that passed a month ago with such overwhelming support has been nothing but a waste of time and money for the city of Shreveport. Council Member Webb should be ashamed of himself.”

Following the council meeting, Adrienne Critcher, Political Director of P.A.C.E., said in a statement, “As co-chairs of the Be Fair Shreveport Campaign, Odessa Sykes of Forum for Equality and I are grateful for the goodwill of so many business, civic, and political leaders who have supported our work in Shreveport.  They have made it clear that they want our city to be forward-looking so we can begin to end the exodus of our most talented young people to cities that thrive on diversity.”

Release: Shreveport City Council Passes Ordinance to Prevent Discrimination

Release: Shreveport City Council Passes Ordinance to Prevent Discrimination

December 10, 2013

Yesterday, the Shreveport City Council passed the Shreveport Fairness Ordinance with a vote of 6-1.

In Louisiana, and 29 other states, there are no state or federal protections in place to prevent someone from being fired, evicted or denied service just because of who they are or who they love. The Shreveport Fairness Ordinance prevents discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in employment, housing and public spaces.

People Acting for Change and Equality (P.A.C.E.), a local organization that works to advance equality in Northwest Louisiana, led the Be Fair Shreveport effort. They are excited to become the only city in Louisiana, other than New Orleans, that has an inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance.

Adrienne Critcher, Political Director of People Acting for Change and Equality (PACE), cites both ethical and economic reasons for this kind of ordinance.

She writes, “Discrimination is not only wrong, it’s bad for business. Public policy experts find that any city hoping to succeed in a globally competitive market must be able to attract and retain high-tech, high-talent, knowledge-based workers who use openness to diversity and, in particular, fair treatment of gay people as a proxy for whether that city provides a welcoming and stimulating environment in which to live and work. Companies seeking the best employees make it clear they do not discriminate.”

She also notes that most national companies that do business in Shreveport already prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in their company nondiscrimination policies.

PACE is a member of the statewide equality coalition, Equality Louisiana (EQLA).

Tim S. West, EQLA President, is pleased to see movement towards LGBT equality in Louisiana cities.

“I am extremely proud of PACE, our coalition member in Shreveport, for their hard work and determination in the months leading up to the vote today. I hope our state legislature is paying attention because it’s time for these kinds of protections to be put into place for the entire state. Equality Louisiana is working with fair-minded legislators to introduce legislation during the 2014 session that would prevent discrimination in employment, housing and schools. The time for full equality is now,” West commented.

I have been with my partner Daryl for over 5 years, and I am looking forward to the day that we can get married without traveling to another state.
I have lived in Louisiana my entire life, and my family is here. I want to be able to share my love for him and make a public commitment to him in front of our loved ones. When straight people ask me why I want to get married, I always give the same response:  For the same reasons you do.
Straight and gay couples want to marry for the same reasons, to build a life with the person they love. Marriage is about committed couples who want to make a lifelong promise to take care of and be responsible for each other- that’s no less true for same-sex couples. I want to make that promise here because it is my home.
I feel indescribably happy every time I hear of another state granting same-sex couples the freedom to marry, and I just can’t help but feel hopeful that soon Louisiana will do the same. I recently saw that public opinion in every region of the U. S. has shifted in favor of the freedom to marry, and I was surprised for a second. But then, it made sense. Of course people support it!
People can have different beliefs and still treat everyone fairly. And marriage is a basic human dignity that should be afforded to any couple who loves each other enough to make that kind of public commitment to each other.
I look forward to the day that I can marry the man I love here, in the state where I grew up.
by Baylor Boyd Shreveport, Louisiana

I have been with my partner Daryl for over 5 years, and I am looking forward to the day that we can get married without traveling to another state.

I have lived in Louisiana my entire life, and my family is here. I want to be able to share my love for him and make a public commitment to him in front of our loved ones. When straight people ask me why I want to get married, I always give the same response:  For the same reasons you do.

Straight and gay couples want to marry for the same reasons, to build a life with the person they love. Marriage is about committed couples who want to make a lifelong promise to take care of and be responsible for each other- that’s no less true for same-sex couples. I want to make that promise here because it is my home.

I feel indescribably happy every time I hear of another state granting same-sex couples the freedom to marry, and I just can’t help but feel hopeful that soon Louisiana will do the same. I recently saw that public opinion in every region of the U. S. has shifted in favor of the freedom to marry, and I was surprised for a second. But then, it made sense. Of course people support it!

People can have different beliefs and still treat everyone fairly. And marriage is a basic human dignity that should be afforded to any couple who loves each other enough to make that kind of public commitment to each other.

I look forward to the day that I can marry the man I love here, in the state where I grew up.

by Baylor Boyd
Shreveport, Louisiana

EQLA Is Honored to Have Been a Part of the Pride 1 Awards

EQLA Is Honored to Have Been a Part of the Pride 1 Awards

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending the One Awards with other members of the EQLA leadership team and several of our coalition members. Held yearly by Pride 1: Baton Rouge Pride, the One Awards honor those members of our community that have shown excellence in their given field, aided in the community, or overcome adversity.

We were fortunate enough to have EQLA coalition members nominated for several of the categories, including Female Advocate of the Year, Male Advocate of the Year, Event of the Year, and the Redder Award for Outstanding Organization.

We are thrilled that Pride 1 is also one of our coalition members, and I want to specially thank Pride 1 President Quentin Little for all of his hard work in organizing the Awards, but also all of the events that led up to the awards, including several fundraisers to raise money for LGBT nonprofits, including Equality Louisiana.

As I sat in the audience, I realized that I work with some fantastic people, y’all. I often take that for granted. I am also lucky enough to call my amazing colleagues my friends. On Saturday, I got to see the hard work and years of dedication of some of these folks recognized by the Baton Rouge Community.

I watched Kayla Mulford, President of Capital City Alliance, accept the Female Advocate of the Year Award for her commitment to the LGBT community in Baton Rouge. I am so happy for Kayla. This lady does a lot of work, and I’m excited that other folks have noticed. I remember when I first met Kayla – I got to watch her jump right into the work of CCA and add business after business to the list of benefactors of the very first Equality March. She continues to work to make Baton Rouge a more accepting and welcoming place for all LGBT people.

I got to see Tucker Barry, our Managing Director, accept the Redder Award on behalf of Equality Louisiana. When I look back at the other organizations who all do incredible work for LGBT people in Baton Rouge and in Louisiana, I am both surprised and extremely humbled that EQLA received this award. We could not do the work we do without the support of our coalition members all over the state and their unwavering dedication to LGBT equality. I am so glad that accepted it on behalf of the organization. Sometimes people don’t realize that no one is paid to work for EQLA – we are all volunteers. But that doesn’t stop us from working 40+ hour weeks in addition to our jobs, classes, families, and anything else we might add to our plates. Tucker in particular works incredibly hard to keep the organization moving, and I am so grateful for everything he does.

Finally, I approached the brink of sobbing as Tucker gave a heartfelt and emotional introduction of the winner of the last award – the One Award. This award is given to a person who has fought tirelessly for LGBT equality in the Baton Rouge area and, in the case of this year’s winner, across the country. The 2014 One Award was given to our Coalition Manager, Louisiana Progress Executive Director, and Board Member of Louisiana Trans Advocates and Capital City Alliance – Bruce Parker. Because I am sure that I can’t give a better introduction than Tucker did, I just want to quote the first few lines of his:

This year’s One Award goes to the most deserving person that I know, a cornerstone of the LGBT community in our state. Because of this person, we have a much stronger LGBT movement in Louisiana, a better place to live, and a much better shot at full lived and legal equality. He is responsible for an entirely new approach to advancing LGBT equality in Louisiana and an unprecedented number of opportunities for people to get involved in community organizing.

We are so lucky to have Bruce, as well as Tucker and Kayla, advocating for our rights. I couldn’t be more proud of these three people, and I am so glad that other folks are recognizing the amazing work they do every day.

Bruce Parker, Kayla Mulford and Tucker Barry with Pride 1 Awards

Marriage Matters Monday: Sarah and Rena

Marriage Matters Monday: Sarah and Rena

Ree Romero“Having two moms and a dad means we have more love than most kids have.” -Maddy

We are Sarah Mahfouz & Rena Romero-Mahfouz. We have been together nearing 4 years now and will celebrate 2 years of marriage on April 26th. Our 2 beautiful children, Madelyn (10 years) and Cohen (5 years) are our world-and also keep our world very busy and entertaining!

‘Maddy’ is a rising gymnast who flips and twirls through life with a smile as big as her heart! Cohen is an avid Ninja Turtle fan who looks forward to beginning his karate career this summer! The careers of us mommies in the house allow for plenty family time and movie nights-complete with popcorn an popsicles of course!

Mom (Rena) is an In-School Suspension Facilitator at a local elementary school. ‘Muffy’ (Sarah) is a store manager at a nearby home interiors store who also enjoys her second job of landscaping in and around Acadiana. Our family is very blessed to have a very supportive and loving father to our children. Our babies were born from a prior relationship that has continued into a very close friendship between mom and dad. This allows our family to function in a very loving and smooth manner that sometimes feels surreal.

Our family is fortunate to have not seen any discrimination from the community thus far. Mom and Muffy are both active in the local LGBT community, and we are able to feel very loved and supported by friends and family.

As we watch marriage equality slowly unfolding across our country, we look forward to the day that we can celebrate that victory of equality for our own family right here in the south. Although as parents we know this may mean waiting longer than most families have wait wait, we teach our children that we should never give up, always have faith, share love and peace and last but definitely not least – embrace the precious gifts that sometimes unfold over time because those gifts are worth the wait.

One day, we will look back at all the rallies and events we have attended and smile in knowing that our children were our inspiration to fight for the freedom to marry so that one day when they find the one person they want to spend their whole life with, they will have the freedom to do so.

by Sarah Mahfouz & Rena Romero-Mahfouz
Lafayette, Louisiana