Today marks the three-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Three years and the city still hasn't been rebuilt. Three years and many people still haven't returned home. Three years and another storm is about to hit the city again. According to Thursday's Washington Blade:
The thousands of gay revelers who traditionally flock to New Orleans for Labor Day weekend's Southern Decadence celebration may have an unwelcome companion. Tropical Storm Gustav is expected to move into the Gulf of Mexico, with a projected track that could take it into the Louisiana coast by late Monday or Tuesday morning.
As of the National Hurricane Center's 5 p.m. Thursday advisory, Gustav had sustained winds of 70 miles per hour and was located 15 miles east-northeast of Kingston, Jamaica.
The storm was expected to turn to the west-northwest and could reach hurricane force by tomorrow. The current track shows the storm could make landfall anywhere between the Texas coast and the Florida panhandle, with the center of the forecast track in Louisiana, west of New Orleans.
The federal government appears to have learned its lesson from Katrina and evacuation plans have already been established. And plenty of finger pointing has already been done for the disastrous response to Katrina. But I think it would be shameful for us to forget what did happen in New Orleans 3 years ago.
For many, Hurricane Katrina was a harsh reminder of the deep-seated racial inequalities that still plague our country. Rapper Kanye West spoke frankly about the state of the African American community during a fundraiser back in 2005.
Kanye spoke the truth. But it's also clear that George Bush (and his lackeys at FEMA) don't give a rat's ass about queer folks, neither. In 2005, The Advocate ran an article about the challenges that community members with HIV/AIDS had during the evacuation:
In the week after the tragedy, as evacuees fought to flee the city from their rooftops, the convention center, and the Superdome, LGBT survivors had their own specific concerns. For one, how would those with HIV or AIDS get their medications when all they had left were the shirts on their backs? . . . More than 15,000 people were known to be living with HIV or AIDS in Louisiana at the end of 2003, the most recent year for which CDC statistics are available. An estimated 3,500 of those live in and around Baton Rouge, and a still greater number live in New Orleans. "When you combine the two cities, you probably have the largest HIV/AIDS population in the country, percentage-wise," Young says. And resources were particularly strained in Baton Rouge because the city does not receive Ryan White Act funding. "We're tremendously underequipped. Now we are challenged with attempting to meet those needs for half or more of the AIDS population of New Orleans. They have faced death before, and they faced it again here."
As Hurricane Katrina evacuees spread out across the country, gay and HIV-positive survivors of the storm may face particular hurdles as they seek shelter and begin the daunting task of rebuilding their lives.
Residents of Lazarus House, New Orleans' primary hospice for people with HIV, had no place to go to escape the storm, and many now have no place to go to recover from it, according to Robert Banks.
Banks, who lives in Phoenix, operates the organization's Web site, lazarushouse.net, while his mother Susan serves as director for the non-profit agency.
Hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast residents fled before the massive Category 4 hurricane slammed ashore Aug. 29 with winds at more than 140 miles per hour. But the 22 residents of Lazarus House, including several gay men, had zero options, Banks said.
"They were stuck," he said. "When you have people with this type of medical condition, no one wanted to take them."
And on the one year anniversary of Katrina, many LGBTQ victims found themselves fighting to access FEMA relief funds and assistance from the churches who received Bush's much-lauded "faith-based initiative" dollars. Our very own Rev. Irene Monroe commented on this for The Advocate:
While seemingly invisible in this disaster, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer evacuees and their families faced all kinds of discrimination at the hands of many of the faith-based relief agencies because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status.
And with most of the evacuees being African-American, along with the fault lines of race and the fact that sexual orientation is on the "down-low" in much of the African-American community, many African-American LGBT evacuees experienced discrimination from both their communities and black faith-based institutions.
"The Superdome was no place to be an out black couple," said Jeremiah Leblanc, who now lives in Shreveport, La. "We got lots of stares and all kinds of looks. What were we thinking? But my partner and I were in a panic and didn't know what to do when we had to leave our home."
George W. Bush's faith-based organizations fronted themselves as "armies of compassion" on his behalf. But these organizations' caveat to LGBT people was, If you are gay, you ought to stay away.
The full-text of Rev. Irene's article will be reprinted tomorrow here on TBP.
1000 people died as a result of Hurricane Katrina. A new report shows that over half of them were over 75 years old. New Orleans' health care system is in shambles. The government may have forgotten about the people of New Orleans. But I don't think the rest of us should.