On the morning of July 29, 2010 I awoke to a text message from Adrian, the vice-president of the LSU's LGBTQ student organization (SPECTRUM) that I informally advise. He told me to read page 13 of The Advocate, Baton Rouge's major newspaper.
I immediately remembered that Mayor Pro Tem Mike Walker and Councilwoman Alison Casio, two members of the Baton Rouge City Council were introducing the One Baton Rouge resolution for the second time.
When I managed to locate a copy of the paper and turned to page 13 I saw an ad signed by a group of Christian leaders and funded by Louisiana Family Forum Action calling on the city council [pdf] to not pass the resolution and chastising Mayor Kip Holden for signing a pride proclamation. I am not going to deconstruct the ad because ultimately it is the same tired and hate-filled arguments cloaked in Christianity that we all encounter way too often.
One Baton Rouge is a "diversity resolution" asserting that Baton Rouge welcomes individuals regardless of certain forms of difference. The resolution includes specific language regarding identity categories that are welcome, but does not include gender identity or expression. Initially this was simply the result of a lack of knowledge by the organizers, but it was intentionally decided after conversations among state and local lesbian and gay leaders to not add inclusive language because to do so would "kill any hope for the resolution passing."
This attempt to revive the resolution was mostly organized by Forum for Equality and Capital City Alliance.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a Capital City Alliance board member and chairperson of the organization's administration committee. I have worked closely with other members to develop the structure of the organization, draft not-for-profit incorporation papers, write bylaws, get college students involved, and organize a drag show fundraiser. I, along with other local members of the LGBT community have invested countless hours over the past year building a strong organization.
However, I not only do not support the resolution as it was proposed both times, but also actively oppose it because it is not inclusive of gender identity and expression. I am not going to preach to the choir here about why the ordinance should be inclusive. It is simply the only way and the right way to do things.
While the Board of Capital City Alliance voted unanimously twice to not support legislative efforts that were not transgender inclusive and worked hard to have a transgender inclusive anti-discrimination ordinance introduced instead of the toothless non-inclusive resolution, the One Baton Rouge resolution train had left the station. The unspoken general sentiment seemed to be that that this fledgling organization could not oppose a gay rights ordinance and would do what it could to support the resolution that we could not stop from being introduced. The plan was amended to include an inclusive ordinance that would be introduced within the next year.
I believe this was the wrong thing to do. Non-inclusive legislation should be actively opposed regardless of the situation. We know this. LGBT history and politics show us that this is the only way to achieve true progress.
At the end of the day the sponsors of the resolution chose to not introduce it. It was dead on arrival. This was possibly in response to the full page ad above or perhaps the seven votes necessary to pass the resolution were just not there. The Advocate quotes Mayor Pro Tem Mike Walker as saying, "It's not going to pass. We don't have the votes. Let's move on." This came as a surprise to the lesbian and gay activists who had been working to pass the resolution.
I am a little nervous to admit I breathed a sigh of relief when I was told that this happened. I regret that the hard work that local activists put into passing this resolution did not pay off at this point, but I believe today's events provide this community with an opportunity to do the right thing in the right way.
Today's events undermine any argument that transgender inclusion will kill any local legislative efforts. A non-inclusive toothless resolution did not have the necessary support to be introduced. It is clear we have a lot of work left to do in order to make any progress on LGBT civil rights in Baton Rouge. There are no shortcuts. There is no group we can kick off the boat in order to make it to shore. The old approaches to getting this done in this city and state have failed twice. It is time to do this differently.
I personally know what community oriented fully inclusive legislative and educational efforts to make life better for LGBT people in conservative cities can accomplish. I know because I have witnessed and participated in the process first hand. While working for the Indiana Transgender Rights Advocacy Alliance, I had the opportunity to be the primary representative of the transgender community to the coalition of local organizations, blogs, activists, and concerned community members who were working to pass an inclusive human rights ordinance after the initial one had failed to pass.
I was recruited by Lori, my activism mentor, to represent transgender concerns and to ensure that transgender people were not removed from the language of the ordinance. However, that task was completed very quickly and under the diligent and open leadership of Bil Browning, we went about the hard work of changing the climate of Indianapolis. Bil and his partner Jerame became dedicated advocates for transgender people and never allowed the removal of transgender people to be seriously discussed.
I hope that the Greater Baton Rouge and Lousiana LGBT community can come together in this same spirit and style. We must stand united and do the slow, hard work of public education and engagement. This is the only way to move forward as a community.
A grassroots legislative and educational effort to pass an inclusive and strong local civil rights ordinance should begin in earnest today. We should not waste time discussing how to revive this twice failed resolution for another vote. We need to look toward the future.