Photo by Greg LaRose
Jeremy Longmire took a moment to stop pouring drinks at George’s Place, the popular Baton Rouge gay hangout he manages, to lean against the bar and shake his head at what the Louisiana Legislature did on the first day of Pride Month.
Earlier in the day, a mile up the road from George’s Place, the Louisiana Senate revived a proposed ban on gender-affirming healthcare for transgender youth that was killed a week earlier. A Senate committee advanced two other pieces of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation earlier in the day.
“It’s f— ed up,” Longmire said.
But at George’s, which has served the Baton Rouge gay community for more than 50 years, Pride celebrations continued — even though the joy was tempered by the harsh reality outside.
“It was going in the right direction for a little while, but now it’s not,” Longmire said.
Acceptance for LGBTQ+ people seemed to be on the rise over the past two decades. Its members rallied around landmark wins, including the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2015 in the case Obergefell v. Hodges, which required states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
But this year, an unprecedented barrage of state-level bills have sought to stifle the LGBTQ+ community.
Louisiana is no exception.
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Several pieces of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation are close to final approval but face a ticking clock as the legislative session winds down ahead of a mandatory June 8 adjournment deadline.
One proposal, House Bill 81 by Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, would prohibit school employees from using transgender students’ preferred names or pronouns unless they have parental approval, although a teacher or school staffer could still object to the preferred names on moral or religious grounds.
House Bill 466 by Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, prohibits the discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in public schools. Horton’s bill is similar to a Florida law referred to by critics as a “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Her proposal is much broader and would cover kindergarten through high school, whereas Florida’s law applies only through the third grade.
Both bills were advanced Thursday from the Senate Education Committee.
Those losses were hard enough for LGBTQ+ advocates, who gathered on the front steps of the State Capitol after the committee meeting to express their frustration with the legislature.
As they dispersed to salvage what was left of the first day of Pride month, they were hit with a surprise.
Sen. Stewart Cathey, R-Monroe, moved to discharge the defeated trans youth healthcare ban, House Bill 648 by Rep. Gabe Firment, R-Pollock, from the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and move it to the Judiciary A Committee. It essentially revived what was a dead bill and reversed what had been the LGBTQ+ community’s only real win of the session.
The Senate voted 26-12 to discharge the bill, with just Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, siding with most Democrats who wanted to keep the ban dead. Sen. Katrina Jackson, a Monroe Democrat who has authored anti-abortion legislation, sided with Republicans to move Firment’s bill to the more amenable judiciary committee.
Last week, Mills was the deciding vote to kill the bill, which drew immediate backlash for the senator from Republicans within the legislature as well as national conservative talking heads. Ultra-conservative lawmakers began hatching a plan the next day to revive Firment’s ban, telling reporters they would either discharge the bill from the Senate Health and Welfare Committee or add provisions of the ban to a bill in the House.
Word of the Senate’s unusual move came out on Twitter around 6 p.m. Thursday, with news outlets publishing stories on the vote about an hour later.
But at George’s Place, where the average patron is not a Capitol regular, the first many heard of the gender-affirming healthcare ban’s renewal was a reporter’s question put forward over a smoldering ashtray on the patio.
Samuel Taylor, briefly shifting his attention away from the pool table, offered an explanation.
“People not affected by it personally don’t care,” Taylor said.
The bills working their way through the legislature impact some of the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ+ community: young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Many are still largely under the yoke of their parents and are often disconnected from the LGBTQ+ community, advocates say.
But historically, the community has banded together to take care of each other, such as when lesbians took an active role in nursing gay men during the AIDS crisis.
And as one bystander to the conversation pointed out, Louisiana takes care of its own, too, to survive and recover after every major storm.
I am revived that the fight of Stonewall, the fight of our foremothers and forefathers in this movement, still exist and that my role is not simply just to celebrate
– Davante Lewis, Louisiana Public Service Commissioner
As the clock ticked past 10 p.m., a local celebrity strode through the door at George’s Place.
Public Service Commissioner Davante Lewis, the first openly gay state-level elected official, was met immediately with cheers and embraces.
“Commissioner!,” one patron shouted. “Davante!,” said another.
Lewis had ruffled some feathers at the Capitol earlier that day with his testimony to the Senate Education Committee in opposition to the proposed ban on discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in classrooms.
“I say with the deepest respect, this is a hateful piece of legislation because what it does is punitive,” Lewis told committee members.
But that night, Lewis wasn’t worried about it anymore, joking that he couldn’t even remember what he said.
Lewis was there to relax and to perform his favorite karaoke number, something he does every week. But he took a few minutes to speak about how bad the day was for his community.
“Today is a day where the politics of Louisiana are degraded to the lowest common denominator, where the most radical, unprofessional legislators — that Republicans and Democrats privately would say have no sway — are driving the policy agenda because the majority party is afraid of their fringe membership,” Lewis said.
Lewis said the legislature’s actions on the first day of Pride month are evidence that the fight for equality is not over.
“I am revived that the fight of Stonewall, the fight of our foremothers and forefathers in this movement, still exist and that my role is not simply just to celebrate,” Lewis said.
The Stonewall riots were a series of protests in New York City in 1969 sparked after police raided a local gay bar. The movement is largely considered to be the pivotal event that transformed the gay liberation movement in the 20th century. Exactly one year later, the first Pride celebrations were held in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
“While I am disheartened, I am exhausted, but I’m also renewed that my time is still to fight and not retreat,” he added.
Despite the beating delivered that day, the party went on. Bartenders poured shots, friends and lovers laughed, the karaoke stage remained occupied and kisses on the cheek were doled out as friends parted ways.
“Today is a good day,” Colby Hennigan said. “We still have a fight ahead of us. My hope is that the governor will veto it.”
“Even if that may be just wishful hope,” he added.
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