Friday, July 30, 2010

BR gay leaders: Groups will now lobby for law

BR gay leaders: Groups will now lobby for law

The leaders of groups representing Louisiana’s gay community said Thursday they were disappointed by the failure of a resolution expressing tolerance for the city’s gay population.

But the longer-term battle over the issue appears far from over.

The chairman of the Capital City Alliance, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights organization, Kevin Serrin, said his group is trying to lay the groundwork for a local ordinance that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“Now that the resolution has been pulled, we’re really going to lobby for an actual law, not a resolution,” Serrin said.

He said Baton Rouge needs such an ordinance to be able to compete economically with other cities — including many in the South.

Serrin said the group hopes to build support over the next two years for a law that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, public employment and public accommodations.

He said his group has presented information to the staff of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber about the positive economic impact passing such a law can have on a community and plans to make a presentation next month to BRAC’s board of directors.

Serrin said his group also plans to reach out to ministers and others who opposed the One Baton Rouge resolution to try to persuade them of the merits of passing such a law.

Serrin has been at odds with Joe Traigle, a gay businessman who spearheaded the One Baton Rouge resolution, over strategies.

Traigle worked out compromise language with Mayor Pro Tem Mike Walker on a non-binding resolution that recognizes people of different sexual orientation as part of the community.

But Walker and Councilwoman Alison Cascio, who co-sponsored the resolution, withdrew the measure Wednesday amid fierce opposition. They said they didn’t have the votes to pass the resolution so it was pointless to go forward.

Serrin said he believes conservative opponents of the resolution might find an anti-discrimination law more acceptable.

Traigle called the failure of the resolution “a black eye for the city.” He praised Walker and Cascio for trying to get it passed while others sat on the sidelines.

Katrina Rogers, a spokeswoman for Louisiana Stonewall Democrats, said the failure of the One Baton Rouge resolution sends a negative message about Louisiana’s capital city.

Based in New Orleans, Louisiana Stonewall Democrats is a statewide advocacy group on gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender issues, Rogers said.

The group’s president, Cory F. Heitmeier, said in a written statement that opponents were using the Bible to try to justify what he said was their prejudices against gays.

“In an open letter to Mayor-President Kip Holden, a group of church leaders claim to hate prejudice; however, their entire letter is about their collective prejudice against non-heterosexual people,” Heitmeier wrote.

The church leaders published the open letter to Holden and the Metro Council as a full page advertisement in The Advocate on Wednesday. It was signed by more than 50 local ministers.

The Rev. Tommy G. Middleton of Woodlawn Baptist Church said their opposition was based on strongly held moral views — not prejudice against homosexuals.

“We took a stand for morality and faith,” Middleton said. “That was the driving motivation behind it.”

He said the resolution was “foisting upon our community morals and values that a huge majority finds unacceptable and offensive.”

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Louisiana Stonewall's Response

Dear Members,

Yesterday, Baton Rouge Mayor Pro Tem Mike Walker and Councilwoman Alison Casio pulled the ‘One Baton Rouge’ resolution from the Metro Council’s agenda in the face of adversity. Fighting for what is right has never been an easy task. Often times, there is more opposition than support but that never negates our obligation to doing what is in the people’s best interest.
We find it ironic that the God that says practice love, compassion, forgiveness and patience is the same God that has inspired groups of people to treat others with hatred and scorn. In an open letter to Mayor-President Kip Holden, a group of church leaders claim to hate prejudice; however, their entire letter is about their collective prejudice against non-heterosexual people.
‘…To address personal sexual preference in a special gesture of respectability goes against our conscience,’ the letter says. I ask when did publicly acknowledging that people deserve to be treated with decency and respect become an attack on one’s conscience and if that is what “One Baton Rouge” is doing to them, maybe they need to explore how prejudice works and ask God to fill their hearts with love and kindness.
This group disputes other pastors’ interpretation of John, Chapter 8, where Christ defends the adulteress. They say the story is not about accepting people despite their ‘sins,’ but it is about having redemption from sin. Well, since sin is an on-going theme in this letter and the reason they cannot support ‘One Baton Rouge,’ I am elated that is a burden they are above carrying.
Ultimately, we live in a nation that is supposed to have a distinct separation between church and state. If there are no reasons for not supporting “One Baton Rouge” beyond citing the Bible, our country and fellow Americans have been failed terribly.
We are not asking, nor have we ever asked, for anything beyond the basic rights that every American should be granted. If we cannot advocate having respect for others, how can we possibly move forward…together?

Standing tall in the fight for equality,

Captain Cory F. Heitmeier
Louisiana Stonewall Democrats

One Baton Rouge resolution pulled from agenda

One Baton Rouge resolution pulled from agenda

The sponsors of a proposed One Baton Rouge resolution expressing tolerance of the city’s gay population pulled the resolution from the Metro Council’s agenda Wednesday.

Mayor Pro Tem Mike Walker and Councilwoman Alison Casio said there was no point in going forward because they lack the votes to pass the resolution.

“It’s not going to pass,” Walker said shortly before the meeting. “We don’t have the votes. Let’s move on.”

The resolution, on the agenda for introduction Wednesday, would have then gone to a council committee and the full council for public hearings.

The One Baton Rouge resolution had prompted heated debate, including an open letter to Mayor-President Kip Holden and the council signed by more than 50 local church pastors opposed to the resolution.

The open letter, published as a full page ad in The Advocate on Wednesday, called homosexuality a sin and said that gays should not be afforded “special recognition.”

The ad continued, “We believe you are being encouraged to press an agenda that has long-range implications. We plead with you to drop this agenda. It will divide good-hearted citizens whose consciences are offended by a resolution that is wholly unnecessary.”

Walker, Cascio and other council members said they have been inundated in recent days with e-mails and phone calls about the One Baton Rouge resolution.

Cascio said she didn’t want to see the hostile tone of some of the opposition play out in public at the council.

She said that type of debate would be more damaging to the city’s image than pulling the item from the agenda.

“For whatever reason, people just get fired up over this issue,” Cascio said.

The resolution was meant to recognize people of different sexual orientations as a welcome part of the community and that there was never any intent to confer special recognition to gays, she said.

Joe Traigle, a gay Baton Rouge businessman who had spearheaded the resolution, said its failure sends a bad signal to the rest of the country about Louisiana’s capital city as a place to do business.

He said many progressive cities go well beyond non-binding tolerance resolutions and have local laws specifically prohibiting discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation.

The proposed resolution stated that Baton Rouge “has a strong commitment to diversity and equal opportunity for all of our citizens, including recognition and integration of people of all colors, religions, sexual orientations, nationalities and people of all abilities and all walks of life into every aspect of Baton Rouge community life so that we all will be enriched by one another.”

Walker had voted against a similar resolution on a previous council in 2007.

But he said he agreed to co-sponsor the resolution this time because of a wording change — from acceptance to recognition — that addressed his concerns.

“I would love for us as a community to say to each other, ‘I love you as a brother or a sister and I recognize your existence as a human being,’ ” Walker said.

He said he is going to encourage people on both sides of the issue to come together to come up with a diversity resolution that will be satisfactory to all parties.

“We need this to be able to compete with other cities,” Walker said.

Although he endorsed the One Baton Rouge resolution in 2007, Holden remained on the sidelines of the debate over the issue this year.

The business community, through the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, also took no position on the resolution.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Baton Rouge area second, New Orleans third in nation in AIDS

by Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- The Baton Rouge metropolitan area ranks second in the nation in AIDS case rates, and New Orleans is No. 3, according to 2008 statistics released recently by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Miami ranks No. 1 in the nation, according to CDC data.
Sunday's Advocate reported that last year, the Baton Rouge metro area ranked No. 3 in the nation for AIDS case rates, according to the 2007 data.
The CDC uses the U.S. Census Bureau's Metropolitan Statistical Area to define the Baton Rouge metro area. It consists of nine parishes: East and West Baton Rouge, Ascension, Iberville, Pointe Coupee, East and West Feliciana, Livingston and St. Helena.
"My reaction is I'm not surprised. We were No. 3 last year and there are many different reasons why we are so high," said Timothy Young, executive director of the HIV/AIDS Alliance for Region Two Inc., or HAART for short.
Louisiana is ranked fourth in the nation for its rate of AIDS cases, according to the 2008 data.
DeAnn Gruber, interim administrative director of the state Office of Public Health's HIV/AIDS Program, said the ranking is nothing new and that the Baton Rouge metro area has ranked in the top 10 for its percentage of AIDS cases for a decade now.
"Late testing is a major factor," Gruber said when asked why the Baton Rouge metro area ranks so high.
Mayor-President Kip Holden said the HIV and AIDS problem in the Baton Rouge metro area is a "monumental health problem."
"We have been consistently ranked in the top five and it's a major problem here at home that continues to rear its ugly head," Holden said.
Jim Llorens, one of Holden's assistant chief administrative officers, called the problem a "community issue" and not something that any one agency can deal with alone.
"We need to make sure people are aware that testing is critical. This (HIV/AIDS) is something we take very seriously," Llorens said.
Shirley Lolis, executive director of the Baton Rouge Black Alcoholism Council Metro Health, has been working for more than 20 years in HIV/AIDS prevention in communities in and around Baton Rouge.
"I think the number is high because we are identifying more people and connecting them to services. When they get the services, it's easier to count them," Lolis said.
Lolis said the rate is high in the Baton Rouge area because of a combination of new cases and more testing.
Lolis said her group and HAART just received a CDC grant for prevention programs and risk reduction plans in the Baton Rouge metro area.
The two groups will receive $246,000 a year for five years from the CDC to combat the disease, Lolis said.
State officials have said that part of the reason the Baton Rouge metro area ranks high for AIDS cases is because there are four prisons in three parishes in the metro area -- Iberville and East and West Feliciana.
AIDS cases in those facilities are counted by the CDC, and AIDS rates are high in prisons.
Young said the people in the area who have problems with HIV and AIDS do so because of a lack of access to health care, poverty and late testing.
"There is still a stigma to the disease, so that can lead to late testing," Young said.
Young has said risky sexual behavior and drug use are the leading causes of the disease, while denial of that behavior and denial of having HIV are part of the problem as well.
Although there is federal money available for prevention and some treatment, the federal government has cut some AIDS drugs funding, Young said.
Still, Llorens said, the Baton Rouge metro area receives about $3 million a year from the federal government's Health Resources Services Administration for outpatient services and HIV/AIDS drugs.
Information from: The Advocate,
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

We hope that you find the following links helpful if you or someone you know needs help with HIV/AIDS related issues. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact Louisiana Stonewall directly and we will assist you in anyway we can.

AIDS LAW of Louisiana (Louisiana)
NO/AIDS Task Force (New Orleans)
ACADIANIA C.A.R.E.S. (SW Louisiana)
in SPOT (HIV/STD resources)