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.”

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