The Increasing Visibility of Gay Louisiana
BR hosts Pride Fest and first-ever Equality March
By Mark RedmondPosted Jun 20, 2012
In the past few months, several news organizations, including Salon and the United Kingdom’s Guardian, have taken note of the manner in which the position assumed by conservative religious organizations has resulted in the alienation and decreasing church membership of young people. Salon cited a 2007 study performed by the Barna Group, which indicated that 80 percent of Christians and 91 percent of non-Christians felt that “anti-homosexual” was the dominating descriptor of the Christianity, at least among people aged 16-29.
“Modern conservative Christianity is dominated by sex-phobic bigots who use God as a cudgel to beat all sorts of people, but especially gays and lesbians. No wonder many in the younger generation want out,” writes Salon’s Amanda Marcotte. Citing a survey performed last month, she noted that “while just a little over half of Americans [support] gay marriage, nearly two-thirds of adults born after 1981 do.”
This kind of attitude is on display everywhere. In fact, this past weekend I witnessed a woman in her fifties pick up a postcard advertising Baton Rouge’s upcoming Sixth Annual Gay Pride event and sneeringly ask her male companion what “they” had to be proud about before muttering something about “selling souls” and continuing on her way, presumably to ruin someone else’s day.
Conservative Christianity continues to wield a great deal of political power, just as it has since the synergistic rise of Jerry Falwell/Pat Robertson and the Republican Right under Reagan, fighting what they call a “culture war;” what one side calls “equality,” the other calls a “war on marriage.”
Christians of a more moderate bend – especially young people who have come of age in a less bigoted era and thus do not share the prejudices (or, if you prefer, moral fortitude) of their parents – are caught in the middle. In many communities, the schisms caused by this back-patting, self-sustaining ouroboros of closed-mindedness (or, if you prefer, evangelism) has led to the development of churches for those who consider themselves Christian…but also happen to be gay.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Baton Rouge’s aforementioned upcoming Gay Pride event is largely the result of organization on the part of the city’s own Metropolitan Community Church.
BR Pride Fest
According to MCC, the church was founded in December 1983 and held its meetings in multiple facilities before settling into its current location on Tom Drive in August of 2004. The church’s mission statement is that they “believe all are welcome in the family of God,” and thus “practice a ministry of inclusion and love” under the church’s current pastor, Reverend Keith Mozingo.
“[Pride Fest] was an outgrowth of MCC’s church picnic the first year,” said Tom Merrill, Baton Rouge Pride Fest Chair. He noted, however, that in the years since the first event, the number of sponsors has grown considerably.
“[We feel] that the most important concept of Pride Fest is…a sense of community. It’s the kind of event that everyone should feel comfortable at – something that people can bring their kids, parents, and grandparents to…something that everyone [is] welcome to come to and celebrate.”
Beyond this, MCC is also heavily involved with social activism, and – in a lesson that other churches could stand to learn – profess that they are “working to talk less and do more.” This includes, but is not limited to, working to feed the homeless through a local public food pantry, working with other agencies to help purchase school supplies for children in need, providing food and supplies to local animal shelters, and “adopting” retirees in nearby assisted living facilities.
The event itself will be held this coming Saturday, June 23 at the LSU Union, and, as befits its organizers, is less like the pride events that larger cities may put on—New Orleans, for instance—and is more like a beefed-up church fair.
The event will last about six hours, beginning around noon. Following opening announcements, nonprofit lesbian organization Nu Phi Fraternity, which engages in fund-raising activities for St. Jude Children’s Research Center and the Salvation Army, will perform a step show. This will be followed by a performance by acoustic cover trio Michigan Avenue, which consists of vocalist Lindsey Brou, guitarist Susan Doherty, and self-proclaimed “percussion lady” Amberlee Roaden.
There are multiple other performances planned for the event, including the comedic stylings of entertainer Kevin J. Thorton and music from Daphne MuShatt & Papa’s Groove. The entertainment portion will be interspersed with the dispensation of door prizes, announcements, and recognition of those who have done the most for the advancement and visibility of gay rights in the past year.
The event will also host a resource fair for businesses and non-profits to network and demonstrate their services, and a “Blessing of Relationships” will take place at 2:30 p.m.
For those interested in something a little less like a sociable church picnic with festivities and a little more activism-oriented, Capital City Alliance has organized the state’s first march for equal rights called Equality March – an event that will go down in Louisiana’s history books for sure.
(Flashback: Readers who follow Louisiana politics may recall that they were involved with the promotion of House Bill 407 several months ago. The bill was shelved by its proponent, Representative Pat Smith, according to Bill Barrow of The Times-Picayune, because conservative advocacy by Governor Bobby Jindal and Louisiana Family Forum President Gene Mills “gutted” the intent of the bill. The bill’s delineation of which groups should not be acceptable targets of ridicule – despite the demonstration of the effects of institutional homophobia in the recent suicide of Point Coupee teenager Tesa Middlebrook, whose complaints of bullying were ignored by educators – proved to be an insurmountable obstacle, resulting in that list being stripped from the bill.
The CCA sees this as a demonstration that the rights of LGBTQ individuals in Baton Rouge demand more active involvement by the community.)
The Alliance – a volunteer-run, non-profit organization – functions with a mission to improve the quality of life for the LGBT people and [their] allies in greater Baton Rouge through education, communication, advocacy, and community building.” One way they intend to carry out their mission is by implementing an annual Equality March in Louisiana.
“I can’t tell you how excited we…are about the upcoming march,” said CCA Board Chair Elaine Maccio. “Almost every other state in the nation…has some kind of march or parade to celebrate pride month and mark their progress and accomplishments. Although New Orleans may already have a local event, Louisiana needs this to happen. Its our time.”
The CCA takes pride (no pun intended) in its threefold purpose of Saturday’s event, which is 1) to draw attention to the inequalities experienced by LGBT people in Louisiana with regard to employment, housing, and relationship recognition, and to the verbal, physical, and sexual harassment and assault perpetrated against this population; 2) to make visible an invisible population – one that is often overlooked and disadvantaged in Louisiana legislation; and 3) to raise awareness among Louisiana residents – both within the LGBT community and outside of it – of the many organizations around the state that are working to support and advance equality for Louisiana’s LGBT citizens.
The event is more than just a Baton Rouge celebration though; it truly is a statewide activity. Individuals, organizations, and businesses from around the state will be represented at the march and, according to Maccio, the Alliance is grateful to have already received a steady influx of donations from across the region.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled,” she said. “The outpouring of support has been just wonderful.”
The Equality March will begin at 9 a.m. on North Boulevard, east of the street’s intersection with Fourth Street; from there, it will proceed to the State Capitol for a rally, which will take place at 10 a.m. The rally is scheduled to end at 11 a.m., allowing plenty of time for those involved to disperse and reconvene at the LSU Union right in time for the BR Pride event.
Those interested in donating to either event can do so easily online at the websites listed above.
Events for Saturday, June 23
9:00 a.m.: Meet at North Blvd and Fourth St.
10:00 a.m.: Rally at State Capitol
Elaine Maccio, CCA Board Chair
Rev. Steve Crump, Unitarian Church of BR
Tom Merrill, BR Pride Fest Chair
Stephen Handwerk, Equality Louisiana State University
Arlanda Williams, Terrebone Parish Council Chairwoman
Gay Pride Fest, LSU Student Union, Second Floor
12 p.m.: Announcements
12:15 p.m.: Nu Phi Fraternity Step Show
12:30 p.m.: Musical Performance, Michigan Avenue
1:45 p.m.: Comedy/Variety Performance, Kevin Horton
2:30 p.m.: Blessing of Relationships
3:15 p.m.: Krewe of Divas
4:30 p.m.: Music from Daphne MuShatt & Papa’s Groove (with guest Kay Lindsey)
Drop us a line: Editor@DigBatonRouge.com.