By Quinn Welsch
The 2015 Louisiana Queer Conference opened up on March 14 at LSU’s E.J. Ourso Business Complex with a bold message to the state’s queer community and its supporters: Work harder.
After being asked to stand up during the conference’s introductory panel, the audience’s 25-and-under crowd stood to the sound of applause, but was promptly quieted.
“None of you are doing enough,” said the director of Louisiana Progress Bruce Parker. “My advice: Do more, be better, and don’t give up.”
While Parker’s statement may sound like a generalization, he pointed to Louisiana’s present ranking among U.S. states in LGBT and gender equality laws.
Louisiana lags behind most states when it comes to LGBT and gender discrimination laws in the U.S. in almost every single aspect, according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a national civil rights organization. The only statewide policy that protects against LGBT discrimination is Louisiana’s hate crime law, according to the organization, though the law does not include discrimination based on gender identity.
So far, only two cities in Louisiana have adopted municipal laws regarding gender and sexual orientation discrimination, New Orleans and Shreveport.
“People in Louisiana and a lot of states think there is this large movement of people doing legislative or advocacy work when the number of people doing that here is just really small,” Parker said. “People need to vote, volunteer for campaigns they think are important and contact legislators about issues that matter.”
With the state’s legislative session less than a month away, the conference brought an open – and sometimes tense – discussion on LGBT issues from Louisianans through discussion panels and workshops during the daylong event. The conference brought up topics facing the LGBT community in Louisiana such as spirituality, HIV, occupation equality and gender discrimination, among many others.
One of the most important things for the LGBT community and its allies to do is communicate and be open with each other, LSU faculty Liam Lair and Catherine Jacquet both said.
“As a trans person, I’ve said stuff that’s offended other trans people. I have to be open to hearing what they are telling me about how I may have hurt them,” Lair said. “Being open to them and being vulnerable is one of the hardest things I think, but it is also one of the most important.”
“We’re all works in progress,” Jacquet said. “You’re going to mess up, it’s just inevitable because things are changing.”
Some of those in attendance were reluctant to discuss marriage equality because they felt it is so long overdue in Louisiana. The movement needs to also focus its efforts on basic human rights for the LGBT community in Louisiana, such as healthcare, jobs and housing, Parker said.
“After marriage equality, the LGBT movement is not going to hinge on the courts,” said Jen Jones, the conference’s keynote speaker. “It’s going to hinge on the voters.”
Jones’ addressed the crowd of mostly young people as the conference came to close. She urged them to connect and communicate in positive ways with churches and faith-based organizations in Louisiana and throughout the South.
“We are already in the most conservative place imaginable surrounded by churches,” Jones said. “We must be transformational, not transactional.”