By Nick BeJeaux
Valentine’s Day marks our annual day of romance, of celebrating relationships, marriages, and Hallmark greeting cards. Amongst all the chocolates and flowers, it can be easy to forget the hundreds of couples here in Louisiana who cannot openly express their affections without risking glares or whispers.
The fight for acceptance and equal treatment for the LGBT community is picking up steam in Louisiana yet again as its neighbors (Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas) either adopt marriage equality legislation or have their bans on same-sex marriage overturned. As of press time, Louisiana is one of eight states in the union that maintains an outright ban on same-sex marriage. Currently, the decision to overturn or maintain the Bayou State’s ban is tangled up in the Supreme Court hearings with both sides chomping at the bit for a decision. But here in Louisiana, there’s a different kind of argument going on: the one for public opinion.
Equality Louisiana and Capital City Alliance have launched their new Louisiana Loves campaign, which aims to highlight 50 LGBT couples across LA to show that their love is as “normal” as any heterosexual couple’s and personalize the marriage equality movement. Louisiana Loves will tell these stories with photo shoots, video interviews, and a commemorative book in celebration of a day in which Louisiana achieves marriage equality.
CCA President Kayla Mulford said that Louisiana Loves’ launch coinciding with Valentine’s Day is just that – a coincidence. In fact, the timing of the campaign was planned in respect to the Supreme Court’s ruling on the matter, which is expected this summer.
“It’s something that we’ve been playing with for a year or year and a half, and we just decided to go forward with it, especially with the upcoming decision in June,” Mulford said. “We want to connect with as many couples as possible before that time.”
Mulford said that this campaign will not be used for political lobbying and instead will help record Louisiana’s history with the struggle for social equality, which she feels is more important.
“This will actually be more of a commemorative social engagement campaign,” she said. “We’re hoping that marriage equality is recognized in June and that the book that we plan on making will be a tangible piece of history so that people will remember where they were when these huge events were happening.”
“We want this to have a positive impact on the LGBT community here in Louisiana. They’ve been ignored for so long that we think it’s time to put a face to them and celebrate these loving, committed relationships.”
But even if Louisiana adopts marriage equality this summer, EQLA event organizer Rachel Berard fears that discrimination will continue. If the court rules solely on the fundamental right to marry rather than equal protection under the law, that very well could happen.
“Even if the Supreme Court goes the way we want and people are allowed to marry, they can still be fired just for being LGBT, they can be denied housing,” she said. “We’re trying to combat that by bringing bills to the legislature this year, like an employment non-discrimination act, which will make it impossible to legally fire someone just for being gay or trans.”
Within 24 hours of the campaign’s Facebook page launch, 22 couples had signed up to be a part of the program.
One of those couples is Joshua Seals and Vincent Anthony Fusilier Jr. The pair have been in a committed relationship for almost three and a half years and together raise four dogs in their hometown of Houma. They decided together to join the campaign to show that life in Louisiana for a same-sex couple is not easy.
“The thing that really drew us in is making a difference,” said Fusilier. “Going through our normal everyday life is hard because we don’t get the same benefits or respect as anyone else. I feel wronged in a way because there are some things we pay more for and some things we’re not even included in because of our sexual orientation.”
But, as Seals was quick to point out (and with no small amount of sarcasm), a big part of being seen as different is not just because of their sexual orientation but also the colors of their skin.
“Being an interracial gay couple in Houma is fun,” he said. “Rocks through windows, kids throwing rocks at our cars screaming ‘fag’ – I’m used to getting funny looks because of my personality, but I shouldn’t be getting them because of whom I’m with. I didn’t earn those. There’s a lot of discrimination in Houma though; even hetero black couples catch looks when they walk down the street.”
But, despite what others see as different, Fusilier and Seals do things that regular couples do. They argue. They have nights where all they want to do is get takeout and watch Netflix. They go to church together. But that isn’t enough.
“I want to take my partner by the hand and say, ‘Yes, I will marry you; I do take you to be all that you entail.’ I want to have that choice,” said Fusilier.
“And I’ll think about it,” said Seals.