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Not Done Yet: In a tough year for the South, Louisiana makes strides in LGBT progress

In a year when other Southern states have passed bills criticized across the country as harmful to the LGBT community, Louisiana is making some “huge gains,” said SarahJane Brady, executive director of Forum for Equality.
Mississippi and North Carolina have caused national uproar by passing so-called “bathroom laws,” which would prevent transgender people from using bathrooms for the gender they identify with, as well as allowing discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. The states have taken flak over the laws from businesses such as PayPal and Deutsche Bank, which cancelled planned expansions in North Carolina, and celebrities like singer Bryan Adams, who cancelled a Biloxi concert over Mississippi’s law.
Compared to the rest of the South, and Mississippi and North Carolina in particular, Brady said Louisiana has had a good year for LGBT rights. Gov. John Bel Edwards’ executive order preventing discrimination against sexual orientation or gender identity among state workers and contractors acts as a counterpoint to laws passed in other states, she said.
“This was a campaign promise he made, and now it’s one he has fulfilled,” Brady said.
Brady said it’s important for everyone in the state to see there are pro-LGBT voices in government who are willing to be proactive. Negative voices can get caught in an “echo chamber,” she said, and make Louisiana seem unwelcoming to diversity.
Promoting positive images of LGBT support in Louisiana can help business growth, children, families and those questioning their sexuality or gender identity, Brady said.
“We all gain as a state the more we show what an inclusive and welcoming state we are,” Brady said.
Two bills currently making their way through the legislature would increase the scope of discrimination protection for gender identity and sexual orientation. Brady said while their passage would be another “huge step,” she is happy simply that the bills have already come so far.
Pres. Barack Obama issued a directive last month stating schools that do not allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice will lose federal funding, sparking gripes from some Louisiana conservative politicians and educators. BESE president Jim Garvey called it federal overreach, but ultimately left it up to individual school districts to decide how they wanted to approach the issue.
Brady said Louisiana has done well to not produce a similar bill to North Carolina’s, and said it is a sign of progress that the transgender community is making in the state. She said backlash against that community stems from fear and lack of understanding that Louisiana’s transgender advocates have fought to eliminate.

Facts & Figures
If passed, bills moving through the legislature would add SEXUAL ORIENTATION, GENDER IDENTITY and GENDER EXPRESSION to the list of classes protected by nondiscrimination laws.
(currently includes race, religion, national origin, age, sex, disability)

In April, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed an executive order protecting state workers and contractors from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity

Currently, Louisiana is one of 38 states that does not protect these classes from discrimination

LGBT people are 36% less likely to have health insurance than the population as a whole. Trans people are particularly at risk, being 44% more likely to live without healthcare.

1 in 4 sexually active gay men in Baton Rouge are living with an HIV
diagnosis
, the fifth-highest rate
in the country.

Louisiana has the fourth-highest rate of HIV among sexually active gay men in the United States. Only Mississippi, South Carolina and the District of Columbia are higher.

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