Dig Baton Rouge

Reclaiming Equality

Baton Rouge native Alvin Temple loves to party. And being from the Capital City, what better way is there to party than going to the Spanish Town Mardi Gras parade? Temple’s attended every year for 14 years, but this time around he said he’s not likely to be there. Why the sudden change of heart? It’s all related to this year’s parade theme “Flamingo Dynasty” — it’s got some annual parade-goers up in arms and not in the “throw me something mister” kind of way.

Some of the city’s progressive members are upset with the theme as they said it could be potentially harmful to the headway their efforts have been making in Baton Rouge.

Conjured in regards to the popular television series “Duck Dynasty,” the “Flamingo Dynasty” theme was revealed shortly after the namesake show’s patriarch Phil Robertson made comments in GQ magazine about race and homosexuality. His comments caused controversy and his temporary suspension from the show. So this is where people like Temple come in wanting to know why something that caused such a stir has a place in a fun-loving Mardi Gras parade?

“While I love the Spanish Town Parade and the krewe, I think it was insensitive to those who were affected by the scathing things that Mr. Phil [Robertson] said,” Temple said. “Even if they are doing it, sort of ‘tongue-in-cheek’ I just felt it is way too soon.”

Since Temple isn’t alone in his feelings, Baton Rouge Progressive Network Chair Rebecca Marchiafava spearheaded the campaign #LouisianaLoves. The campaign is designed to combat the potential harmfulness of the parade’s theme by showing how progressive this state is in regards to interracial and queer love as opposed to what the rest of the country may understand it to be through the popularity of shows like “Duck Dynasty.”

Marchiafava is a Baton Rouge native and has lived in the Spanish Town neighborhood for many years. This will be her fifth year dancing in the parade with The Prancing Babycakes. She said she wants to be clear that she is not against the parade nor is she affiliated with the SPLL, its organizing committee.

“We are uncertain whether the intent for choosing the theme was to challenge or glorify the bigoted views propagated late last year by Phil Robertson,” Marchiafava said. “In talking with friends, some were upset about the chosen theme while others were excited at the idea of ‘super gaying up’ “Duck Dynasty”. Rather than continuing to question the intent, some friends and I decided that in keeping with Spanish Town’s queer, bohemian history and Louisiana’s tradition of using creative celebration to unite diverse communities and give voice to marginalized groups, we should use the selected theme to create our own meaning and positive impact.”

And so was born the collective aptly named Flamingo Dynasty as a means of promoting queer love and solidarity in an effort to outshine the blind bigotry that Marchiafava said gets too much press in Louisiana.

To participate in the campaign, Louisianans are asked to take photos of queer love and solidarity — whatever that may look like to them — and share on social media using the #Louisianaloves hashtag during this Carnival season.

Simple enough, but not everyone who considers themselves progressive is on board. While she doesn’t disagree with the campaign, Baton Rouge resident Mimie Laurant said she thinks the theme of this year’s parade is satirical and more about poking fun and how ridiculous the show can be.

“With any great party, there is always a party pooper so I won’t be surprised if someone takes it too far,” Laurant said. “I don’t think it will hinder progress if one or two people take the negative route. The City Council has a bigger impact on this city than a Mardi Gras parade. Some years, Spanish Town might as well be a pride parade.”

But the conflicting views of the community are why Marchiafava said the collective took great care in its planning for the #LouisianaLoves campaign.

“We met with representatives of local LGBT organization Capital City Alliance and statewide LGBT organization Equality Louisiana to discuss and get their input on the campaign,” Marchiafava said. “People are already sharing their #Louisianaloves pictures and we’re excited to see where this goes. While we see the Spanish Town parade as the apex of the action, we hope this spreads beyond Baton Rouge to other Mardi Gras celebrations around the state.”

The campaign has gotten off to a great start — Marchiafava said within the first week of its creation its Facebook page received over 400 likes. The operation also has a presence on Tumblr and Instagram.

But photos simply aren’t enough to convince Alvin Temple that this year’s Spanish Town parade will be a safe space.

“Regardless of how you feel spiritually about [Robertson], he hurt a lot of people,” Temple said. “I’m not going to be bamboozled into showing any type of support. And it hurts — it really does. And before someone says I’m being too sensitive, maybe they should think about practicing a little more sensitivity.”

According to Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s 2011 state snapshot, half of Louisiana’s LGBT students are physically harassed and many more are verbally harassed at school due to their sexual orientation and/or gender expression. All of this contributes to and supports the interpersonal violence and abuse committed against LGBT youth, higher rates of attempted suicide among LGBT youth and systemic discrimination against LGBT individuals.

“To make change, we must focus on our numerous assets rather than simply lamenting our deficits,” Marchiafava said. “There are many queer individuals and allies in Louisiana who are hungry for change. There are organizations locally and around the state through which Louisianans are doing incredible work to advance LGBT rights in our state. We face many challenges but change is possible. It starts by recognizing and making visible what is, then by connecting and working for what could be.”

 

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