Thank you, Mitch!

THANKyou_Mitch2Yesterday, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu responded to Governor Bobby Jindal’s discriminatory and desperate executive order by issuing his own executive order.

“With this executive order, I am issuing a clarifying call to the nation that New Orleans is an accepting, inviting city that thrives on its diversity and welcomes people from all walks of life with open arms,” said Mayor Landrieu. “In New Orleans, we believe religious liberty and freedoms should be protected and discrimination prohibited, and we have passed our own laws to reflect that principle. This executive order is an important, symbolic affirmation that discrimination in any form will not be tolerated in New Orleans – and it should not be tolerated anywhere in Louisiana.”

Forum for Equality sincerely thanks the mayor for standing up for LGBT equality and we ask you to do the same. Follow this link to send Mayor Landrieu your thanks for standing up to the Governor and leading the cities of Louisiana toward greater protections against discrimination.

Every year we grow in allies and numbers. The bipartisan victory in the Civil Law and Procedure committee against House Bill 707 and the willingness of leaders like Mayor Landrieu to stand up for equality for ALL Louisianans is a major step forward in the battle against bigotry.

With Equality,

Mary Griggs
Chair, Forum for Equality Louisiana

P.S. You can make an even bigger investment in our year-round work with a monthly donation of $10, $15, $25 or more today.

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GiveOUT and Stand Up for Louisiana Equal Rights

11220885_1586888811598582_5410102100642377534_nToday, millions of Americans will GiveOUT by donating to civil rights organizations across the nation to lend support in the fight for equal rights. As we work to make history in the state of Louisiana, it’s important to remember that true equality begins at home.

And by making a donation of $10 or more, you will make a direct impact by supporting local advocacy work in cities and parishes across the state, defending and expanding LGBT rights in the State Legislature, and educating schools, businesses, and communities on the importance of inclusion and acceptance.

Maximize your impact! Spread the word by joining us on Facebook, tweeting us @FFELouisiana, forwarding this email to your friends and remember to tell them why it’s important to you that equality begin at home! You can throw some hashtags in there too: #GiveOUTDay #BeFairLouisiana #ForumforEquality!

It is because of your support that Forum for Equality has been able to advocate for the LGBT community for over 26 years. Will you stand with Forum for Equality and GiveOUT to help us continue fighting the good fight?

Yours in Equality,

Executive Director

P.S. And because we believe in the importance of giving back to those who give to us, one lucky GiveOUT Day donor will win a pair of tickets to the Acclaim Awards: Forum for Equality’s Gala this Fall! So don’t delay, make your donation now!

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This Counts As A Victory

Forum For Equality:

Blog post from Forum for Equality Louisiana Chair, Mary Griggs:

Originally posted on Mary Griggs:

Nike of Samothrace by Peter Max Nike of Samothrace by Peter Max

Since the beginning of the Louisiana legislative session in April, I’ve been working in a coalition to defeat the badly named “Marriage and Conscience Act.”

House Bill 707 was a brazen attempt to insert religious beliefs and moral objections into Louisiana law in such a way as to enshrine discrimination against same-sex couples.

House Bill 707 consumed the efforts of Louisiana’s LGBTQ community (Forum For EqualityHRC LA, EQLA), progressive organizations (Louisiana ProgressACLU LA) as well as many in the business (GNO Inc, DOW, IBM, EA Sports, etc), tourism (NOCVB) and faith communities. In fact, Forum for Equality ended up voluntarily deferring our own anti-discrimination bill (HB 612 – Louisiana Non-discrimination Act) and Equality Louisiana did the same for their ENDA bill (HB 632) in order…

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Time to Thank our Legislators

thank youThank you for your help in defeating HB 707 in the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee yesterday. Business leaders came to the table along with faith leaders, coalition partners, and everyday citizens, and their voices were heard loud and clear. Voting 10-2 to effectively kill it, the committee dealt those in opposition to equality their worst defeat in over a decade.

On many occasions in the past, the Legislature would not act to strengthen LGBT rights, which required progressive Governors to sign executive orders banning discrimination. For a little more fun history: the executive order banning discrimination against gay and lesbian state employees was one of the first executive orders Governor Jindal rescinded upon assuming his office. Back then, these moves were decried as an end run around the will of the people.

Yet after the defeat of one of his top legislative priorities yesterday, Governor Jindal announced he would sign an Executive Order which would effectively enact the Marriage and Conscience Act by fiat, and Gene Mills and the Louisiana Family Forum practically tripped over themselves to praise his move. Apparently for Governor Jindal and the Louisiana Family Forum what’s bad for the goose is good for the gander.

We are currently studying the language of the executive order. But in the meantime, please do me one favor: take two minutes and click here to thank the members of the Civil Law and Procedure Committee for standing up to Governor Jindal and voting with their conscience, seeking to move Louisiana forward, not backward. Each of the committee members voting to send the bill back to the calendar demonstrated real courage and conviction, words which are unfortunately not often associated with politicians in today’s age. They stood tall with us, and they did not make these decisions lightly. Please, send them a thank you today.

Yours in Equality,

Chris Otten
Chair-Elect, Forum for Equality Louisiana

PS – Governor Jindal’s actions make it clear that our fight is far from over! Won’t you invest in equality today?

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NOCVB Statement on HB 707 Defeat in Committee

NOCVB on HB 707 defeatIn Louisiana this legislative session, a new freshman legislator, Rep Mike Johnson (R) of Shreveport proposed a new twist on religious freedom laws that have been in the news recently around the nation. Unlike expansive laws proposed and passed, then revisited, in Indiana and Arkansas due to the public and business outcry, the Louisiana law proposed was very narrow. The law would have prohibited the state from taking four specifically delineated actions such as revocation of business licenses or revocation of tax standing against individuals or businesses who take certain actions considered in compliance with their religious beliefs solely as related to same sex marriage, whether for or against such marriages. Rep. Johnson also proposed amendments that would have specifically prohibited discrimination in the marketplace in the legislation.

The Louisiana Tea Party, and various social conservative and religious groups supported Rep. Johnson, who for seventeen years has litigated religious freedom issues for social conservative organizations and causes. Other religious organizations, pastors and ministers, members of the LGBT community and civil and human rights organizations opposed the bill. Many major business, economic development and tourism marketing organizations also opposed the bill on multiple grounds, including potential negative impacts to the Louisiana brand, industrial recruitment, and the multi-billion dollar meeting and convention business in New Orleans. The impact of the bill was potentially relatively minor, but opposing organizations believed it created a slippery slope toward potential discrimination.

After careful deliberation today, the House Civil Law and Procedure committee voted overwhelmingly in bipartisan fashion across party lines 10 – 2 to return HB 707 – The Marriage and Conscience Act, to the calendar, meaning the bill would not advance past the first step in the legislative process, the committee hearing, to the House Floor for debate. The bill that was discussed and voted down in committee today sought to address an issue that does not exist in our state – persecution of business owners by the state when practicing religious freedom. In fact, there is not one case pending in Louisiana of discrimination on the basis of views held on same-sex marriage…..a strong statement on the openness, hospitality, and commitment to equality of all Louisiana businesses.

Many conversations were overheard in the hallways of the Capitol today that the measure was filed to generate additional fundraising capacity for social conservative organizations and their political base, as well as a preventative reaction to the potential establishment by the U.S. Supreme Court in June of same-sex marriage validity as the law of the United States on equal rights grounds. Social conservatives around the nation are exploring various ways to temper that anticipated ruling, although it was unclear from the hearing today how a proposed state statutory action could mitigate or in any manner override a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in any matter.

Since the resounding legislative defeat shortly after noon today, Governor Bobby Jindal, who formed a presidential exploratory committee this week and has positioned himself as a national leader on religious freedom matters, has announced plans to issue an Executive Order that would mirror some of the narrow intent of HB 707 as related to state actions. We perceive this as largely a political statement by our conservative governor in support of his national position on the issue. That is certainly his right. The issuance of this Executive Order will have very little practical impact, however, since under the Louisiana Constitution and statutes, and according to on-point court decisions as recently as December of 2014, no Executive Order of a governor may create substantive law, even in an emergency situation. Thus, any belief that the Executive Order could enact law similar to that proposed by Rep. Johnson is simply unfounded and would not survive a court test. Furthermore, there are no current cases of such discrimination pending in Louisiana, something of which the Louisiana business community may be proud.

We respect the political and personal religious views of Rep. Johnson and Governor Jindal. But, we have heard extensively from corporate and association customers valued at hundreds of millions of dollars to Louisiana and its citizens, that they want to see issues similar to those that exploded in Indiana and Arkansas handled in sensitive, tolerant ways, even though this legislation and the governor’s Executive Order are far narrower and less impactful. Our industry remains committed to total tolerance and inclusiveness in the free marketplace and such is demanded by our customers nationally and internationally. We are opposed to all legislation that could negatively impact our state’s economy and our reputation as an international and national leader in economic development, digital media, tourism, meetings, conventions and special events.

The multi-billion dollar New Orleans tourism industry made its case in committee today and 10 out of 12 legislators agreed with our position that this bill is bad business for Louisiana. We are grateful for the wisdom of the members for the House of Civil Law and Procedure Committee, and proud that the true spirit of hospitality prevailed in today’s overwhelming decision against this proposed bill.

The New Orleans tourism industry, along with other business sectors and leaders, intend to review the Governor’s executive order extensively this evening, but are certain that, based on our Louisiana Constitution and recent court rulings, the enactment of any substantive law changes unilaterally by the governor will not stand the tests of time or law.

We will continue to promote and market New Orleans and Louisiana as destinations for the world’s greatest vacations, conventions and meetings, and special events and as sites for economic growth and expansion that offer the ultimate in inclusiveness, tolerance, and acceptance.

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More Testimony Before the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee

Father William Barnwell, recently retired from Trinity and is a volunteer with Kairos Prison Ministry International and serves as Episcopal pastor at Angola. He spoke eloquently against House Bill 707:

wm barnwell before committeeAs an Episcopal clergyman and one who believes strongly in religious liberty, I speak to oppose House Bill 707. In recent years, the national Episcopal Church, has moved forward in our strong support of gay and lesbian people. We have given our bishops the authority for our clergy to bless same-sex unions. Those who come to our church to have their marriage blessed must meet the same standards of heterosexuals in marriages– making a lifelong, caring and faithful commitment.

Recently, we have had such blessings in the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana. (The primary function of an Episcopal priest in a marriage, I should say, is to bless the union. Our legal responsibility in a marriage is like that of a notary.)

Our church has come to believe in same-sex unions and marriage and full support of lesbian, gays, bisexual, and transgender persons for many reasons. First, there is a social justice issue. Recognizing same-sex marriages gives the couple legal rights that those in male-female marriages have—like sharing tax, retirement, and insurance benefits.

Second, our national church understands that the center of our faith is the love of Christ—how we give it to one another and how we receive it. That is what we strive for, when we are at our best. In St. Paul’s immortal words: “Faith, hope, and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.” When we in our churches bless faithful, caring same sex unions, we are fulfilling our understanding of the New Testament meaning of love.

Third, in our church, we do not give the same value to all the words in Scripture. Those who hold up the destruction of Sodom in Genesis because of homosexuality may possibly be quoting the Bible correctly. But, in our church we focus on those things in the Bible that bring life and love to the world, not destruction. We pay close attention to what Jesus said and how he acted. Nowhere does he speak against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people or against same sex unions. Instead he welcomes all of us with open arms, those who agree with us and those who disagree with us.

Fourth, and finally, when we look back at history, we see that the various stages of inclusion brought strength to the universal church and strength to the world.

  • It began, as we learn about in the Book of Acts, when Jewish Christians brought Gentiles into the full life of the Church.
  • In our time, we know just how important it has been to bring people of all races not just into our churches but into the leadership of our churches.
  • And we know—at least many Christians know—just how important it has been to bring women into the full leadership of the church. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church is the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts-Schori.

Now, we, as a national church, look forward to bringing lesbian and gay couples not only into the church, but more and more into the leadership of our individual churches and our national church. Blessing same-sex unions is part of our national and local agenda. So it comes as no surprise that the Bishop of Louisiana, Morris Thompson, and many of our church leaders have signed the statement of religious leaders who oppose House Bill 707.

Thank you.

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Testimony Before House Civil Law and Procedure Committee on HB 707

Forum for Equality’s Executive Director spoke today before the Louisiana House Civil Law and Procedure Committee in opposition to House Bill 707. Below are her remarks:

It is our mission to sustain and promote equality on the local and statewide levels.

We represent thousands of people across Louisiana that support the full and lived equality of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

I’ve sat here many times working to expand the protections as well as stop efforts that seek to continue to deny the fair and equitable treatment of the gay and transgender community.

Tolerance is a word that has been abused by the supporters of HB 707. If you preach tolerance then you should support the full equality of the LGBT community. That is tolerance and I hope to one day see them afford that same belief to the gay and transgender community.

I’ve heard many times by the supporters of this bill that it is a shield, not a sword. This could not be further from the truth. Everyday, gay and transgender people are vulnerable to harms that should be basic fundamental rights like being fired or evicted simply for being who we are and who we love.

Those are swords. HB 707 is a sword. It seeks to prohibit the full benefits and dignity to same-sex couples. The key word is prohibit. We are continuing to prohibit full and lived equality. Rep. Johnson himself said that we should all be treated fairly — how can we continue to deny and prohibit protections of the gay and transgender community and say we are being fair to all Louisianans?

We have a state shield for religious freedom, it’s called the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act. HB 707 is only a shield for those with morale objectives who wish to continue to enshrine discrimination against same sex couples into law. Let’s move forward. Let’s show the true spirit of the people of this state. Vote this bill down to make clear that these aren’t Louisiana values.

SarahJane Brady
Executive Director
Forum for Equality
4035 Washington Ave.
New Orleans, LA 70125
office: 504.569.9156

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