Tonight, PFLAG-New Orleans and Forum For Equality sponsored a celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the passage of the New Orleans Human Rights Ordinance.
Before the Human Rights Ordinance was passed, LGBT citizens were frequently fired from their jobs just for being gay. They were evicted from housing because they were lesbian. They were even refused service in some bars, restaurants, and other public accommodations. Before the 1980s, gay bars were frequently raided by the police and their patrons arrested. New Orleans was a different place then. That’s why this ordinance was AND remains so important.
But success didn’t come about overnight. Similar ordinances had failed in 1984 & 1986. In the late 80’s, passage of this ordinance was the primary political objective of the LGBT community. The political groups at that time were LAGPAC (Louisiana Lesbian and Gay Political Action Caucus) and Forum For Equality, and each of them questioned all candidates for office if they supported the passage of an ordinance. They worked hard for those candidates who supported equality in the 1990 election cycle, including New Orleans’ first openly gay candidate, Larry Bagneris, who ran for city council that year.
Following those elections, LAGPAC and Forum joined together with PFLAG & MAC (the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Lesbian and Gay Issues) to form a coordinating committee to work on the ordinance. MAC & LAGPAC had begun a survey of the LGBT community in order to document discrimination. This and other research resulted in a report called “Exposing Hatred” which was released in 1991.
Meanwhile Forum For Equality was working on building greater acceptance of the LGBT community through advertising, and produced a number of ads, including the “Can You Really Tell Who is Gay?” ad that appeared in newspapers and on streetcars in December 1990. The host for tonight’s event, Arthur Roger, was the one who came up with the concept for that ad! Other paid ads and public service announcements followed throughout 1991 as a way of lessening public resistance to the ordinance.
The coordinating committee met with city council members and their staffers multiple times over many months to seek their support. Petitions were circulated and letters of support were gathered from elected officials and other opinion leaders as well as various organizations. Mayor Sidney Barthelemy was one of many supporting the ordinance.
During the six-hour contentious council meeting, an extensive presentation was made, and then our opponents got their turn to state their arguments. The committee was prepared with “fact sheet” handouts for the council and audience to refute every argument made against the proposal.
We were honored tonight to have seven of the eight members of the coordinating committee with us. The eighth is Sandra Pailet, who passed away a few years ago. Sandra’s efforts were indispensable to the committee’s success and in our community as a whole, and she is greatly missed.
As a small token of our appreciation, PFLAG and Forum presented the committee members with a copy of the photograph that was taken of the committee immediately after the vote. Those members in attendance tonight were:
All of us are grateful to them for this great accomplishment. We thank them for making equality a reality for us in New Orleans.
The final vote was 5-2 in favor. The primary sponsor in the council was Johnny Jackson, Jr., representing District E in New Orleans East. Johnny had also authored the 1986 ordinance that had failed by the same margin, and throughout his career was an advocate and friend of our community.
Lambert Boissiere, the city’s current Constable, served on the council in 1991, representing Council District D. Lambert voted in favor of the ordinance, as expected by the committee given his friendly relationship with our community.
Jim Singleton was the councilman for Council District B in 1991 and later served as councilman at large for eight years. The committee considered Jim to be the council person least likely to vote for the ordinance the day before the hearing. When the votes were cast, however, Jim voted for equality.
The two other yes votes were cast by Councilwoman At Large Dorothy Mae Taylor and Councilman At Large Joe Giarrusso, who both passed away a number of years ago. Both were larger than life political figures in New Orleans and we honor them here tonight.
Dorothy Mae had voted for the 1986 ordinance and was a co-sponsor of the 1991 ordinance. She was a tireless advocate for equality in Louisiana, and our community is indebted to her for her tenacity and dedication.
Joe Giarrusso’s background was as the city’s police chief and he freely admitted to not being very knowledgeable of the LGBT struggle for equality. However, during the hearing he became a champion, challenging the bigotry displayed by our opponents during their opposition. The chief voted with us that day and we are honored that his son Joe, a former New Orleans magistrate, is with us tonight.
Then Mayor, Sidney Barthelemy, also supported us that day, and in many other battles that came later, and we express our gratitude to him.
Also with us tonight was Larry Bagneris, whom Mayor Landrieu asked to speak for him tonight. In addition to his other remarks, Larry introduced the New Orleans LGBT Police Officers who were at the event in uniform, as well LGBT members of City Hall staff.
We are very happy for all the elected officials who joined us as well as the fabulous volunteers. Thanks to Arthur Rogers for hosting the event at his gallery.
We are also pleased that many of the coalition continued the fight for equality and were able to add gender identity and expression to the Human Rights Ordinance in 1997.