One of the classic stories at my old paper concerned the visitor who, seeking a reporter by that name, asked, “Which one is Gay?”
Looking around, the editor on duty said, “Take your pick.”
The makeup of the staff certainly proved that sexual orientation had not been a factor in hiring.
Of workplace discrimination there was no sign either; with that many gay people around, it would have taken some organizing anyway.
But that was in liberal old New Orleans, and experience elsewhere was much different. Indeed, it still is, so, once again, the call goes up for legislation to give Louisiana gay people an even break. Justice may demand it, but it isn’t going to happen. It is a law of nature that bills protecting what we must nowadays call the LGBT community die in committee.
Gene Mills, head of the Louisiana Family Forum, is always on hand to give legislators their instructions and lead the way to put the kibosh on any push for equal rights. Treating gays like other citizens would evidently displease the Lord as much as telling biology teachers that Genesis is not an approved textbook.
Gay rights is not an issue in any debate between the gubernatorial candidates, U.S. Sen. David Vitter and state Rep. John Bel Edwards, and, when the Legislature next convenes, all eyes will be on the budget and tax reform. The Williams Institute at UCLA, the latest to take up for Louisiana’s gays, is no doubt crying in the wilderness. Still, its conclusions are not to be denied.
Although only 4 percent of Americans place themselves in the LGBT camp, that translates into some pretty big numbers. Louisiana, according to UCLA, has 117,000 gay adults, 88,400 of them in the workforce. Most of us surely have acquaintances or relations who would be covered if a state law were enacted protecting gays from employment discrimination.
There are places in Louisiana where gay people are supposed to have the same right to make a living as the rest of us. New Orleans, of course, has an ordinance to that effect, but the only other city similarly enlightened is Shreveport. Together, New Orleans and Shreveport contain 13 percent of the state workforce.
A few other local governments prohibit discrimination against their own employees, and several corporations and universities do the same. According to UCLA, businesses do not necessarily adopt such policies out of altruism, for they have been shown to aid “recruitment and retention of talented employees” as well as “increasing employee productivity and customer satisfaction, and attracting a larger customer base.”
Maybe, if word gets around that doing the decent thing might be worth a few bucks, the idea will spread.
Right now, though, being gay in Louisiana can be enough to put you out of a job, or stop you from getting one in the first place, as the Williams Institute demonstrates with several examples. One is the Waffle House employee who alleged wrongful dismissal and filed a federal lawsuit in 2010 only to lose on grounds that the Civil Rights Act, though it bans sex discrimination, is silent on the gay issue.
The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, in light of subsequent jurisprudence, now says on its website that the Civil Right Act is “interpreted” as banning discrimination “on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” so a similarly placed plaintiff might fare better today. Still, by no means every victim of discrimination can find the time and money for a federal court action.
The easiest way to provide some recourse would clearly be to expand Louisiana’s law against employment discrimination to include sexual orientation, so that complaints could be investigated by the state Human Rights Commission.
The Family Forum and its lackeys in Baton Rouge appear to be out of step with public opinion here; the Williams Institute polls show 74 percent of Louisiana respondents in favor of laws to “prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
One day, when someone asks, “Which one is gay?” the automatic answer will be, “Who cares?”
James Gill’s email address is email@example.com.