The Metro Council is set to discuss protections for LGBTQ people on Wednesday — an issue that surfaces periodically — but the watered-down resolution on the council’s agenda satisfied no one and the sponsors now say they intend to delete it.
The discrimination resolution, sponsored by Councilman Matt Watson and Councilwoman Barbara Freiberg, had already been advertised on the council’s agenda so a public hearing will still have to take place. But both now say they won’t push for it given opposition from both sides on the issue of protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination.
Gay rights advocates criticized the resolution for not expanding anti-discriminatory protections to LGBTQ individuals, while conservatives who think it will impede on religious freedom also blasted it.
Watson in a prepared statement said he authored the resolution to inform the public of current laws against discrimination.
He said he wanted to explain the varied legal landscape surrounding discrimination cases, identifying three cases the U.S. Supreme Court will deliberate on this fall to determine if protections should be extended to individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
"My resolution did not go far enough for the left and was not exact enough in its language for the right," Watson said. "My resolution was an ask for reasonable patience in an effort to avoid further division in our community as we wait for the highest court in the land to determine the path forward for the entire nation."
The resolution would have positioned the Metro Council to revisit the topic after the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on the cases Watson references in the resolution.
Recognizing that his resolution might have only his support and that of Freiberg, Watson said "rather than have it fail, I will move to delete."
The resolution falls far short of the provisions in a "fairness ordinance" pursued by a local nonprofit group that has repeatedly failed to muster the support of a majority on the council. That ordinance would add LGBTQ people into the class of individuals protected from discrimination in the city-parish in housing, employment and public accommodations.
A local “fairness ordinance” that seeks to bar discrimination against anyone in housing, employment and public accommodations based on sexuali…
"I think that's probably where we need to be, but I don't know if we could get the votes on the council," Freiberg said.
Watson said he couldn't support the measure offered by the Progressive Social Network, the Baton Rouge group spearheading the renewed effort for LGBTQ protections, because it was constantly changing and he had not been given a final version to consider.
Officials with the organization said Friday they now have a draft they hope to introduce for a vote "as soon as possible."
In its statement the Progressive Social Network called the resolution from Watson and Freiberg "a distraction" that doesn't make any real progress on the issues affecting the LGBTQ community locally.
"The people of Baton Rouge are not asking for a resolution. They are asking for an ordinance that provides protections against discrimination for all citizens," the statement reads. "We urge the Metro Council to act without delay to pass actual explicit protections in East Baton Rouge Parish."
PSN organizers have previously said their proposed ordinance would not only expand protections to LGBTQ people, but would also create a commission to review, investigate and mediate claims of discrimination in the parish. New Orleans and Shreveport have similar commissions.
Four of the Democrats on the Metro Council have previously come out in support of PSN's proposal. In addition to Freiberg, fellow council Republican Chandler Loupe also said he would back the measure if it is presented.
Early opposition has come from Councilwomen Tara Wicker, a Democrat, and Denise Amoroso, as well as Councilmen Dwight Hudson and Scott Wilson.
Since their resolution hit the agenda, Freiberg said, council members have been inundated with emails from conservatives throughout the state.
The councilwoman said she had received approximately 175 emails as of Thursday, all urging the Metro Council to vote no on what opponents referred to as "introducing sexual orientation and transgender-ism into Baton Rouge public policy.”
Freiberg said objectors feel the resolution lays the groundwork for special status to be granted to nontraditional lifestyles that will impede the religious freedoms of those who disagree.
"It’s just misinformation. We’re not changing anything," she said. "This is just an affirmation of what exists and a way for people who feel they’ve been discriminated against to once again remind them of what they recourse is and where they can go in the state to get some recourse."