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Updated bans on driving through flooded streets, Drew Brees on his involvement with 'Focus on the Family,' progress on the Louisiana civil rights trail, and a new empowerment and policy conference. Here's what you need to know in New Orleans this week. 

Brees: 'There's been a lot of negativity spread about me and the LGBTQ community lately'

Over Labor Day weekend, the website Big Easy Magazine published an article noting that New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees has long been allied with Focus on the Family, a Christian group that supports, among other things, conversion therapy for gays and lesbians. It also opposes same-sex marriage and allowing LGBT people to adopt.

The subject came to a head when Focus on the Family distributed a video with Brees endorsing "Bring Your Bible to School Day," a project of Focus on the Family.

Since then, the topic simmered on New Orleans and sports-related social media, with some expressing surprise and disappointment, while others said Brees' religious and political beliefs have been well-known throughout his career in New Orleans. Some said Brees was entitled to his religious and personal beliefs, while others were confused, given Brees' well-known friendship with talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, and his filming a 2010 PSA for the "It Gets Better" campaign, which assures bullied LGBT kids that life can improve.

On Sept. 5, Brees released an Instagram video addressing the controversy. "Hello, everyone," Brees began. "There's been a lot of negativity spread about me and the LGBTQ community recently based upon an article that someone wrote with a very negative headline that led people to believe that somehow I was aligned with an organization that was anti-LGBTQ. ... I'd like to set the record straight. I live by two very simple Christian fundamentals, and that is: Love the Lord with all your heart, mind and soul, and: Love your neighbor as yourself."

Brees spoke a bit more before the video cut off abruptly, but nowhere in it did he address the specifics of his relationship to Focus on the Family.

At a Saints press scrum later in the day, a visibly rattled Brees told the media, “I was not aware of any of the things they said about [Focus] lobbying for anti-gay, any type of messaging, or inequality, or any type of hate-related stuff.”

Brees has come under criticism before for his support of the sandwich chain Jimmy John’s, for which he owns several franchises. The company’s founder and chairman, Jimmy John Liautaud, is a former big-game hunter who posed with photos of endangered animals, including elephants, leopards and rhinos, that he’s killed. — KEVIN ALLMAN

Nungesser: We’re making progress on a Louisiana Civil Rights Trail

After several public meetings across the state earlier this year, the Louisiana Office of Tourism continues to seek feedback from residents about what should be included in a future Louisiana Civil Rights Trail. Coordinators hope the trail will be interactive and eventually will include the state’s first civil rights museum.

Residents can go online to submit suggested sites, events or people they think should be part of the trail as well as share stories or experiences they feel had a “significant impact” on the state’s civil rights movement. A team of professors, pastors, civil rights activists and others will determine which sites should be included.

Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, head of the state tourism office, told Gambit last week his office is considering putting markers along the trail that have Quick Response (QR) codes tourists and residents can scan with their phones to pull up a video of a historian, civic leader or resident telling a story related to each site.

“The passion, the pain, the memories — no plaque and no schoolhouse can tell the story like the people that have the memories, so we're hoping that we can get those interviews,” Nungesser said. “We're losing people every day that are passing away with great memories.”

The videos also would be available on the website, so people unable to physically visit the trail will have an opportunity to learn about civil rights events and leaders in the state — stories they might not have learned in school.

“I grew up here in Louisiana, and I've learned more about civil rights through these meetings and people that know the stories,” Nungesser said. “They didn't teach it in school.”

There have been 15 meetings across the state since April to gather feedback about what should be included in the trail. Online submissions are another part of the feedback process. “It’s very emotionally charged for a lot of people, so we want to make sure that everyone has a voice,” said Betsy Barnes, Nungesser’s director of public affairs.

While there are African-American museums in Louisiana, the state has yet to open a civil rights museum, which activists have advocated for more than a decade. Nungesser said he has pledged to the Louisiana Civil Rights Museum Advisory Board that the museum will finally become a reality.

Nungesser said the board is looking at buildings in New Orleans that could house a future civil rights museum, including one at 420 Julia St. that housed the Louisiana Children’s Museum for three decades before its recent move to City Park.

The state has a fund for a civil rights museum set aside through the Office of Tourism, which Nungesser said currently contains around $700,000. The goal would be to lease a building so some of the money in the fund could be used to install kiosks inside, he said.

After online submissions close on Dec. 6, Nungesser said, the team will “probably take a month of two” to choose which locations to include in the first batch of sites and determine what work needs to be done before they are added to the trail. Then they will begin marketing the trail and developing the website.

Six sites in New Orleans and Baton Rouge already are part of the United States Civil Rights Trail, which runs through 15 states and Washington, D.C.

“I always tell people, we should never try to erase any history, the good and the bad, because if you erase the bad, it has a tendency to repeat itself," Nungesser said. "I think it is so important that this trail tells the story the right way, by the right people, and that's the people that have memories of it.” — KAYLEE POCHE

New Orleans to host first state ‘empowerment and policy conference’

New Orleans will host the state’s first Empowerment and Policy Conference, a two-day event centered on influencing policy decisions to positively impact black Louisiana residents, on Friday, Sept. 27 and Saturday, Sept. 28 at Hyatt Regency New Orleans.

The conference, organized by the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus (LLBC) and the Urban League of Louisiana (ULLA), will feature speeches from Gov. John Bel Edwards, National Urban League president and former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial and CNN political commentators Angela Rye and Bakari Sellers.

On Saturday at 11 a.m., there will be a panel called “Lacing the Boot: Supporting a Whole-State Agenda” that will include five of the state’s black mayors — New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, Alexandria Mayor Jeff Hall, Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo and Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins.

Other sessions will focus on issues such as mental health, racial disparities and diversity within the black community.

Admission tickets for the event are free, but priority tickets, which include access to priority seating, an opening reception and a closing luncheon, are $140. A full schedule for the event can be found at — KAYLEE POCHE

Council adds to existing bans on driving flooded streets

The New Orleans City Council last week added new provisions to existing bans on driving down inundated streets, putting in place rules for an upgraded warning system that will warn drivers away from flooded underpasses.

Under the new rules, drivers still will be prohibited from removing any barricades placed on flooded streets or disobeying any instructions written on those barricades, as has been the case for years. But they will also be barred from driving down streets that are in any other way marked as closed because of flooding.

That change will allow the city to use a new, $650,000 flood-warning system that has been rolled out for 12 flood-prone underpasses. The system uses sensors to detect rising water and will flash warning lights at motorists who attempt to drive through. The system also works in concert with cameras that are linked to the city’s real-time crime center, so that police can monitor the drivers who break the law even when officers aren’t physically at the underpass. Drivers who persist in disobeying the warning signals will be fined $200.

That "allow(s) emergency responders to redeploy flood personnel to other areas during flooding events," said District D Councilman Jared Brossett, who sponsored the ordinance.

The need for an automated system became clear during Hurricane Barry in July, when the New Orleans Police Department's entire 3rd District was put to work manning underpasses in an area that covers Lakeview, Gentilly and West End, Police Chief Shaun Ferguson said.

"We think this ordinance would give us the ability to enforce any violations," Ferguson said, adding that the potential fines of up to $200 was "definitely not a money grab."

Drivers will have the chance to get close enough to a flooded underpass to see the warning sign before their actions are recorded, New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Director Collin Arnold said. He added that the system's lights begin to flash when water is 4 inches deep, and that they will continue to flash until the waters recede. 

The system has been activated at least once this year, after flooding on Aug. 26.

The longstanding rule that drivers may not drive faster than 5 miles per hour down waterlogged roads, or create wakes that damage people's property, would still apply under the council's revisions.

The changes were approved unanimously.

"It's simple common sense: if the street is flooded, please pull over," said District B Councilman Jay Banks. "When you drive down flooded streets, you multiply the damage exponentially. Hopefully, this will save some lives." — JESSICA WILLIAMS | THE NEW ORLEANS ADVOCATE

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