Metro council deletes controversial resolution as LGBTQ+ community calls for civil rights ordinance

Metro council deletes controversial resolution as LGBTQ+ community calls for civil rights ordinance
(Source: Associated Press)

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A proposed resolution that sparked criticisms in the community was removed during an East Baton Rouge Metro Council meeting June 26.

The room was full during the Wednesday evening meeting, which included residents calling for an ordinance to expand protections against discrimination for the LGBTQ+ community in Baton Rouge.

After nearly two hours of taking care of previous items on the council’s full agenda, residents spoke out against a proposed resolution that has drawn criticisms from conservative and liberal perspectives.

Council members Matt Watson of District 11 and Barbara Freiberg of District 12 created the legislation in late May to appear on the agenda for the June 26 meeting.

Following the public comment on the document, the council deleted the proposed resolution after Watson moved for its removal.

The reason behind the resolution, according to Watson, was to give a kind of official update on where Louisiana stands on its anti-discrimination laws, and for the council to postpone voting on an ordinance until the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) hears pertinent cases on gender identity and sexual orientation.

In addition, the Republican councilman said he created the resolution after versions of an ordinance with language that would protect individuals in the LGBTQ+ community against potential housing and hiring-related discrimination had recently surfaced.

The Social Progressive Network, a local non-profit, released a final version of its Civil Rights Ordinance Friday, June 21. District 6 Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis is one of the legislation’s co-sponsors, and the ordinance is expected to be on the agenda for the next metro council meeting.

Watson said previously in an interview with WAFB he believes it’s better to wait until the ruling of the three SCOTUS cases that will be heard starting in October of 2019.

However, during Wednesday evening’s council meeting, several residents voiced their opinions, saying the resolution served as a distraction and an insult to the LGBTQ+ community. Baton Rouge resident, Boris Welch, in particular, said the resolution would serve as a way to surrender the council from “its responsibility to its citizens.”

Another resident, Champagne Starr, a transgender woman and advocate in Baton Rouge, spoke in support of an ordinance. In 2015, Starr, formerly known as William Roundtree, worked at the cafe at the downtown courthouse and said previously that building managers denied her use of the women’s bathroom.

During the meeting, Starr told the council some transgender individuals have had to resort to illegal ways of making money, such as prostitution, because they “had no other way to make a living.” She added in the past, she has had trouble finding work because of her gender identity.

While several residents spoke in support of an ordinance that would include protections against discrimination toward LGBTQ+ individuals, others appeared hesitant to support it.

Zachary resident, Georgia O’Neal, said she believes the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” are too broad and could “open the door for many things.” She said she would not want a policy passed if one party’s right would encroach the right of another party.

Previous attempts have been made to pass a similar ordinance in Baton Rouge. In 2014, the metro council rejected the “fairness ordinance” in an 8 to 4 vote. The proposal generated weeks of passionate debate and was supported by prominent business owners in the community.

Based on the Human Rights Campaign Index, Baton Rouge scored 42 out of the maximum 100. This is far below Shreveport’s score of 77 and New Orleans’ score of 97.

On a national scale, the SCOTUS will be hearing three notable cases in October that could set a standard for protections for the LGBTQ+ individuals. These cases include Gerald Lynn Bostock v. Clayton County Georgia (U.S. 17-1618) and Melissa Zarda and William Allen Moore, Jr. v. Altitude Express, Inc. (U.S. 17-1623), which are cases involving sexual orientation, as well as G&G.R. Harris Funderal Homes, Inc. v. EEOC, a case involving gender identity.

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