Last April, the ACLU of Louisiana held our first LGBT meeting in Lake Charles after a complaint from a local lesbian couple — who had been told by a police officer that it was illegal to be gay — came through our system. Lake Charles is a city of about 70,000 in southwestern Louisiana, about a half hour from the Texas border.
I never know how many people to expect at these meetings, but I was not expecting many people to show up. To my pleasant surprise, almost 20 people attended the first meeting. I mentioned this to one of the attendees, and she was surprised that I was excited, since she thought the attendance was poor. She made a deal with me then and there that she could get 200 people in Lake Charles to show their acceptance for the gay community.
Throughout the following months, working with the Louisiana member of the Equality Federation, we held planning meetings in Lake Charles. After months of planning and many hours of hard work on behalf of our office, the local Equality Federation member and the LGBT Lake Charles Pride Committee, more than 200 people in Lake Charles came to show they care about being activists and care about the gay community. Lake Charles’ first ever gay pride was held on Saturday, September 19th, 2009. Over 1,000 people attended—children, gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transmen and transwomen, drag queens, and straight allies. It was a beautiful moment to witness, and now it’s a part of Louisiana history that cannot be erased.
Our state legislature is often hostile LGBT people. But as our experience in Lake Charles has shown, it is possible to bring communities together to support equality for LGBT people. Holding a pride celebration was a great first step, but now we’ve got our sights set on passing local nondiscrimination laws barring anti-gay discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. While it may seem slow, by working one community at a time will eventually garner the support we need to make statewide progress.
As Education and Outreach Coordinator, I get to do many amazing things with the people of Louisiana. Lake Charles Pride was one of those awesome moments that I realized was bigger than me and bigger than the ACLU. It is a gift in life when we step back to realize that the moment, the time, the space is larger than us—we were part of a movement on that Saturday. Lake Charles Pride is one of those stories that I will tell my grandchildren about, one of those stories that I’ll tell too many times because I know that it was a once in a lifetime experience that I had the privilege to observe.