Louisiana Electorate of Gays And Lesbians

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Louisiana Electorate of Gays And Lesbians
LEGAL logo.gif
Founded 1993
Type Non-Profit
Focus LGBT activism
Area served Louisiana
Method Campaigning, Advocacy, Charity
Revenue Membership dues, fundraisers
Website http://members.aol.com/LEGALinc

Louisiana Electorate of Gays And Lesbians (LEGAL) was a statewide non-profit advocacy organization in Louisiana whose mission was "to end discrimination based on sexual orientation, and to protect the safety of lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals."[1]

Founded in 1993 as a 501(c)(3) organization,[2] the scope of LEGAL's work was educational. LEGAL educated its membership on the effects of legislative issues intrinsic to the gay and lesbian communities, organizing on the local level throughout the state, and advised members of the Louisiana Legislature on these issues. LEGAL's educational, lobbying, and networking efforts over a 4-year period culminated, in 1997, in the passage of the only hate crime law (at the time) in the Deep South inclusive of sexual orientation language[3] and the defeat of an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment.[4]

Structure[edit]

LEGAL's organizational goal was to grow and maintain a presence throughout Louisiana so that its membership was empowered to affect change statewide. Setting up an expansive Statewide Network, a system of Area Coordinators and District Coordinators managed by a Statewide Coordinator, LEGAL drew support and advocates from across Louisiana.[5] LEGAL's network of Coordinators set up local meetings, raised funds, and organized within their area of Louisiana, to support statewide issues, usually communicating with their representatives on proposed legislation.[6]

LEGAL's focus was to address lesbian and gay issues within the three branches of Louisiana's state government. In addition to its work with the legislative branch, LEGAL was also involved in the judicial and executive branches.[7] In the judicial branch, LEGAL brought about numerous challenges to the state’s sodomy laws in a series of class-action lawsuits over a period of more than 10 years.[8] In the executive branch, some of the founders of LEGAL met with Governor Edwin Edwards in 1992 and 1993 to request his support on a number of issues relevant to the gay and lesbian community.[9]

Legislative[edit]

LEGAL deployed Louisiana’s first full-time paid lobbyist devoted solely to gay and lesbian legislative issues, establishing a presence at every session of the Louisiana Legislature from 1993 through 1998.[10]

Throughout the group’s tenure, LEGAL lobbied for several signature pieces of legislation, specifically an Equal Employment bill (based upon sexual orientation),[11][12][13][14][15] which would have outlawed discrimination in the workplace based upon a person's sexual orientation, a Human Rights bill,[16] which would have amended the statue that governs the Louisiana Human Rights Commission to add the term "sexual orientation," legislation to repeal Louisiana's Sodomy Law,[17] and Hate Crimes legislation, which provided for penalty enhancements for crimes motivated by the victim's sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation.[18]

While LEGAL was never able to garner significant legislative support to pass an Equal Employment Bill or a Human Rights Bill, support for its Hate Crimes bill built over the years and it was finally passed in 1997 with "sexual orientation" wording intact. The bill was signed into law by Governor Murphy J. Foster.[19] Louisiana's Hate Crimes law became the first in the Deep South inclusive of "sexual orientation" wording.[20] The push for Hate Crimes legislation was initiated through the gay and lesbian community's organic response to the French Quarter killing of a 22-year-old Gulfport, Mississippi man, Joe Balog, whom his attackers presumed to be gay.[21]

LEGAL issued its LEGAL Voter Guide[22] in 1995, detailing how Louisiana legislators voted on issues affecting gay and lesbian Louisianians.

Although LEGAL’s focus was to actively promote and educate on legislation supportive of the gay and lesbian community, the group also kept a watch for any legislation harmful to the community.

One such bill was Rep. Roy Brun’s “Justifiable Murder of an AIDS-Carrier Bill.”[23] Introduced in 1995, it would have made the killing of an AIDS carrier fall under "justifiable homicide" if someone "had to fight off an attacker that he knew was carrying the deadly virus or even believed that the assailant was infected by the virus." Working with the NO/AIDS Task Force, the members of LEGAL's statewide network, and a number of other organizations, LEGAL assisted in generating enough telephone calls to key legislators that the bill died in committee.

Another such piece of legislation was Sen. Phil Short’s “Anti Gay Marriage Constitutional Amendment,” offered in 1997. This piece of legislation brought about LEGAL’s most serious challenge to date. LEGAL, as a part of a group of other similar-minded organizations, cobbled together just enough opposition towards this bill, as well as towards legislators' fear of the legislation’s possible unintended consequences - a spike in hate crimes - that Short was unable to generate the two-thirds support required to pass it.[24][25][26][27]

Judicial[edit]

By 1994, LEGAL added a judicial component to its civil rights strategy. That year, LEGAL challenged Louisiana's nearly 200-year-old sodomy law through a class-action lawsuit. LEGAL’s attorney, John Rawls, argued at the time that the law violated privacy rights provided to citizens under the state constitution.[28] That year, Judge Carolyn Gill-Jefferson issued an injunction preventing the enforcement of the statute (as it applied to consenting adults in private) until the case could be heard.[29]

In March 1999, Judge Gill-Jefferson ruled in favor of LEGAL, rejecting the state’s arguments that gays and lesbians chose their sexual orientation and that the law serves to promote marriage and procreation. In essence, Judge Gill-Jefferson’s ruling noted that the law violated the state constitution’s privacy guarantee, and she issued a permanent injunction prohibiting prosecution of consensual adult cases.[30][31]

In July 2000, though, the state’s Supreme Court effectively reversed that decision when it decided in a separate case (State v. Smith) that citizens’ privacy rights were not threatened by the sodomy ban. In conjunction, the court asked Judge Gill-Jefferson to revisit her decision.[32][33]

In 2001, Judge Gill-Jefferson reaffirmed her decision and reinforced the injunction sending LEGAL v. State back to the Louisiana Supreme Court.[34][35]

In 2002, a court reversed Judge Gill-Jefferson’s ruling, returning LEGAL v. State to the Louisiana 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to address other issues that were not addressed by the ruling.[36][37][38]

In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a nationwide ban on gay sex when it threw out all sodomy laws.[39] Louisiana’s law, though, remained on the books.

In 2005, LEGAL v. Connick[40] sought to have Louisiana's sodomy law removed from the state’s law books, but the court refused to strike it down.[41]

As late as 2013, Louisiana's sodomy law was still on the books and being enforced. A community policing unit of the East Baton Rouge sheriff's office "had been arresting men who discussed or agreed to meet privately to have consensual sex with undercover officers."[42][43]

Executive[edit]

In early 1992, LEGAL co-founder, John Rawls, met with Gov. Edwin Edwards to request his support by issuing an executive order barring state agencies from discriminating in jobs or services on the basis of sexual orientation.[44]

Then in March of the same year, Edwards issued Executive Order 92-7[45] which, in addition to its primary objective, also prohibited discrimination based upon sexual orientation by the state in awarding contracts and by state contractors in any employment matter.

In 1993, LEGAL representatives met with Edwards to request his support on a number of issues important to the gay and lesbian community. Amongst these was his support for equal employment and hate crimes legislation. While Edwards signaled his support for these issues, he did not include these bills in his package to the legislature that year.[46]

Programs[edit]

LEGAL instituted and facilitated a number of programs directed at addressing the needs of the LGBT community, such as their bi-annual Louisiana Gay and Lesbian Student Groups Conference (LGLSGC), a high-profile Billboard Campaign, an annual Voter Registration drive, and a fledgling Libraries Program[47] that aimed at getting libraries throughout Louisiana to carry lesbian and gay periodicals.

Louisiana Gay and Lesbian Student Groups Conference[edit]

LEGAL was also involved in furthering the goals of Louisiana's gay and lesbian student groups,[48] founding and overseeing the bi-annual Louisiana Gay and Lesbian Student Groups Conference (LGLSGC). Through the LGLSGC, LEGAL engaged students from Louisiana and other southern states by bringing them together for a 3-day conference, offering workshops on a number of timely topics and allowing the students to learn from one another's work.[49] Modeled on the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Creating Change Conference, the LGLSGC proved extremely popular with Louisiana student groups, usually drawing upwards of 150 students at each conference.[50]

Billboard Campaign[edit]

In 1999, in association with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's "Equality Begins at Home" project, LEGAL initiated a billboard campaign focusing on the realities of employment discrimination in Louisiana. With a campaign that alerted the public to the message that "Louisiana Says It's OK to Fire People Because They Are Gay - Is That Fair?", billboards went up in Baton Rouge, Shreveport and Lake Charles. At the last minute, however, the company which owned the billboards themselves, refused to put them up in New Orleans, stating that the signs would "mislead" the people in New Orleans because the city had a Human Rights Ordinance banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.[51]

Founding Leadership[edit]

Brian Hartig, one of LEGAL's co-founders, served as the group's first president, executive director, and full-time registered lobbyist from 1993-1998. Other founders and original board members were attorney John Rawls, who drafted and argued LEGAL's judicial challenges, and Stephen C. Wolf, LEGAL's treasurer.[52]

Final years[edit]

In 1997, with Hartig's departure from the organization imminent, LEGAL's membership voted in a largely new slate of directors, many of whom were also members of the board of the Louisiana Lesbian and Gay Political Action Caucus (LAGPAC), an LGBT political action group.[53] With the two organizations falling under the direction of many of the same leaders, the two groups determined to merge many of their activities. In the process, LEGAL took on less of an active leadership position in the following years.

Throughout these management changes, LEGAL would continue to aggressively focus on its judicial challenges to the state's sodomy law through 2005.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "LEGAL Mission Statement" Accessed October 30, 2013.
  2. ^ "LEGAL Website" Accessed October 30, 2013.
  3. ^ Tully, Carol T. "Serving Diverse Constituencies: Applying the Ecological Perspectives". Accessed October 28, 2013.
  4. ^ "Louisiana Anti-Marriage Bill Defeated a Second Time Without a Single Vote Cast", The Queer Resources Directory. Accessed October 28, 2013.
  5. ^ "Composition of the State Network" Accessed 10 December 2013.
  6. ^ "LEGAL Visits Lake Charles," December 1997, Ambush Magazine, Accessed December 23, 2013.
  7. ^ "LEGAL Website" Accessed October 30, 2013.
  8. ^ "Court Upholds 197-year-old sodomy law," March 29, 2002 The Times-Picayune. Accessed October 28, 2013.
  9. ^ "LEGAL's Efforts in the Executive Branch. Accessed October 30, 2013.
  10. ^ "LEGAL's Efforts in the Legislature". Accessed December 27, 2013.
  11. ^ "LEGAL Legislative Summary 1995" The Queer Resources Directory. Accessed October 28, 2013.
  12. ^ "Gay anti-bias bill gains ground in Senate panel" May 11, 2001 The Baton Rouge Advocate, Accessed December 22, 2013
  13. ^ ["Gay job-rights message hits roadblock," March 12, 1999], The Baton Rouge Advocate,(subscription required), Accessed December 22, 2013.
  14. ^ ["Bill advances to protect gays from job bias," April 23, 1999], The Baton Rouge Advocate, (subscription required), Accessed December 22, 2013.
  15. ^ ["Gay anti-discrimination bill gains ground in Senate panel," May 11, 2001], The Baton Rouge Advocate,(subscription required), Accessed December 22, 2013.
  16. ^ "LEGAL Action Alert - House Bill 2038", The Queer Resources Directory. Accessed October 28, 2013.
  17. ^ ["Senate Revives Proposal to Change Sodomy Law," June 14, 2001], The Baton Rouge Advocate, (subscription required), Accessed December 22, 2013.
  18. ^ "LEGAL Action Alert - Senate Bill 980", The Queer Resources Directory. Accessed October 28, 2013.
  19. ^ Tully, Carol T. "Serving Diverse Constituencies: Applying the Ecological Perspectives" "Serving Diverse Constituencies: Applying the Ecological Perspectives". Accessed October 28, 2013.
  20. ^ "Hate Crimes Bill Out Of Committee With 'Sexual Orientation' Intact," May 1997, Ambush Magazine, Accessed December 23, 2013.
  21. ^ "3 Men Are Charged With Murder In New Orleans Anti-Gay Attack", The New York Times, Accessed 11 December 2013.
  22. ^ "LEGAL Voter's Guide" Project Vote Smart. Accessed October 28, 2013.
  23. ^ "LEGAL Action Alert," April 18, 1995, The Queer Resources Directory. Accessed October 28, 2013.
  24. ^ ["House panel OKs resolution opposing same-sex marriages," June 5, 1996], The Baton Rouge Advocate, (subscription required), Accessed December 22, 2013.
  25. ^ ["Lesbian, gay group criticizes bill prohibiting same-sex marriages," February 20, 1997], The Baton Rouge Advocate, (subscription required), Accessed December 22, 2013.
  26. ^ "LEGAL Issues Statement on Anti-Marriage Bill," February 1997, Ambush Magazine, Accessed December 23, 2013.
  27. ^ "Louisiana Anti-Marriage Bill Defeated a Second Time Without a Single Vote Cast," May 8, 1997, The Queer Resources Directory. Accessed October 28, 2013.
  28. ^ "Image, Identity & Diversity - Episode No. 603, 5th Season - In The Life," Air Date: February 2, 1997, Public Broadcasting Service
  29. ^ Sears, Brad. “Louisiana – Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Documentation of Discrimination,” September 2009. Accessed October 28, 2013.
  30. ^ “Louisiana Sodomy Law Ruled Unconstitutional,” March 8, 1999, The New York Times, Accessed October 28, 2013.
  31. ^ "Trial is Testing Louisiana's Sodomy Law," October 31, 1998, The New York Times, Accessed October 31, 2013.
  32. ^ Sears, Brad. “Louisiana – Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Documentation of Discrimination,” September 2009. Accessed October 28, 2013.
  33. ^ "Can Gays Have Sex in Louisiana?", January 9, 2001, CBS News, Accessed November 4, 2013.
  34. ^ Sears, Brad. “Louisiana – Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Documentation of Discrimination,” September 2009. Accessed October 28, 2013.
  35. ^ "Between Two Spheres: Comparing State and Federal Approaches to the Right to Privacy and Prohibitions Against Sodomy," December 11, 2001, Yale Law Journal, Accessed December 24, 2013
  36. ^ Sears, Brad. “Louisiana – Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Documentation of Discrimination,” September 2009. Accessed October 28, 2013.
  37. ^ "Louisiana sodomy law challenge gets under way," September 5, 2002, The Advocate, Accessed 11 December 2013.
  38. ^ Elizabeth Bernstein & Laurie Schaffner "Regulating Sex: The Politics of Intimacy and Identity," 2005, Accessed December 23, 2013.
  39. ^ "Supreme Court Strikes Down Texas Law Banning Sodomy" June 26, 2003, The New York Times, Accessed October 28, 2013.
  40. ^ “Louisiana Electorate of Gays And Lesbians, Inc. v. Connick,” April 26, 2005 Accessed October 28, 2013.
  41. ^ Sex with animals law: Court Rejects Gay-Lesbian Group’s Appeal. April 28, 2005, KATC-3 Acadiana News, accessed December 29, 2013.
  42. ^ "After Arrests on Charges of Sodomy, an Apology" July 29, 2013, The New York Times, Accessed October 31, 2013.
  43. ^ "Gays in Baton Rouge Arrested Under Invalid Sodomy Law" July 28, 2013, The Advocate, Accessed October 31, 2013
  44. ^ "Gay Discrimination Banned By Edwards," March 12, 1992 The Times-Picayune. Accessed October 28, 2013.
  45. ^ "Executive Order No. EWE 92-7" Queer Resources Directory. Accessed October 28, 2013.
  46. ^ "LEGAL's Efforts in the Executive Branch". Accessed October 30, 2013.
  47. ^ "The Libraries Program", Accessed 10 December 2013.
  48. ^ National Gay & Lesbian Task Force "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Campus Organizing: A Comprehensive Manual," December 1, 1995, Accessed December 23, 2013.
  49. ^ "History of the LGLSGC". Accessed 11 December 2013.
  50. ^ "Spring Date Set for GLB Student Conference" Ambush Magazine, Accessed October 28, 2013.
  51. ^ "Educational Billboards Up Around State; Blocked in New Orleans," March 1999, Ambush Magazine, Accessed December 29, 2013
  52. ^ "LEGAL to Roast Outgoing Executive Director Hartig", Ambush Magazine, Accessed October 28, 2013.
  53. ^ "LEGAL Board Of Directors Elects Officers," September 1997, Ambush Magazine, Accessed December 23, 2013,