What starts with as simple a gesture as painting a sign, local LGBT leaders are working for broader, better inclusivity and recognition in the small, and often conservative, city of Lafayette.
PFLAG Lafayette, a branch of the national organization dedicated to LGBT people as well as their friends and families, painted the LAFAYETTE sign in Parc Sans Souci to celebrate June, which is nationally recognized as LGBT Pride month.
However, the sign, as well as PFLAG as a whole, addresses all LGBT people, including black and brown folks.
The president of PFLAG Lafayette, Matthew Humphrey, said the design they chose for the sign this year intentionally reflected that of a more progressive pride flag. The progressive flag is based on the traditional rainbow flag, but with added stripes to represent specifically gay and trans people of color.
“I think it’s important for people to recognize that Pride Month is celebrated and recognized every year as a tribute to the fight that has been ongoing for more than 50 years, but really pride is about what happened at the Stonewall Inn 50 years ago,” Humphrey said. “And it’s important that we name the people that started that, and those people are Sylvie Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, and those are trans women of color.”
Humphrey said the movement for LGBT equality is the same as the movement for racial equality. In regards to the Black Lives Matter protests happening around the nation following mass amounts of targeted police brutality, he said PFLAG is “absolutely available” to assist any initiatives that benefit that movement, and he feels more white people should speak out.
“As a queer gay man, having been through, I mean, countless experiences of gay-bashing and harassment and discrimination and beer bottles thrown at you walking down the street on Jefferson,” Humphrey said. “I personally, and I know that I speak on behalf of the organization and most LGBTQ people when I say that it has to become our fight as well.”
Even though local organizations like PFLAG celebrate pride in Lafayette, its local government does not recognize June as Pride Month or anything doing with LGBT pride.
Mayor-President Josh Guillory, in his pledge, spoke against recognizing any kind of government-sponsored Pride Month, saying he felt the government’s mission was to handle things like infrastructure and safety.
“I don’t think that’s a function of government,” Guillory told local publication The Current. “If people want to have Gay Pride Month, go have Gay Pride Month. I don’t care who you marry. I support equality. Do what you gotta do … Just like I wouldn’t support the government having a resolution that this is anti-gay month. That’s not the function of the government. The government shouldn’t dive into those issues.”
Guillory declined to comment any further on his position.
Humphrey said PFLAG is trying to change the local government’s position, however. He said they were in the process of scheduling a meeting with Guillory to discuss a proclamation for Pride Month, and they will be petitioning the city and parish councils for a resolution to acknowledge Pride Month in Lafayette.
“As the mayor-president, (Guillory) can proclaim anything that he wants,” Humphrey said. “It’s nonbinding, and by nonbinding I think it’s important to note that a nonbinding resolution or a proclamation by the mayor-president is something that costs zero dollars to the taxpayers. It costs nothing.”
Although Humphrey said he would like such a proclamation to happen, he doe not think it will. He said his hopes are to reach some kind of commonality between the community and the government, volunteering himself to assist Guillory with accommodating Lafayette’s queer community.
Leigh Jolivette, president of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s LGBT organizations GLASS and Gamma Rho Lambda, described Lafayette’s culture as welcoming and accepting and said it was for the most part the government that was so restrictive.
The moment Jolivette associates the most with the local government, she said, was a meeting with the Lafayette Consolidated Government over whether the library should be able to host a Drag Queen Story Time. At the time, Lafayette’s mayor-president at the time was Joel Robideaux.
“I could see tons of friends, tons of allies, and so many members of the queer community there supporting the (Drag Queen Storytime) and then having it completely disregarded,” Jolivette said.
“I felt so heartbroken, because I knew the moment we were there the mayor-president did not care about us. It was in his attitude, the fact that we even had to go to a city-council meeting and fight to have a free event. And it was a voluntary thing, just to be able to read to children in drag.”
Jolivette said this ambivalence is part of what prompts her to move out upon graduation, despite loving the city being deeply rooted in the area. For her, being a queer activist is so significant a part of her that she doesn’t want to live somewhere that fails to reflect “the best and the most of the queer community.”
“I am over I am done with and I am no longer accepting half-a** allyship or partial allyship,” Jolivette said. “The idea of ‘Oh I’m not gonna judge you, but maybe God will,’ or ‘Oh, that’s not my place.’ I don’t want it anymore, no. You’re either with me, or you’re against me.
“And I get that that’s really polarizing, and I understand that that’s not the love and peace and all around accepting that would be in a perfect world, but I just feel like people in power should be there to help and support those who are oppressed. If you are indifferent, and you are silent in those positions, then you’re part of the problem.”