I was born in Buffalo, N.Y., and around the age of 10 my family moved to Shreveport, La. We spent summers driving through Kentucky (always staying in Elizabethtown — it’s the halfway point and the motels are clean) on our way north to see friends and family. I was schooled in Louisiana, in many ways. Also, I’m gay. I was then. I am now.
I spent half my life in Buffalo and the other half in Shreveport, and I love them both equally. Unfortunately, only one reciprocates with equality in its laws, so I live in Buffalo. The problem is, I miss Louisiana. Here’s the thing: The Louisiana I know, the people I know intimately in every corner of the state, couldn’t care less that I’m gay. All of them. I daresay I was popular with some folk. This was before Ellen. Before I told jokes onstage. I was a restaurant manager who was clearly gay, and some of my best friends were rednecks.
I took a trip to Louisiana recently to remember all of who I am. In my travels, I saw so many things that made me fall in love with Louisiana all over again. Grown-up love. Not “I love parades” love. I realized I grew up in a place with minimal to no residential zoning laws. It doesn’t matter how much money you have — if the guy who buys the lot next to you can only afford a trailer, it’s his right to put a trailer there. As backward as many of my “Yankee” friends would say this is, I now realize this way of life taught me that your neighbor is your neighbor, no matter the size of their wallet.
I had the good fortune of a few skiff rides in the bayous south of Baton Rouge and was fascinated with the cypress trees. Again, I’m familiar with them, but this time all I could do was look at their differences. They are like snowflakes; no two are alike on the outside but they are made of the same carbon, hydrogen, phosphorous, etc.
Louisianans celebrate individuality. Uniqueness is in the fabric of the land. In a nation with states passing laws to make English the only language, Louisiana boasts two languages and Gawd knows how many dialects of Creole. Baptists live in the north and the middle, Catholics live in the south, and voodoo can happen anywhere below I-10. Girls’ softball is a big deal, because daddies aren’t going to bitch about not having a son when they can watch their daughters kick ass. Louisiana has had a female governor and currently has a governor who is the son of immigrant parents from India. That is pretty forward-thinking, even if he is a Republican. So, maybe you can’t buy beer before noon in some parts of the state, but you can drink it in the streets all night in others.
Folks from Louisiana don’t move elsewhere often. They understand what it means to be from somewhere. If there is a hurricane, you rebuild. If there is a flood, you rebuild. You don’t run away from a problem. You fix it. This also makes it difficult to find authentic representations of Louisiana elsewhere. Gumbo isn’t a chicken wing. I love wings, but tons of people have left Buffalo and brought that tradition to the masses. The idea of moving because of weather is ludicrous to Louisianans no matter how many times someone asks, “Why do you live in a flood zone?” How can these same people think a gay person should have to move elsewhere, away from their families, in order to be protected by their state or country?
The Louisiana I know loves me as an equal, practices the concept of equality in its culture, and revels in individuality. Louisiana has the Independence Bowl, for crying out loud. Louisiana is not Alabama or Mississippi or Texas. It is the place where those places go to have fun.
I am not asking anyone to change their religious beliefs. I am just asking every Louisianan to consider having to move because of who they love. To be asked to leave behind bayous, Mardi Gras breaks, and crawfish boils because of who they love. To miss out on your niece's softball games and Saturday night gumbo or have your kids grow up not knowing the history of a doubloon because of who they love. You see, you can’t duplicate Louisiana. This is why Louisianans, more than anyone, with their understanding of religious, ethnic and cultural diversity should lead the South into the future as a union, with justice and confidence.
KRISTEN BECKER is a stand-up comedian in Buffalo, N.Y. She is the founder of the Dykes of Hazard Comedy Tour. This was originally posted on KristenBecker.com and is reprinted with permission.