victims: Still suffering
It has been one
year since Hurricane Katrina barreled through New
Orleans. Thankfully the waters have receded, as has much of
the stench from the wreckage. What still lingers in
the post-Katrina relief efforts is the odious fault
lines of heterosexism and faith-based privilege.
invisible in this disaster, lesbian, gay, bisexual,
transgender, and queer evacuees and their families faced all
kinds of discrimination at the hands of many of the
faith-based relief agencies because of their sexual
orientation, gender identity, or HIV status.
And with most of
the evacuees being African-American, along with the
fault lines of race and the fact that sexual orientation is
on the "down-low" in much of the African-American
community, many African-American LGBT evacuees
experienced discrimination from both their communities
and black faith-based institutions.
was no place to be an out black couple," said Jeremiah
Leblanc, who now lives in Shreveport, La. “We got
lots of stares and all kinds of looks. What were we
thinking? But my partner and I were in a panic and
didn't know what to do when we had to leave our home."
George W. Bush's
faith-based organizations fronted themselves as
"armies of compassion" on his behalf. But these
organizations' caveat to LGBT people was, If you
are gay, you ought to stay away.
And with black
churches, many of which are known for their unabashed
homophobia, conducting a large part of the relief effort,
African-American LGBT evacuees and their families had
neither a chance nor a prayer for assistance.
"When we were all
forced to leave the dome, we were gathered like cattle
into school buses,” said Leblanc. “[My
partner] Le Paul and I both needed our meds, clothes,
and a way to find permanent shelter after the storm,
but we knew to stay the hell away from the black churches
offering help. We couldn't tell anyone we were sick
and HIV-positive. And when we got to Houston, we saw
the Salvation Army, but Le Paul and I knew to stay the
hell away from that too."
Army delivered no salvation to a lot LGBT families. On its
Web site, the Salvation Army states: "Scripture forbids
sexual intimacy between members of the same sex. The
Salvation Army believes, therefore, that Christians
whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively
same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of
life. There is no scriptural support for same-sex unions as
equal to, or as an alternative to, heterosexual
administration that believes that restoring a spiritual
foundation to American public life has less to do with
government involvement and more to do with the
participation of faith-based groups, Bush slashed
needed government programs by calling on churches and
faith-based agencies, at taxpayers’ expense, to
provide essential social services that would also
impact the lives and well-being of its LGBT citizens.
families worried about being separated from each other since
Louisiana does not recognize same-sex unions. And some
people associated with Bush’s faith-based
relief programs even blamed the wrath of Hurricane
Katrina on LGBT people.
into the Gulf Coast just two days before Labor Day
weekend, when New Orleans's annual queer Southern Decadence
festival was to begin. While floods are a natural part
of life in the lowlands of Louisiana, and hurricanes
are regular occurrences all along the coastline,
Michael Marcavage, director of Repent America, an
evangelical organization calling for "a nation in
rebellion toward God" to reverse itself, had this to
say: "We believe that God is in control of the
weather. The day Bourbon Street and the French Quarter were
flooded was the day that 125,000 homosexuals were going to
be celebrating sin in the street. We're calling it an
act of God."
conservative religious groups, the flood was a prayer
finally answered and a sin finally addressed. Never
mind that neither Bourbon Street nor the French
Quarter were ever flooded by the storm.
Not all churches
or organizations of faith were unwelcoming to LGBT
people. Some churches, albeit few, were opening and
affirming parishes to LGBT people and their families
before Katrina hit.
"I wasn't going
to the Superdome," said Angelamia Bachemin, an
African-American lesbian percussionist renowned throughout
Boston’s queer and music communities for her
pioneering style of jazz hip-hop and a former
professor of ethnomusicology at the Berklee School of Music
before returning home to her native New Orleans. "When
my partner and I and the children fled, it was not an
issue for the folks at this Catholic church. The
people at Epiphany Church just took us in, and we began
rolling with the evangelists during the relief effort. They
paid money for the materials for my roof. They have
done more for me and my family than the government."
Bachemin is one
of the lucky few LGBT families now in the long process of
rebuilding their homes and lives in New Orleans.
His partner, who was in the last stages of full-blown
AIDS, died two weeks after Katrina.
married, Leblanc as a widower is not eligible for
surviving-spouse Social Security benefits. And because he is
gay, he is also not eligible for any of the
faith-based relief assistance to help him get his life
back in order.
shamelessly showed the botched relief effort commanded by
FEMA and the fault lines of race and class in this country,
it did not show the hidden abuses of heterosexism and
homophobia. Instead Bush's faith-based organizations
those at the margins of society became the center of the
tragedy as Hurricane Katrina nakedly exposed how Bush
neither sees nor wants his administration to be the
primary source of assistance or compassion for
Americans in crisis.