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Katrina's queer
victims: Still suffering

Katrina's queer
victims: Still suffering


One year later the lives of many LGBT New Orleans residents remain in tatters--no thanks to George Bush's "faith-based" charities, most of which condemn homosexuality and refuse to recognize, much less assist, our families.

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.

While seemingly 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.

"The Superdome 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."

The Salvation 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 marriage."

With an 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.

Many LGBTQ 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.

Katrina slammed 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."

For these 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.

Leblanc isn't. His partner, who was in the last stages of full-blown AIDS, died two weeks after Katrina.

Not legally 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.

While Katrina 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 did.

Consequently 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.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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