(Advocate) – It has been over a decade now since Hurricane Katrina barreled through New Orleans. Today, much of the Big Easy has gotten its groove back. But the predominantly-African-American Lower Ninth Ward, the largest of NOLA’S 17 wards, has not. And a demographic group that unfortunately has and continues to be invisible in this recovery story is NOLA’s African-American LGBTQ community.
While many of NOLA’s gay bars and enclaves were not devastated by Katrina — disproving the conservative vitriol that the hurricane was God’s divine retribution for the city’s annual Southern Decadence gay festival — many of the city’s African-American LGBTQ residents don’t patronize the predominantly white gay bars that populate the French Quarter. The black gays and lesbians of New Orleans were as affected by Katrina as all black people in the city were, i.e. severely.
Sadly, the hurricane exposed not only race and class fault lines, but so too the odious fault lines of heterosexism and faith-based privilege. LGBTQ 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. With most of the evacuees being African-American, and the fact that being gay is on the “down low” in much of the African-American community, many black evacuees experienced discrimination from both their communities and black faith-based institutions.
“The Superdome was no place to be an out black couple,” Jeremiah Leblanc told me in 2005 (he later then moved in Shreveport). “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. And with black churches conducting a large part of the relief effort, African-American LGBTQ 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,” Leblanc said. “[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.”
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