I’m a proud 2016 New Leaders Council Louisiana fellow and was thrilled when we kicked off our 2016 Institute in my hometown, Shreveport. One of our special guests during the weekend was former Shreveport mayor (and current State Representative for District 4) Cedric B. Glover, and in his remarks to our cohort he highlighted his December 2009 executive order protecting LGBT city employees from employment discrimination as a point of personal and professional pride – a bright spot for concrete progressive action in a very conservative corner of the state. Four years later, in 2013, the Shreveport City Council adopted the Shreveport Fairness Ordinance prohibiting discrimination against all LGBT city residents in employment, housing, and public facilities, making Shreveport only the second city in Louisiana to legislate specific protections for LGBT citizens.
These tangible policies are impressive and important. But the story of progress toward LGBT rights in Shreveport isn’t really about executive orders and city council ordinances. It’s about effective organizing and people power – specifically, the work of People Acting for Change and Equality, or PACE. PACE had its beginnings in 2004, when Louisiana passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages and civil unions. Soon afterward, representatives from the New Orleans-based Forum for Equality (FFE) came to Shreveport, met with a small group of local activists, and encouraged them to form an advocacy group to advance LGBT equality in North Louisiana. PACE emerged after a year of organizing and planning with a mission to ensure that the LGBT community in North Louisiana can lead open, honest, responsible, and safe ￼lives at home and in the workplace.
Since 2006, PACE has educated community members and elected officials about LGBT issues with a particular focus on constructive participation in the political process. PACE created the North Louisiana Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in 2009 and organized successful forums during the 2006, 2010, and 2014 Shreveport mayoral elections to educate voters about the candidates’ stances on LGBT issues. More behind the scenes, PACE members spent three years persistently advocating for the executive order protecting city employees that finally came in 2009. The “Be Fair Shreveport” public relations campaign that PACE sponsored along with FFE played an important role in rallying support for the Shreveport City Council’s historic extension of the executive order in 2013.
After celebrating the SCOTUS marriage equality decision in June 2015, PACE has primarily focused on workplace justice and on fighting potentially harmful legislation that endorses discrimination against the LGBT community in Louisiana – often joining forces with FFE and Equality Louisiana (Need a refresher on bills and issues they’re currently tracking? We’ve got it!). A new and important PACE initiative is its social support group for high school to college-age LGBTQA individuals, providing a safe and affirming environment through peer-to-peer interaction.
I’ve always been impressed by PACE’s commitment to building a strong community, not only as a crucial source of social support but also as the basis for meaningful political action. This approach – and a clear mission – has placed PACE at the forefront of some of the most important changes enacted in Shreveport in the past ten years. I’m proud to live in this city alongside people who care enough to make it better.
Keep up with PACE on Facebook!