Civil Rights

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Watch a group of New Orleanians talk openly about race

Posted By on Tue, Jun 23, 2015 at 6:26 PM

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Over a year ago, the City of New Orleans began working on a public project for racial reconciliation. Tomorrow, just a week after the racially motivated attack of an all black church in Charleston left nine people dead, participants of that citywide effort will present the culmination of a year's worth of work to better understand one of the most difficult subjects in American society today: race. 

Members of Welcome Table New Orleans, a branch of the William Winters Institute for Racial Reconciliation, will present projects and reflect on the program tomorrow, June 24, at 10 a.m. at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre. The event is free and open to the public, and in addition to presentations by participants, attendees can expect to hear from Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Deputy Mayor of Citywide Initiatives Judy Reese Morse and representatives from the Urban League, the Winters Institute and the Kellogg Foundation, which has helped fund the initiative. 

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Monday, June 22, 2015

Y@ Speak: mentally competent

Posted By on Mon, Jun 22, 2015 at 12:38 PM


While Sports Overlord Tom Benson celebrates with wine and ice cream, New Orleans demands change in the wake of the Charleston shooting. Plus: more from Gov. Bobby Jindal and the poetry of Fletcher Mackel.

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Monday, June 15, 2015

Talking with the editors of Mixed Company

Posted By on Mon, Jun 15, 2015 at 9:00 AM

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The recently released book Mixed Company is a self-published collection of writing and visual art from New Orleans women of color. A compelling read on its artistic and literary merits, it also repeatedly defied my expectations, hitting from multiple unexpected angles. This is a book that will startle, enrich and engage its readers, challenging assumptions and sticking in the memory.

I spoke with Jeri Hilt and Kristina Kay Robinson, Mixed Company's editors, about the book and the approach it represents.



How did this collection come together? What was the impulse or idea behind Mixed Company?

ROBINSON: The idea to do the collection was kind of a co-project with the New Orleans Loving Festival wanting to put out a publication, and us being in relationship with them, and reaching out to others who we knew would be willing to be contribute something to an independent publication. We all knew each other in different capacities— whether we go to school together or participate in other writing communities together.

HILT: The impulse was very much the want and need for an independent, unfiltered voice from communities of color, and an acknowledgement that it wasn't always happening in ways that were inclusive or in ways where we showed up in multiplicity as opposed to in isolation. So the community was formed quite organically with the Loving Festival... and the impulse was independent black art, on our own terms.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

New York legislators call for ban on all non-essential travel to Louisiana

Posted By on Wed, May 20, 2015 at 4:55 PM

One day after Gov. Bobby Jindal issued his executive "Marriage and Conscience Order," two New York state lawmakers have written to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, formally requesting the state put a ban on all nonessential state-funded travel to Louisiana.

New York State Assemblyman Danny O'Donnell and State Senate Deputy Minority Leader Mike Gianaris urged Cuomo to enact the travel ban, similar to travel bans that were set on the state of Indiana after it passed similar legislation. Those bans later were reversed after the law was revised. In his letter, O'Donnell said:
“Our state's employees should not be put in a situation where they can be legally discriminated against or made to feel unsafe, and our state must not support Governor Jindal's campaign against LGBT individuals. We must move our business to places that treat their citizens equally and fairly.”
O'Donnell's complete letter to Cuomo is below the cut.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

U.S. Supreme Court to take up same-sex marriage cases

Posted By on Fri, Jan 16, 2015 at 4:15 PM

Plaintiffs in a suit against Louisiana's sex marriage ban leaving the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Jan. 9. - ALEX WOODWARD
  • ALEX WOODWARD
  • Plaintiffs in a suit against Louisiana's sex marriage ban leaving the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Jan. 9.

The U.S. Supreme Court could finally settle whether same-sex couples have the right to marry, as protected by the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court justices announced Jan. 16 they will review federal appellate court decisions that upheld bans in four states — Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. Those states are among 14, including Louisiana, where same-sex marriages are banned. Louisiana is the only state where a federal judge has ruled in favor of the state's ban. The Supreme Court hearings (which will likely begin in April with a ruling in June) will determine the constitutionality of same-same marriage bans, which could affect every state in the country.

The Supreme Court justices will focus on two points: "Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?" and "Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?"

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court declined to take up the Louisiana case, in which the plaintiffs asked the court to take the case out of the appellate court's hands. That case — along with cases in Mississippi and Texas — was heard in the U.S. 5th District Court of Appeals in New Orleans last week. (The decision from that three-judge panel is pending, though supporters and court-watchers are confident it will rule in its favor.) 

Forum For Equality Louisiana spokesman John Hill said the 5th District appeals court won't likely wait for the Supreme Court to make a decision before it rules in that case, though if it did, it would likely come with "some sort of public announcement." 

Last week, Florida became the first state in the Deep South to recognize same-sex marriages, bringing the total to 36 states where same-sex couples can marry. Freedom To Marry president Evan Wolfson wrote in a statement that the court's decision "begins what we hope will be the last chapter in our campaign to win marriage nationwide — and it's time."

"It looks like to me we will have marriage equality in June," Hill said. "It's hard to see tea leaves any other way."

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Friday, January 9, 2015

Same-sex marriage supporters in the South remain optimistic

Posted By on Fri, Jan 9, 2015 at 4:45 PM

Plaintiffs in a suit against Louisiana's sex marriage ban leaving the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. - ALEX WOODWARD
  • ALEX WOODWARD
  • Plaintiffs in a suit against Louisiana's sex marriage ban leaving the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Standing outside the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, Helen Barnes posed for photographs with a T-shirt reading "Str8 Mom for Marriage Equality." Barnes, who lives in Mississippi, held a sign that she also brought to same-sex marriage rallies in Washington D.C. in 2009 and 2013. Her son made the sign when he was 14 years old. He is now 20.

Barnes was among dozens of supporters filling courtrooms and huddling outside in 40 degree weather as the federal appeals court heard oral arguments from same-sex couples from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas against those states' laws banning gay marriage. In 2004, Louisiana voters approved a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages. In September 2014, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman upheld that ban in the case of Robicheaux v. Caldwell, in which six Louisiana couples along with Forum For Equality challenged that ban. (Oral arguments in that case were heard in June 2014.) The plaintiffs appealed to the 5th District and to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could bypass the appellate court.

Crowds lined up for a space inside the court before 7 a.m. to hear the arguments in front of a three-judge panel — made up Ronald Reagan appointees Jerry E. Smith and Patrick Higginbotham and Barack Obama appointee James Graves. Hearings ended around 1 p.m. 

"We asked the 5th Circuit in the state of Louisiana to recognize the dignity and respect and equality of our marriage, and the marriage of all same-sex couples in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi," said Louisiana's L. Havard Scott III, who has been with his partner Sergio March Prieto for 18 years. "If we don’t get what we’re seeking here, we’ll get it from the U.S. Supreme Court. ... We simply love our partners, and we want our love to be respected to the same extent other peoples’ marriages are respected, and we see no reason why the state of Louisiana can’t respect our marriage like it does the marriages of other people."

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Federal judges ask attorneys: What’s the purpose of marriage, anyway?

Posted By on Fri, Jan 9, 2015 at 4:36 PM

Plaintiffs and supporters in today's hearing on same-sex marriage gather on the steps of the U.S. Court of Appeals in downtown New Orleans. - ALEX WOODWARD
  • ALEX WOODWARD
  • Plaintiffs and supporters in today's hearing on same-sex marriage gather on the steps of the U.S. Court of Appeals in downtown New Orleans.

As expected, the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals made no decision on same-sex marriage in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi after hearing arguments Friday morning from attorneys on both sides of the issue in each state. Likewise, the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to reveal whether it will take issue up in its spring session, which would likely supercede any decision by the appeals court.

But the three judges — Judge Jerry E. Smith and Patrick Higginbotham, two appointees of President Ronald Reagan, and Judge James Graves, appointed by President Barack Obama — did each seem to focus on different issues in their questions during Friday’s hearings, shedding some light on which issues they felt needed more elucidation.

In the Louisiana hearing, Kyle Duncan of the Louisiana Attorney General’s office had barely begun his presentation when Higginbotham asked if the U.S. Constitution provided a fundamental right to marry.

“Probably,” Duncan replied, but said that same-sex unions would be a “brand new perspective” on marriage in the history of the institution. Throughout history, Duncan said, marriage has been considered a normal part of the procreation process, and the state has an interest in promoting strong families.

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Thursday, January 8, 2015

What’s at stake for same-sex marriage Friday in New Orleans

Posted By on Thu, Jan 8, 2015 at 10:44 PM

John Denison of the Forum for Equality introduces attorneys and plaintiffs in gay-marriage cases from Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi that will be heard Jan. 9 by the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. - ROBERT MORRIS | UPTOWN MESSENGER
  • ROBERT MORRIS | UPTOWN MESSENGER
  • John Denison of the Forum for Equality introduces attorneys and plaintiffs in gay-marriage cases from Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi that will be heard Jan. 9 by the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

The fight for same-sex marriage in three of the deepest Deep South states – Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas – will have a crucial moment on the battlefield Friday before the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, although even the most optimistic scenarios for legal same-sex marriage still place it weeks or months away.

Starting at 9 a.m., a three-judge panel in the federal court will hear oral arguments challenging bans on same-sex marriage in separate cases from each state. Each state’s case is allotted an hour of discussion, with the hearing expected to be finished by noon.

The underlying issues in each states’ cases are the same, attorneys and advocates said in a Thursday night briefing for supporters at Cathedral Creative in the Central Business District, about two blocks from the federal courthouse. Each case focuses on whether the 14th Amendment of the Constitution allows the state to deny marriage to some couples based on their gender – whether in the case of issuing licenses in-state or recognizing marriage licenses issued out of state – and all three states are expected to have the same decision, whichever way it goes.

“If Texas’s ban violates equal protection, so does Louisiana’s,” said Chris Otten, chair-elect of the Louisiana-based Forum for Equality. “If that ban is valid, then almost certainly Louisiana’s would be.”

Joce Pritchett, a plaintiff in the Mississippi case, framed the cases in terms of the question her young daughter Grace recently posed as to why Pritchett and partner Carla Webb aren’t married like other parents.

“It seems so simple to Grace that laws that hurt people should be changed,” Pritchett said. “It’s simple to us, too.”

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Monday, December 29, 2014

Scalise seems to acknowledge he spoke to white supremacist conference in Metairie in 2002

Posted By on Mon, Dec 29, 2014 at 4:48 PM

The May 7, 2002 edition of Gambit carried information about the white-supremacist meeting held in Metairie at the Best Western Landmark Hotel. After Louisiana blogger Lamar White Jr. reported this weekend that Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, was in attendance and spoke to the group, Scalise's office put out a statement that seemed to acknowledge the fact, but insisted Scalise had "never been affiliated with the abhorrent group in question."
  • The May 7, 2002 edition of Gambit carried information about the white-supremacist meeting held in Metairie at the Best Western Landmark Hotel. After Louisiana blogger Lamar White Jr. reported this weekend that Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, was in attendance and spoke to the group, Scalise's office put out a statement that seemed to acknowledge the fact, but insisted Scalise had "never been affiliated with the abhorrent group in question."

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie — the newly minted Majority Whip and the third highest-ranking Republican in Congress — seemed to confirm to The Washington Post today that he spoke to the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO), a white supremacist organization, in 2002.

In a statement, Scalise aide Moira Bagley Smith wrote, "He has never been affiliated with the abhorrent group in question":
Throughout his career in public service, Mr. Scalise has spoken to hundreds of different groups with a broad range of viewpoints. In every case, he was building support for his policies, not the other way around. In 2002, he made himself available to anyone who wanted to hear his proposal to eliminate slush funds that wasted millions of taxpayer dollars as well as his opposition to a proposed tax increase on middle-class families. He has never been affiliated with the abhorrent group in question. The hate-fueled ignorance and intolerance that group projects is in stark contradiction to what Mr. Scalise believes and practices as a father, a husband, and a devoted Catholic.
The news of Scalise's 2002 speech was first broken over the weekend by Lamar White Jr., whose CenLamar website covers Louisiana politics. 

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Friday, December 26, 2014

A quiet, joyful hero

Posted By on Fri, Dec 26, 2014 at 9:38 AM

Rudy Lombard was an early leader in the local Civil Rights Movement.
  • Courtesy Lombard Family
  • Rudy Lombard was an early leader in the local Civil Rights Movement.

In more than 40 years of covering politics I’ve encountered countless poseurs who take credit for things that others make happen. Only rarely have I met someone who lives by the old wisdom that there’s no limit to what can be accomplished if you don’t care who gets the credit. Rudy Lombard was one of those rare individuals who never sought credit for the many great things he did.

Rudy was one of the early leaders of the modern Civil Rights Movement in New Orleans. He was a national vice president of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). While still in college at Xavier University, he was arrested for leading New Orleans’ first lunch counter sit-in at McCrory’s on Canal Street. He took his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won.

Rudy earned a Ph.D. in urban planning from Syracuse University and ran for mayor of New Orleans in 1986. He finished a distant fourth, but he made public housing a major issue in that race. In his spare time, he co-authored the first Black Creole cookbook (Creole Feast), and in his later years he was a leading researcher and advocate for educating African-American men about the dangers of prostate cancer, which he contracted a decade ago.

Rudy died Dec. 13 at the age of 75 after a brave battle against pancreatic cancer, surrounded by his younger brother, Louisiana 4th Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Edwin Lombard, and other family members. At the visitation and in conversations afterward, Judge Lombard and Rudy’s friends remembered him the same way I do — as a quiet, joyful hero.

“The most amazing thing about Rudy was that he was so reluctant to talk about himself and his contribution to the Movement,” Judge Lombard said. “I used to be angry about the fact that Rudy paid his dues and never got any note for it. He would just shrug it off and say, ‘Don’t worry about it. There’s plenty to go around — plus you know it. That’s enough.’ It bothered me, but it never bothered him.”

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