Don’t call the Pride Month failure a setback, advocates say

Volunteers paint both the transgender and rainbow flags onto the Lafayette sign in Parc Sans Souci in celebration of LGBT Pride Month in Downtown Lafayette, LA on June 19, 2019. Photo by Paul Kieu

A resolution formally recognizing June as LGBTQ+ Pride Month in Lafayette failed Tuesday at the council. Just an hour earlier, the mayor proclaimed Arts Advocacy Month without much trouble. May was Bike Month, while we’re at it. In a nutshell, the optics were weird. A majority of the council, at least those in attendance, voted for the resolution, yet it failed. Supporters filed out stunned, some murmured shame at the council members, who carried on to the next item on Tuesday’s special meeting in robotic motion.

The room deflated as soon as the result was read. Not quite full, the meeting was nevertheless mostly attended by supporters who dominated nearly two hours of public comment. Opponents mostly phoned in their views (literally), leaving only two residents to speak in opposition. Getting Lafayette to formally recognize Pride Month would have been a win for the local queer community. Supporters tell me the loss stings but wasn’t quite unexpected.

“I don’t necessarily see this as a setback,” advocate Matthew Humphrey, a “proud gay man,” tells me. Humphrey pushed for the resolution by papering city-parish government with emails and putting officials on blast via social media. “It was an opportunity for the council to show the courage of their convictions, and four of them did.”

Four voted in favor: Kenneth Boudreax, who introduced the bill and defended it thunderously, Bruce Conque, Liz Hebert and Jay Castille. Councilmembers Kevin Naquin, Jared Bellard and William Theriot voted no. Nanette Cook and Pat Lewis were absent.

Humphrey tells me that ahead of the meeting they expected to get the five votes required but were surprised to see Naquin vote no, a move that “disappointed” supporters. Naquin, in a sense the deciding vote, defended his position both as a matter of personal faith and diligence to his constituents.

“It’s not about casting the stone. I would ask that you respect my position as I respect your position,” Naquin said in open remarks before the vote was called. Shortly after the meeting, Naquin took a hug from Ted Richard, a gay man who’s lived with HIV for 30 years and spoke in support of the resolution. Richard tells me Naquin helped recruit musicians at a discount for the first Acadiana Pride Festival years back. The councilman explains his support for Richard and Acadiana Pride was personal but his vote was political.

“When I played at the Pride festival, I was acting as me,” he tells me. “When I’m sitting behind here and I got 26,000 people [that he represents], it’s a whole different ball game.”

Naquin’s explanation falls on deaf ears among Pride supporters, many of whom believed Naquin was on their side given his abstention vote and remarks around the Drag Queen Story Time controversy last year. Humphrey says Naquin’s dissonance is indicative of a mindset he sees all over the area, and one that would have still been in play had the vote gone the other way.

“After Drag Queen Story Time, it’s been crystal clear that there’s a lack of education,” Humphrey says. “And that’s what we’re trying to do with PFLAG. Locally, people relate to the LGBTQ community at arms length — the person that does my hair, the cousin I see at family functions, the lady coworker who gets dropped off at work by another lady.”

UL Lafayette professor Keith Dorwick and a group of Drag Queen Story Time supporters launched a re-energized local chapter of PFLAG, a national advocacy for the queer community, earlier this year. The group obtained nonprofit status two months ago, he says, and has hit the ground running with grassroots efforts like the push for Pride Month. Humphrey serves as the organization’s president. Arranging to paint the LGBTQ+ flag on the Lafayette sign at Parc Sans Souci, which was completed the day after the Pride vote, was set in motion by Tweet only days ago.

Curiously, there is little to no Pride programming in Lafayette this month, Humphrey says. This June marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, in which protestors erupted in violence against police oppression after a brutal crackdown at a gay night club in New York City. At the time, homosexuality was virtually illegal and routinely policed. The riots sparked the gay liberation movement and, in turn, the observation of Pride Month in June. It’s become a venue for visibility and appreciation for a community long pushed to the shadows.

Lafayette remains a complicated place to be queer, and Humphrey says PFLAG’s mission would remain relevant, even if the vote had gone the other way. He counts it as something of a victory that the council took up the resolution at all.

“We’re disappointed but not defeated,” he says of the vote. In Downtown Lafayette, the morning after the defeat, straight and gay supporters dipped rollers into buckets of paint and wrapped the Lafayette sign in the colors of the LGBTQIA+ flag, commemorating Pride Month with or without the council.