In Baton Rouge, the Closet is Crowded
In its municipal survey released in November, the Human Rights Campaign scored Baton Rouge a two out of 100 based on the policies and services the city has in place for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
Only Montgomery, Al., Frankfort, Ky. and Jefferson City, Mo. scored lower.
So we wondered if Baton Rouge’s dismal score is indicative of life for LGBT people here.
Kevin Serrin has lived in Baton Rouge for nearly 7 years.
In his quiet healthcare consulting firm office, a mug from the 2010 Baton Rouge Pride Fest sits atop a bookcase.
Serrin says of course he wants equality and protections for the gay community under municipal law. But as a 51-year-old partnered man, other aspects of life keep him here.
“There are a lot of great things about Baton Rouge," Serrin says. "Ya know, it’s a fairly low cost of living and real estate prices are low. So we’re able to live a very nice lifestyle here that we couldn’t really live in a city like Washington D.C., ya know, or Boston.”
Serrin also says it helps that he works in an inclusive environment.
“Both my partner and I work in businesses where we’re out and its not an issue,” says Serrin.
Self-described house-husband Grant Holloway and his spouse are looking forward to leaving so they can start a family. Louisiana does not allow same-sex couples to adopt children together.
The couple has two dogs and four cats, most of which are special needs. Tulip, who suffers from frequent strokes, purrs when Holloway scoops her up in his arms.
“I want kids desperately. And abandoning that hope is sort of heartbreaking,"
Holloway says. "And I started giving away like the rocking chair that I bought and all the little different pieces, just because - there’s - its just a constant sort of reminder that its not going to happen until we move somewhere in two or three or however many years.”
The couple got married in New York in 2011. Holloway and his husband are staying in Baton Rouge for now while his husband builds his career.
Holloway built floor-to-ceiling bookcases in their hallway and is remodeling their kitchen. Today, he’s making a base with wheels for a flatfile he found at Goodwill.
But, Holloway says the idea of two men building a home together is just not acknowledged here.
“I actually got an invitation to an event from his work that was “Mr. and Mrs.,”" says Holloway. "It wasn’t a deliberate slight. It’s just not even on the radar - that they never even questioned it.”
“Make some noise if you’re happy to be at Splash tonight, ladies and gentlemen! Yes! That’s what I’m talkin about...”
Mia Necole Bone’t is on stage in her full-sequin, mermaid cut gown. It’s the finale of the drag show on a Thursday night at Splash, one of the few full-time gay bars in Baton Rouge.
Bone’t started performing drag as a young man in high school here and now identifies as a woman.
Upstairs before the performance, she says Splash is one of the good parts of Baton Rouge. She lists more favorite places:
“Restaurants! I love to eat!," Bone't says. "Restaurants, movie theaters, the mall, ya know... church. Church.”
But in many parts of the city, she says she doesn’t feel safe.
“Growing up here, I’ve seen, ya know, so many hate crimes, and I’ve seen so many girls – ya know, transgender male-to-female girls - ya know, get murdered for being who they were,” says Bone't.
On the Human Rights Campaign’s municipal survey, Baton Rouge lost points for not having an LGBT liaison in its police department and not reporting crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity to the FBI. Bone’t says she’s not surprised.
“I know exactly how we are treated here by law enforcement. Like we are scum," says Bone't. "We’re not respected as individuals. You run across some people who just do not accept, ya know, a person for being who they are. And that’s what you encounter.”
Bone’t’s single. And she says if she were with someone, she’d want to kiss them outside or at the mall. But the way things are now, she wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that.
“Everything here is private. Everything here is closed. And I don’t like that. Everybody’s living in the closet.”