In School Board Race, LGBT Community Flexes its Political Muscle

In the December 5 runoff elections, political newcomer JC Romero defeated 2-term incumbent Leslie Ellison for the Orleans Parish School Board District 4 seat.  Ellison was only 21 votes from winning outright in the primary, yet she ended up being defeated by a 10% margin. This unusual result was the culmination of efforts from many quarters.  Not only the Romero campaign itself, but the Forum for Equality and individual LGBT community activists, including myself and a group of attorneys cobbled together by the Forum for Equality, who got two court rulings against Ellison, her campaign and certain supporters for removing anti-Ellison signs.  But it is a rare example of the LGBT community getting motivated and actively taking on political machines and elected officials.  We will get motivated to defend ourselves from known dangers, but not to further our cause.

The LGBT+ community in New Orleans is far too complacent.  We have City-wide protections and most businesses here are open and accepting of LGBT employees and customers, so in New Orleans we tend to only play political defense and not offense.  We only seem to get organized and go to the polls in numbers when there is a threat.  Let’s be clear: This motivation behind LGBT activists getting engaged in this campaign was not about getting an openly gay man elected.  It was about defeating a known homophobe.  This needs to change.

The Forum for Equality and LGBT community leaders worked to get elected officials and political organizations to endorse Romero, or at least to not endorse Ellison.  This was done by letters, emails and personal phone calls by community leaders to those officials.  For the most part that strategy worked.  The vast majority of endorsements went to Romero.  However, the question remains as to why any democratic officials or organizations saw fit to endorse a known homophobe and transphobe like Ellison at all.  Why do people still think this is OK?

The truth is that nothing is going to change for the LGBT community until we have openly LGBT elected officials in the legislature and the city council.  Until then we will always be at the mercy of straight allies who can turn at any moment and for any reason.   Anyone who has been through the endorsement process of political groups such as the Forum should know that there is always a difficult balance between withholding an endorsement in a race when an incumbent hasn’t stood up for our community as they should and endorsing that incumbent anyway because if we don’t they won’t work with our community or groups on critical issues.  Once a legislator or council person is in office, it is difficult to hold them accountable to our community.

Until we have our own representation in these bodies we are, by definition, second class citizens dependent on the good graces of allies, and that makes us little more than a vote farm for incumbent elected officials.  The current legislative districts map, and the maps in previous decades have cut up the traditional LGBT neighborhoods between the house and senate members so they each take a solid liberal base of votes. They divide our community and thereby divide our political power.  With the new census redistricting is coming and we need to demand a change in the redistricting to make one or more solidly pro-LGBT districts.

Furthermore, we need to continue to put pressure on political groups and elected officials to support openly LGBT candidates for office. Many of the elected officials currently in office in or from New Orleans, who claim to be LGBT allies, have not only benefited from the current paradigm, but have actively worked against LGBT candidates running for office.  This includes sitting councilpersons, the Mayor and legislators.  Yet they still get our support and endorsements.

In the recent school board race, Ellison, a known homophobe and transphobe, was endorsed by Sen. Troy Carter, Former City Councilman James Carter, Rep. Gary Carter, Jr., BACE Action Fund Louisiana PAC, Adam Lambert, the R.D.O. – Regular Democratic Organization, Algiers PAC and I.D.E.A.

Why do these people and groups think it is OK to endorse someone who so clearly works to harm our LGBT community, including LGBT kids?  They believe that we won’t remember this in future elections because we have never done so before.  Our community cannot afford to hold them accountable because we have no political clout.  We have no political clout because we have no LGBT officials in the legislature or on the council.  Now, with a council seat and a congressional seat coming open this spring, the LGBT community cannot afford to NOT hold them accountable for their betrayal of our community.  We must extract from each and every candidate and organization a pledge to support openly LGBT candidates and to publicly disavow candidates and officials that work against our community.  A good place to start would be to appoint an openly LGBT person to the interim council seat that will open when Jason Williams takes office as District Attorney.  But regardless, our LGBT community in New Orleans needs to take ownership of our own future and this can only be done if we have a seat at the table.

To all members of the LGBT+ community, I ask you to take to heart the truth of the modern proverb:

If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.

Thomas A. Robichaux is an attorney and former member and President of the Orleans Parish School Board.  In 2008 he became the first openly gay elected official in Louisiana.

Help Keep Big Easy Magazine Alive

Hey guys!

Covid-19 is challenging the way we conduct business. As small businesses suffer economic losses, they aren’t able to spend money advertising.

Please donate today to help us sustain local independent journalism and allow us to continue to offer subscription-free coverage of progressive issues.

Thank you,
Scott Ploof
Big Easy Magazine

Share this Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *