Top Court Gay Ruling Labeled a Victory
‘We’re free at last,’ Marigny artist says
Times-Picayune, July 10, 2003
3800 Howard Ave., New Orleans, LA 70140
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By Lili LeGardeur
For Larry Bagneris, Independence Day means a lot more since the recent
Supreme Court decision legalizing gay sexual conduct.
“The Fourth of July has much more meaning to me today than it did a few
days ago,” said Bagneris, speaking last week. “This decision says I’m a
true citizen like everyone else.”
As director of the city’s Human Rights Commission, Bagneris deals with
prejudice and discrimination every day. He spoke to me, however, not as a city
official, but as a private citizen and French Quarter neighbor who is both gay
and African-American. To him, laws that sideline black people and those that
make it legal to prosecute people for homosexual activity come out of the same
nasty impulse: to deny humanity to certain groups and reserve it for others.
“What the Constitution says is that all men are created equal, with equal
rights,” said the usually genial Bagneris, his tone sharpening. “I
understand this as an African-American. I understand it as a gay man.”
Bagneris was one of several people who answered my question, “How is the
recent Supreme Court decision legalizing gay sexual behavior important to our
Because the French Quarter is one of the most popular gay entertainment
centers in the country, and because both the Quarter and neighboring Faubourg
Marigny are overtly gay-friendly, it seemed like a legitimate question to ask.
“In the words of the old Negro spiritual, “We are free at last, thank
God, we are free at last!” answered Lloyd Sensat Jr., an artist who runs the
Sun Oak Gardens, Museum and Guest House in Faubourg Marigny with his partner,
architectural historian Eugene Cizek.
“For 198 years, the state of Louisiana has discriminated against its gay
citizens,” Sensat said. “The Louisiana legislators would have been wise to
have gotten rid of the antiquated law on their own volition. Hopefully, at the
first opportunity they will repeal all sections of the statute deemed
unconstitutional by the new Supreme Court ruling.”
Lou Bernard, co-proprietor of Lucille’s Golden Lantern, the Royal Street
bar that is the traditional starting point for the annual Southern Decadence
celebration, said people should feel victorious—and wary.
“I was delighted that our nine robed persons finally deemed it acceptable
to consider events behind closed doors to be called ‘private,’” Bernard
said. “Now, several can retire in peace and allow Bush to replace them with
right-wing judges who will dare to overturn the sodomy laws, Roe v. Wade, etc.
This victory could become short-lived.”
Bagneris, who celebrated with defendants John Geddes Lawrence and Tyron
Garner at Houston’s gay pride festivities last week, said the decision was
important to every neighborhood, every city and every state in the country.
“This makes it clear that gays and lesbians have humanity,” Bagneris
said. “These individuals were dragged from their home in their underwear.
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