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Not Recovered, Hurricane Katrina’s Struggling Black Gay Community

Not Recovered, Hurricane Katrina’s Struggling Black Gay Community

It has been over a decade now since Hurricane Katrina barreled through New Orleans (NO). Today, much of the Big Easy has gotten its groove back. But the residents of the Lower Ninth Ward, the largest of seventeen wards of New Orleans—and predominately African American—has not. The demographic group that unfortunately has been, and continues to be, invisible in this story of recovery is its African American LGBTQ community.

While many of NO’s gay bars and enclaves were not devastated by Katrina—dis-proving the conservative religious vitriol that the hurricane was finally God’s divine retribution for the city’s then upcoming annual LGBTQ Southern Decadence festival—many of NO’s African American LGBTQ communities are not patrons of its white gay bars, or residents in those communities.

Sadly, the hurricane exposed not only race and class fault lines, but so, too, the odious fault lines of heterosexism and faith-based privilege. LGBTQ evacuees and their families, many of whom are now internally displaced, faced all kinds of discrimination at the hands of many of the faith-based relief agencies—due to their sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status.

With most of the evacuees being African American—and the fact that sexual orientation is on the “down-low” in much of the African-American community—many African American LGBTQ evacuees experienced discrimination from both their communities and black faith-based institutions.

“The Superdome was no place to be an out black <gay> couple,”  Jeremiah Leblanc told me in 2005, who then moved to Shreveport, La. "We got lots of stares and all kinds of looks. What were we thinking? But my partner and I were in a panic and didn't know what to do when we had to leave our home."

George W. Bush’s faith-based organizations fronted themselves as "armies of compassion" on his behalf. And with black churches conducting a large part of the relief effort, African-American LGBTQ evacuees and their families had neither a chance nor a prayer for assistance.

"When we were all forced to leave the dome, we were gathered like cattle into school buses," said Leblanc. "[My partner] Le Paul and I both needed our meds, clothes, and a way to find permanent shelter after the storm, but we knew to stay the hell away from the black churches offering help. We couldn't tell anyone we were sick and HIV-positive. And when we got to Houston, we saw the Salvation Army, but Le Paul and I knew to stay the hell away from that