Photo by Raegan Labat.

I want to begin with gratitude: I owe a great deal to the LGBTQ+ young people and their families that have trusted our statewide LGBTQ+ policy and organizing coalition, of which the ACLU of Louisiana is a proud member of. Next, I owe my gratitude to our coalition’s predecessors, like the Louisiana Lesbian and Gay Political Action Caucus, who hosted a statewide conference in 1981. Our coalition exists because you and countless other groups and krewes around the state have laid a path for us. Since that 1981 gathering, I don’t think there’s been another policy-focused statewide gathering of LGBTQ+ people until last year’s Pride Day.

This is the second year we had “Pride Day at the Capitol,” and I'm very grateful that our coalition trusted me to plan it again. Each year, we’ve seen more and more anti-LGBTQ+ bills, and it was only a handful of people who knew how to navigate the Capitol and the legislative process well enough to advocate on these bills. And with the increasing number of LGBTQ+ bills, we desperately needed more people to learn and utilize this process. And, equally as important, we needed a space to come together to dream up what else is possible and build community. There are LGBTQ people all across Louisiana (And fun fact: The Deep South is home to more LGBTQ+ people than any other region in the country). Unfortunately, geography and other obstacles keep us from forming connections. And for this year’s Pride Day, we made sure to emphasize wellness. Fighting these hateful bills takes a toll so, in addition to having learning spaces and workshops, we made sure to have different self-care stations and outside practitioners to offer massages and no-touch healing.

During this legislative session, our statewide LGBTQ+ coalition initially defeated a gender-affirming healthcare ban. One of my proudest moments was seeing someone who's attended Pride Day for the past 2 years testify for the first time. Due to the Governor’s commitment to veto, as of now, Louisiana is currently the only state in the Deep South where gender-affirming care is still legal.

When the gender-affirming healthcare bill was initially defeated, there were a lot of local and national headlines that celebrated the elected officials who voted to defeat the bill. While I am grateful and relieved for their votes, we should also remember that it was LGBTQ+ people, parents, and advocates who pushed them to act; who shared our stories and research; and who taught, learned from, and supported each other through this process.

LGBTQ+ people, especially people under 18 in the Deep South, have every right to feel anger, fear, exhaustion, and confusion right now. We also have every right to feel and create joy, community, and passion.

Over these past 3 years, I've seen younger LGBTQ+ people grow up taller, more proud, and more secure in themselves. That's all I've ever wanted. I'm just so proud that, with Pride Day, they can see that there are people fighting alongside and with them and that a full life as an LGBTQ+ adult in this state is possible.