As news of the story of an attack on two gay men at the Grand 16 spread like wildfire, initial headlines largely focused on the fact that Lafayette Police did not charge the alleged perp, Joseph Menard Jr., with a hate crime. Instead Menard was booked on two counts of simple battery, despite that his actions followed comments consistent with someone who has a deep-seeded dislike for gays.
While the men on the business end of Menard’s alleged bigotry don’t agree with the PD’s inaction and hope the charge is upgraded, they say Lafayette is a mostly tolerant community.
Twenty-three-year-old Walt Jamison, one of the two openly gay men targeted and allegedly attacked by Menard during the Sunday
matinee, says he and his friends are overwhelmed by the flood of support coming their way on social media by perfect strangers. Mainly perfectly straight strangers — some people Menard now admits he might have previously judged as being intolerant of a sexual orientation different than his or her own.
“I feel uplifted by the volume of people, from all age groups, walks of life and backgrounds, who have positively commented and supported me and my friends and expressed their solidarity for our right to see a movie without being verbally or physically harassed,” Jamison tells The IND during an interview Tuesday at Pamplona downtown. “It really just goes to show you can’t judge a book by its cover, and just based on how someone looks, you can’t say how they would support a cause one way or the other. I think the response we’ve received shows Lafayette is growing in leaps and bounds, and I really don’t think this is an occurrence that will be repeated for a very long time, if ever.”
Colin Miller, a gay Lafayette man who worked three years as a civil rights lobbyist for the nonprofit Forum For Equality, says for the most part, Lafayette is different from most Southern cities, where views of homosexuality are dictated by entrenched conservative world views.
“I like to think of this incident as an anomaly, but at the same time it doesn’t surprise me,” Miller says, pointing to a 2004 vote in which the majority of the city’s residents came out against same-sex civil unions and marriages. “That doesn’t necessarily spell tolerance to me, but it also doesn’t necessarily mean the people here feel antagonistic toward gays and lesbians. What it means is there’s more work to be done to educate the public here on how to understand people who are different.”
Lafayette may be well on its way to becoming the next Southern city best able to attract people who want to be employed by creative industries. Miller points to Sunday’s incident as a testament to the need to continue pushing for more tolerance among residents, adding the perception of Southern intolerance still persists in other parts of the country.
“Lafayette has worked a long time to market itself as the next creative mecca in the U.S., and there is some potential for that, but the problem is people often forget that tolerance of gays, lesbians, different religions and races is a large part of growing that creative class,” says Miller. “If you’re trying to attract these types of people and they see these kinds of things in the news, well, it doesn’t really help make our case, and it doesn’t make tolerant, fair-minded people want to move here.
“But I would be hesitant to accuse the police of a lack of action or concern because of our sexuality. They were very respectful and took the matter very seriously. Basically, I think they just erred on the side of caution, because a hate crime is a very serious crime.”
For the most part, Sunday’s attack represents an isolated incident, according to Lafayette Police spokesman Cpl. Paul Mouton. Yet Miller says that doesn’t mean intolerance for gays and lesbians is largely nonexistent here, just that more often than not it doesn’t result in an arrest.
“I used to be a civil rights lobbyist, and so many times people would tell me their personal stories, so I do know about young gays and lesbians, mostly in high school and middle school, being bullied because of their perceived sexual orientation,” Miller says. “But every now and then you have a case that becomes a real turning point. My hope is that when people see this story in the news, that it causes them, no matter where they are on the tolerance spectrum, to ask themselves how it makes them feel. Hopefully it will make some people take a second look at where they stand on these types of issues, and I hope it spurs a real public conversation on where we stand as a community in regards to tolerance.”
MAY 24 Blogger Robert Mann posts this entry about the Baton Rouge Chamber's recent report on Louisiana's higher education system. It's critical to economic development, and yet our system is facing a "funding crisis" with no way to resolve it, the report says. The Chamber says control of tuition and fees must be returned to the higher ed governing boards.
MAY 24 Here's a NBC33 story about Tyrann Mathieu. He has signed with the Arizona Cardinals, inking a $3 million, four-year deal. He gets a signing bonus of $265K, but gets another, larger bonus if he doesn't get cut from the team for doing drugs. The deal reportedly includes mandatory tests and meetings for the player.
MAY 24 Jarvis DeBerry posts here about the redonkulus rhetoric that would have us believe NOLA is a safe city with a murder problem. Maybe the city's crime stats don't compare with its murder stats because you can't manipulate a murder, he says: a dead body's a dead body. It just doesn't make sense, he says, and his readers agree: a poll asks if they believe the city is safe, and more than 90 percent say no.
MAY 24 Jindal administration officials announced Thursday that the privatization of public health care is going to cost a lot more than they budgeted for, the Advocate reports here. "I'm so surprised," said no one. Anywhere. The cost they're projecting now is more than $1 billion - a lot more than the $626 million budgeted for it. And, it's more than it cost the state to operate those hospitals. So why are we doing this again?
MAY 24 Blogger CB Forgotston ridicules the recent PR campaign by the state GOP in the wake of a legislative auditor's request to both major parties. The GOP (apparently unaware that the Dems got the same request) started yammering about being targeted because it had "killed" a tax increase. CB finds that laughable, but it's also pretty funny that the GOP was comparing this episode to the IRS scandal (Because the President has so much to do with our state auditor. Right?).
MAY 24 Politico details some recent fund-raising efforts by Sen. David Vitter, which have raised the question of his future political plans. This time, it is a $5,000 per head "bayou weekend" that includes "Cajun cooking" and an all-caps "alligator hunt," the story reports. Funds raised go to a super PAC that can spend money to support Vitter in federal or state races, the story points out.
MAY 24 The pink building on Royal in the quarter was sold at a sheriff's sale Thursday, this Picayune story reports. An injunction that would have halted the sale wasn't enforced because the family failed to post a $150,000 bond, the story reports. So the owner of the mortgages on the building bought it, for nearly $7 million. Now the feuding family will have to negotiate with that company to get a lease on the building that has housed their business for close to 60 years.
MAY 23 This post in Louisiana Voice tells us about a bill by a Winnsboro lege that would require all public high school students to take at least one Course Choice online class in order to graduate. (What?) Blogger Tom Aswell says it's a monument to "waste and corruption," especially in light of the problems he's exposed with the program in recent weeks. Idaho had a similar program, but voters removed it by a 2-1 margin, Aswell says.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.
Philip deMahy Sr., a once respected New Iberia ad exec, was sentenced May 2 to spend the next two years (he faced up to 100 years) in a state penitentiary after state and federal investigators found dozens of images depicting children engaged in lewd sexual acts on his personal computer.