By Robert Mann
Maybe in another city, it wouldn’t be so surprising to hear a public official — a Republican, at that — speak out strongly and passionately about discrimination against gays and lesbians.
But this is Baton Rouge, where the politicians are cowardly and the bigotry is above average.
So, when it hit the Baton Rouge Advocate on Sunday that deputies with the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office had conducted a sting operation to catch gay men engaging in legal behavior — charging them under an unconstitutional sodomy law — the story made national news.
And it made Baton Rouge and Louisiana look foolish and bigoted.
But what happened next was truly amazing and gratifying.
And here’s part of what he and the rest of Baton Rouge received from the sheriff:
“The Sheriff’s Office has not, nor will it ever, set out with the intent to target or embarrass any part of our law-abiding community. . . We will consult with others in the legislative and judicial branches to see what can be done to remove this law from the criminal code that each deputy receives and to also find alternative ways to deter sexual and lewd activity from our parks.”
As the paper noted, “Delgado’s email says the Sheriff’s Office’s Sunday statement sensationalizes the matter by using terms like ‘lewd conduct’ and ‘public masturbation’ and suggesting that children were present during the arrests.” (I would like to provide a link to the full statement by the Sheriff’s Office, but that page on its website wasn’t working this morning.)
Then, a remarkable thing happened that makes me proud that Delgado serves on the Metro Council and is my council member. According to the Advocate:
“The newspaper article makes it quite clear that nothing of the sort occurred in these 12 arrests,” Delgado says. “These men were arrested even though they were innocent of any crime.”
Delgado said the deputies’ actions are violations of the civil rights of these men under the 5th and 14th amendments. He said the Sheriff’s Office cannot claim it was unaware of the change in the law.
“Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” he said. “Doesn’t your office tell people that all the time?”
Delgado said he will file public records requests Monday to determine when the District Attorney’s Office informed the Sheriff’s Office that the men targeted had committed no crime.
Delgado, in a phone interview Sunday, said the arrests by the Sheriff’s Office task force are “despicable, offensive, hateful, bigoted.”
“I can’t say any stronger words in condemnation of their action,” Delgado said.
Delgado also said it’s “beyond insulting” that the sheriff would say he “didn’t know it was against the law.”
“Does he know that slavery is no longer around?” Delgado asked rhetorically. “Does he know that we have cars and no longer horse and buggies?”
If Delgado continues speaking the truth and defending the rights of all the people of East Baton Rouge Parish, he may not have much of a future in politics (he’s expressed interest in running for mayor-president).
I suspect, however, he may find more support than he or some people expect. What he learns in the next few days may surprise the many cowardly political leaders in this state who cynically court and fuel the bigotry and ignorance of so many of our citizens. (To his credit, District Attorney Hillar Moore refused to prosecute the men caught up in the unconstitutional sting operation.)
Let’s hope that Delgado already knows something that the rest of us just beginning to learn — that Baton Rouge and Louisiana are changing rapidly. There’s still too much bigotry in our midst. But the day is coming soon when most of us will refuse to tolerate it.
When that day comes, I hope we’ll remember when a freshman Republican Metro Council member made a courageous stand for justice and tolerance.
Just one question, however: Why is Delgado the only Louisiana public official so far quoted strongly condemning the sheriff’s sting operation? Is there not another public official in this city with similar courage and vision?
- Gays in Baton Rouge arrested under invalid sodomy law (miamiherald.typepad.com)
- Sodomy laws may be unconstitutional, but Baton Rouge sheriffs are using them anyway (tv.msnbc.com)
- La. city police arrested men under sodomy law (seattletimes.com)
- Sheriff’s Office Defends Anti-Gay Entrapment With Comparisons To Public Masturbation (thinkprogress.org)
- BR police arrested men under invalidated law (newsobserver.com)